Young Leaders Continue Peacebuilding 75 Years After the Atomic Bombings
August 5, 2020 6:15 PM
On the occasion of the 75th anniversary of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan, President Obama released a message honoring the victims and survivors of the bombings. Obama Foundation Chief International Officer Bernadette Meehan also shared the message below. Read their reflections, then learn more about our work supporting leaders across the Asia-Pacific region here.
Seventy-five years ago, on August 6 and August 9 respectively, mushroom clouds blackened the skies of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and hundreds of thousands of lives were lost. Rebuilding the two cities while processing the pain and trauma the atomic bombs left in their wake became a lifelong task for generations to come. But from the ashes of destruction emerged a narrative of hope and peace—a reminder of our belief in common humanity.
Read President Obama’s message:
On the occasion of the 75th anniversary of the atomic bombings, I want to extend my warm greetings to the people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki as you mark this solemn anniversary.
One of the great honors of my presidency was visiting Hiroshima in 2016. You have to stand in that place, where the bomb fell, to fully appreciate both the scale of destruction that took place and the miracle of Hiroshima’s renewal. I will always carry with me the memory of folding my orizuru and visiting the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum and Park.
Above all, I will remember greeting the hibakusha, who carry with them the memories of that day. As always, they call on us to never give up in our pursuit of peace and a world where the miracles of science are harnessed to build, not destroy. I am proud that the U.S.-Japan alliance represents that spirit, and will always do my part to help it grow stronger.
I know that this is a particularly poignant anniversary, as there are few hibakusha with us. But I am heartened by the belief that their memory and example will never fade. As I said in my speech in Hiroshima: “Someday, the voices of the hibakusha will no longer be with us to bear witness. But the memory of the morning of Aug. 6, 1945, must never fade. That memory allows us to fight complacency. It fuels our moral imagination. It allows us to change.”
In 2016, President Obama became the first sitting U.S. president to visit Hiroshima since the atomic bombings of 1945. He was welcomed by tens of thousands of Hiroshima residents, and he offered to the people of Hiroshima folded paper cranes that symbolize the pursuit of peace.
The world watched as he concluded his remarks and embraced Shigeaki Mori, a hibakusha, or survivor of the atomic bombings. A palpable silence surrounded them, and the audience gathered in Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, as President Obama paid his respects to the hundreds of thousands of Japanese men, women, and children, along with thousands of Koreans and a dozen American prisoners of war who died as a result of the bombings.
In his speech, President Obama spoke about the responsibility we all have to pursue peace and ensure that the ingenuity of human beings does not lead to mass destruction. He also shared Shigeaki’s story, noting that Shigeaki had, for decades, “sought out families of Americans killed, because he believed their loss was equal to his own.”
President Obama said that the stories of hibakusha like Shigeaki were a reminder of where politics, government, and diplomacy should be rooted: the belief in common humanity. Keeping such belief in mind, he emphasized how we must all share a sense of responsibility in pursuing change.
That sense of responsibility motivated President Obama to make curbing the danger of nuclear weapons a key focus of his presidency. In 2010, he concluded the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) with Russia, which significantly reduced our two countries’ deployed nuclear weapons and cut delivery vehicles by roughly half. He held a series of Nuclear Security Summits that led to the destruction of nuclear materials and better security at nuclear facilities. And he was the first post-Cold War American president who did not have a new nuclear state emerge during his presidency, largely because of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, which rolled back the Iranian nuclear program and helped avoid a potential war with Iran.
President Obama made it clear that the pursuit of a world without nuclear weapons is the work of generations, not one presidency. But he also made clear that it was our responsibility to try. At the Obama Foundation, we’ve created programs like Leaders: Asia-Pacific to inspire, empower, and connect future generations to carry forward the work that remains.
Sanae Ogino, a native of Hiroshima and an Obama Leader, vividly recalls the day President Obama visited her city. It was her 30th birthday, and she listened to his speech with anticipation and saw herself reflected in his call to action to look “directly into the eye of history and ask what we must do differently to curb such suffering.” For Sanae, August 6, 1945, was never a distant historical moment. It was part of her family’s story.
Sanae’s grandmother narrowly missed being killed; she was serendipitously away from the city center when the bomb was dropped. She returned to Hiroshima the next day and witnessed death and destruction everywhere—a scene that would pain her for the rest of her life.
Her grandmother’s powerful experience galvanized Sanae to share a message of peace, but also a message of caution. To this day, more than 13,000 nuclear weapons still exist in the world.
Sanae currently works at the Mayors for Peace secretariat that is made up of over 7,921 member cities from 164 countries and regions around the world. There, she leads programs that inspire young people to work towards a peaceful world free of nuclear weapons. Every day, Sanae empowers the next generation to actively promote peace, while also honoring the stories of the hibakusha.
Sanae is just one of the hundreds of other leaders from across the Asia Pacific region that are a part of the Obama Foundation’s growing network of emerging leaders, and they are all deeply committed to bettering their communities and the world we live in.
In honor of this solemn anniversary, Sanae and her fellow Leaders will hear from Koko Kondo, a hibakusha who President Obama also mentioned in his speech as, “the woman who forgave a pilot who flew the plane that dropped the atomic bomb, because she recognized that what she really hated was war itself.”
The message of peace from Hiroshima and Nagasaki will continue to reverberate in the lives of the next generation of leaders who are carrying forward the work that President Obama spoke about in Hiroshima: the work of building peace.
Bernadette Meehan is the Chief International Officer at the Obama Foundation.