On May 27, President Barack Obama will become the first incumbent U.S. president to visit Hiroshima, the site where the United States dropped an atomic bomb near the end of World War II. The bomb killed thousands of people instantly and thousands more survivors suffered from radiation exposure. Nagasaki was bombed three days after Hiroshima. It is estimated that more than 200,000 people were killed in Hiroshima and Nagasaki by the end of the year. Japan surrendered immediately after the bombings.
An American friend of mine, who is a journalist, recently asked me if the people in Japan were feeling uncomfortable with the President's upcoming visit. "The people of Hiroshima must be angry," the journalist said. "Are you guys going to ask the U.S. for an apology?"
My response surprised him.
"No," I said. "People in Hiroshima and Nagasaki will not be furious." The emotions are not the same as they were in 1945. Indeed, the Asahi Shimbun, one of the leading newspapers in Japan, took a poll this week which showed that 89 percent of Japanese people in fact appreciated Obama's visit.
We are not wartime enemies anymore but rather the closest of allies. Japanese people of my generation grew up watching Hollywood movies and listening to Michael Jackson and Nirvana. We drink coffee at Starbucks and get excited when Apple releases a new product.
Although the Japanese people will never forget what happened and how we suffered tremendously from the atomic bomb, we think it is more important for us to work with the U.S. towards a world without nuclear weapons.
We trust President Obama's words at Prague in 2009: "As the only nuclear power to have used a nuclear weapon, the United States has a moral responsibility to act." Because we trust the U.S., we think we can put aside anger and move on.
A non-nuclear world means a lot to the Japanese people. While many Americans say that the atomic bombs shortened the war and saved numerous lives, Japanese people think of it as a supreme tragedy.
Japanese children are taught about the bomb in classrooms and go on field trips to Hiroshima or Nagasaki. Students learn about how the cities were scenes of utter devastation after the world's first atomic bomb attack. Many people were vaporized immediately, and survivors were buried under houses and died, one after another, from radiation poisoning.
When I visited the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum with my 8-year-old son three years ago, I did not let him go inside. I felt I could still hear the voices of children screaming. I did not want my son to be shocked.
According to Daniel Sneider, the Associate Director for Research at the Walter H. Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center at Stanford University, there are three basic narratives in Japan about the war. First there is the conservative revisionist narrative that claims Japan liberated Asia from colonialism, and World War II was an act of self-defense against Western imperialism. Then there is the left-wing narrative that says Japan was hijacked by militarists which led to the destruction of the nation. The third and dominant narrative in Japan emphasizes that war is a horrible thing and that we made a big mistake in choosing the path of war. A mistake we can never again allow.
The third narrative can be seen in the memorial cenotaph at Hiroshima, which says "please rest in peace, for we shall not repeat the error (evil). "Who "we" stands for and who is to blame, are both unclear and unquestioned.
You can argue that this vagueness is one of the aspects of Japanese character. In contrast to Americans who are likely to express their opinions strongly, Japanese people are reluctant to take positions in an argument to avoid being assertively explicit.
In my view, talking about war as a general evil while not naming a particular country depoliticizes the issue. This approach may be helpful if it encourages the leaders of the world to stop pointing fingers and instead work together as a team for world peace and nuclear non-proliferation.
When Obama visits Hiroshima and stands side by side with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, the Japanese people will not be there to ask for an apology and blame the United States.
The visit to Hiroshima is just the beginning of many steps toward a nuclear weapon free world. The Japanese people should also remember that we were also responsible for the horrible war. The President's visit should not obscure Japan's role as the initiator. I would like to see President Obama take action after his visit. I would like to see the Prime Minister and the Japanese people take action. I would like to see world leaders take action. Actions are more valuable than apologies and are the most powerful way to avoid repeating any "evil."