Early Wednesday morning, President Obama arrived in Japan, greeted by United States ambassador Caroline Kennedy. This Friday, he will become our first sitting president to visit Hiroshima, where the United States dropped an atomic bomb that killed 140,000 people at the end of World War two, the first of two nuclear bombs the United States would drop on a Japanese city. The administration has been clear, Obama will not apologize for America's actions, saying in an interview with Japanese media, "Every leader has to make difficult decisions in wartime." Obama continued, "I think it is also a happy story about how former adversaries came together to become one of the closest partnerships and closest allies in the world.”
Considering our history, maintaining a good relationship between the United States and Japan can be complicated, both for political leaders and people of each country. Both of our Greater Boston guests on Wednesday night shared their personal stories and experiences with Hiroshima victims, highlighting the importance of human connection.
Barry Frechette directed the documentary, 'Paper Lanterns' about a Japanese man named Shigeaki Mori. Mori was eight-years-old when the bomb was dropped. Although he lost many family and friends that day, he spent decades locating the families of 12 American POWs who were also killed in Hiroshima that day, so he could share their stories. Frechette said that most people are shocked to learn about the American men lost in the bombing. He explained why Mori decided to dedicate his life to locating the families of these men. "He's a historian a heart," he said. "He felt that these 12 were alone, thousands of miles alone, scared."
And guest, Kenneth Oye, a political science professor at MIT, shared his personal story about the victims of Hiroshima. The Hiroshima Maidens, were a group of women who were seriously wounded in the bombings and brought to the United States in the 1950's for a series of surgeries. Oye's father, who grew up in Japan, began hosting these women at his home in Philadelphia, to help them feel welcome in this country. One woman, Michiko, who was horribly injured and disfigured from the bombing, became Oye's babysitter. Oye said he was frightened of her at first, but after a while, "the warmth and the love was very visible."
Their story didn't end there. Many years later, when Oye was visiting Japan with his wife and daughter, he went to Hiroshima. When he contacted the museum to ask about any special programs, he learned that Michiko would be giving a talk at the museum. When they reunited in front of all of the tourists at the museum, he learned that she carried a photo of him and his brother for all of those years. He said that their reunion humanized her in the eyes of those tourists. "She believed that she had been saved, in order to tell her story," said Oye. Michiko's story is one of how nuclear weapons should not be used. Oye spoke about her forgiveness. She said, "of course my heart opened, of course I forgave."
They also discussed President Obama's visit to Japan. Frechette said that Mori would want Obama to "recogniz[e] what happened." And he said that Mori would say to Obama, "You need to do everything you can to keep peace." Oye said that Michiko would want Obama to diminish the likelihood of nuclear war. And he added that she would not be a fan of Donald Trump. Frechette reiterated that these stories are about personal connection.