I’m watching the live TV coverage of President Obama’s landing at the Hiroshima Heliport as I write this. To hear the Japanese newscaster describe his landing as a “historic moment” gives me chills. I’m having trouble finding the words to express exactly how proud I am to be American right now. It’s moments like this- where my country’s leader respectfully and courageously acknowledges a terrible past while optimistically looking toward the future- that make me want to pound my chest and yell with all my heart, “This is the American spirit! This is what it means to be American!” He even bowed while shaking the hands of various important people, illustrating a basic knowledge of Japanese culture, therefore demonstrating his respect toward the culture and its people. That’s my President.
President Obama’s speech was even better. It was full of optimism while still being somewhat realistic, and fully described the importance of visiting places like Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It’s painful to keep reminding ourselves of these awful events; but if we choose to forget that fateful day we run the risk of making that same mistake in the future. He also made clear that recognizing our failures and knowing that we can do better is what makes us human. It’s what binds us all in this weird, wondrous thing we call life, on this planet we call home. President Obama is right: life is worth protecting, and our job is not done until everyone has their right to life, liberty, and happiness. (He actually quoted the US Constitution and I lost it- the tears just overflowed.)
After his speech, he spoke to three survivors of the atomic bomb in Hiroshima. It’s not clear at this point what words were exchanged, but one thing was clear: the language barrier didn't matter and all that was between the President and those survivors was heartfelt smiles. One of the survivors was so overcome with emotion that he actually wiped tears from his eyes. And then something happened that made me cry: the President hugged the man. It’s such a simple gesture that we do practically daily in the US, but to see the President of the United States, leader of the country that dropped the bomb, hug a survivor of that same terrible weapon was very overwhelming. (After reading a Japan Times article on Obama’s visit, I learned that the man Obama hugged is Shigeaki Mori, a-bomb survivor and creator of the memorial for American WWII POWs killed at Hiroshima. Just…wow.)
What I took away from the moment was this: if America, as leader of the free world, doesn’t step forward first and actively strive for a better, more peaceful world, who will?
PS- As a crazed nationalist who is working towards a more weaponized Japan,
I hope Prime Minister Abe listened carefully to Obama’s words as he stood at the President’s side.