When the lower house speakers of the Group of Eight (G-8) major countries were about to leave the monument at Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park where they had just laid down wreathes of flowers, U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi made a small sign of the cross.
Pelosi is the highest-ranking U.S. political figure to visit Hiroshima, which suffered from an atomic bomb dropped by the U.S. during World War II. What went through her mind at that time? Did she pay tribute to the 140,000 people who had lost their lives in a flash? What thought did she have about her own country that had bombed the city?
There is a wide difference between Japan and the U.S. in the way the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki are evaluated. The two countries have concluded a security treaty and praise each other as allies sharing common values. But when it comes to issues related to war and history, there still exists an unhealed wound.
The U.S. government's view is that the bombings hastened Japan's surrender and resulted in saving many lives. But the Japanese people's feeling is that surrender was only a matter of time even without the bombings and that the use of the weapons that indiscriminately killed civilians and seriously exposed many people to radiation was unforgivable from a humanitarian point of view.
The Japanese government, however, has taken an ambiguous attitude, out of consideration to the U.S., saying that it is impossible to even say that the use of nuclear weapons violated international law.
Last summer, then Defense Minister Fumio Kyuma said: 'The dropping of atomic bombs on Japan could not be helped.' This remark halfway represented the view of the U.S. since it ignored the pain of the atomic bomb victims.
One year after Kyuma made the remark, Japan hosted the seventh annual conference of lower house speakers from the G-8 major countries in Hiroshima.
House Representatives Speaker Yohei Kono was the one who had recommended Hiroshima as the site for the conference. He was motivated by a desire to discuss nuclear disarmament, while looking squarely at the evidence that human beings used inhumane weapons against other human beings.
After the G-8 conference, Pelosi issued a short statement noting: 'I recalled anew through this tour of Hiroshima that war is hugely destructive. I came to think that it is an imminent task for all countries to promote peace and build a better world.'
She supposedly tried to respond in her own way to Kono's motive to hold the meeting in Hiroshima.
There is also dissatisfaction among atomic-bomb suffers, because there has never been an apology from the United States for the atomic bombings. The U.S. has never changed its nuclear policy to move toward abolition of all nuclear weapons.
But at a time when many Americans seek to justify the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Pelosi's visit to Hiroshima is significant.
Taking a liberal stand, Pelosi is eager for nuclear disarmament, but she visited Hiroshima as the House of Representatives speaker, even though she might be publicly criticized for doing so. We would like to express our respect to her for her courage and discernment.
When we evaluate a historical event, useless disputes tend to emerge, involving nationalism. It is necessary for both sides to understand the other side's pain even slightly, without discussing whether the event was right or wrong. We would like to bear in mind the sign of the cross made by Pelosi.