HIROSHIMA (AFP, Reuters) - Two men who suffered horrific injuries in the world’s first nuclear strike seven decades ago came face-to-face Friday (May 27) with the present-day commander-in-chief of the country that launched the attack. And one of them got a hug.
Shigeaki Mori, 79, appeared overwhelmed with emotion as he shook hands with US President Barack Obama after a highly charged ceremony in Hiroshima.
“The president gestured as if he was going to give me a hug, so we hugged,” Mori said of the embrace that was broadcast around the world.
That very human moment between an old man and one of the world’s most powerful people came after Obama delivered a soaring speech that touched on the horrors of the American atomic bomb that obliterated Hiroshima.
“Seventy-one years ago, death fell from the sky and the world was changed,” Obama told a specially invited audience at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park.
"Why did we come to this place, to Hiroshima? We come to ponder a terrible force unleashed in the not-so-distant past. We come to mourn the dead,” he said.
Mori was a young boy when he was blown into a river by the force of the huge blast on Aug 6, 1945. He saw dead and dying people everywhere, many with their innards hanging out, and says he was only able to escape the horror by clambering over the barely breathing bodies all around him.
Obama also met the sprightly Sunao Tsuboi, a 91-year-old who suffered serious burns in the blast and subsequently developed cancer.
Tsuboi, a long-time campaigner for nuclear disarmament, smiled broadly as he shook Obama’s hand, with the two men conversing for upwards of a minute.
“I was able to convey my thoughts,” a satisfied Tsuboi told reporters afterwards.
Tsuboi suffered burns all over his body during the attack, and wandered naked through the charred streets until he could no longer walk, before collapsing in the radioactive dirt.
“I told him to firmly study what exactly nuclear weapons are,” he said, adding that he appreciated Obama’s visit.
“I give him a big welcome. His Prague speech is still alive.” Tsuboi was referring to a landmark address Obama gave in the Czech capital in 2009 when he called for a “world without nuclear weapons”, a sentiment he reiterated Friday in Hiroshima.
For Mori, the emotion of the meeting with Obama was all a bit much. Asked what exactly the two men had talked about before he got his hug, he confessed he didn’t quite know.
“I tried to listen to him, but it was so overwhelming,” he said.
Following are comments from other people in Hiroshima.
EIJI HATTORI, 73, SURVIVOR
"I think (Obama's speech) was an apology."
Hattori's parents and grandparents, who sold rice near where the bomb fell, all either died that day or in the years that followed. Hattori, who now has three types of cancer, earlier said that an Obama apology would ease his suffering.
"I feel different now. I didn't think he'd go that far and say so much. I feel I've been saved somewhat. For me, it was more than enough."
TAKEO SUGIYAMA, 85, FORMER JUNIOR HIGH SCHOOL TEACHER
"I was very much moved by his message, his message that people were having ordinary lives in Hiroshima 71 years ago just like we do today, and he is giving thought about those ordinary lives having been taken away."
Sugiyama's younger sister, then 12, died in the bombing. "I hope he will do his utmost for world peace for the rest of his term. That action alone can prove he meant what he said today."
MIKI TSUKISHITA, 75, SURVIVOR
"I'm afraid I did not hear anything concrete about how he plans to achieve the abolition of nuclear weapons. Atomic-bomb survivors, including me, are getting older.
"Just cheering his visit is not enough. As a serving US president... I wish he had been more specific and concrete."
KENJI ISHIDA, 68, TAXI DRIVER
"A sitting US president visiting Hiroshima is just the first step. We're still 10 years from the possibility of a president issuing an apology."
Born two years after the bomb was dropped, Ishida remembers growing up with bomb survivors whose skin was scarred.
"Japan has to apologise for Pearl Harbour, too, if we're going to say the US must apologise... That's not possible, given the countries' current situations. In America, people say the war ended early because they dropped the atomic bomb. If a president apologised for this, it would raise hell in the US.
"We can't tell North Korea not to have nukes when the US has them, but the US developed them first... It's not possible to get rid of nuclear weapons when they're being used as deterrence."
TAXI DRIVER, IN HIS 70s
"For 70 years, my family has been fighting with the risks of radiation."
The driver, who was born before the bomb fell and declined to give his name, said his parents were irradiated. His younger siblings, born after the bombing, fear they may one day show symptoms.
"In all the years I've been alive, I've never once attended the memorial on Aug 6... My family avoids thinking about it as much as possible, we're trying so hard to forget.
"Many people in Hiroshima feel the same way."