Another voice has joined the chorus of those pleading with newly inaugurated President Trump to exercise restraint when it comes to use of nuclear weapons by the United States — this time from a Japanese city that has seen firsthand the devastating effects of an atomic bomb.
Tadatoshi Akiba, the former mayor of Hiroshima, wrote a letter to Trump just before his inauguration, urging him to make “wise and peaceable” decisions regarding nuclear weapons.
If anything, some of Akiba's former constituents would know.
On Aug. 6, 1945, U.S. forces dropped an atomic bomb, code-named “Little Boy,” on Hiroshima, a large city on the southwestern coast of Japan's Honshu island. Three days later, the United States dropped another atomic bomb, “Fat Man,” on Nagasaki, about 260 miles away.
The combined blasts killed as many as 200,000 people and leveled both cities.
The “hibakusha,” or survivors of the atomic bombings, would later describe witnessing white-hot fire consuming those who were not killed instantly. The intensity of the bomb caused some survivors' skin to peel off and almost all to arrive at makeshift emergency clinics with an agonizing thirst. One survivor recalled the smell of grilled dried squid permeating a treatment room — in reality that of burned human flesh.
Japan surrendered on Aug. 15, 1945, and World War II would end less than a month later. It remains the only time in history a nuclear weapon has been unleashed in war.
“Since the nuclear issue is delicate and complicated, you may find the perspectives of those from one of the nuclear issue's hot spots useful as you formulate the policy applicable to this area,” wrote Akiba, who was mayor of Hiroshima from 1999 to 2011 and has long been an advocate for eliminating nuclear weapons.
In his letter, dated Jan. 10, Akiba extended an invitation for Trump to visit Japan so he can speak to hibakusha in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Acknowledging Trump is “a busy person,” Akiba also suggested inviting survivors living in the United States to meet him, because “their struggles are worth listening to.”
“They can tell you in English their heart-wrenching experiences and a message that would produce hope in the future,” Akiba wrote. “I would recommend that you take the initiative to meet with them because I believe that the encounter would most likely change your view about war and the meaning of survival.”
Trump's White House team did not respond Monday to an email request for comment or confirmation the president had received Akiba's letter.
Throughout the presidential campaign, Trump faced a recurring charge: that he could not be trusted with the nation's nuclear weapons.
In August, a group of 50 former national security officials who served Republican and Democratic presidents signed an open letter saying Trump lacked the character, values and experience to be president.
“All of these are dangerous qualities in an individual who aspires to be President and Commander-in-Chief, with command of the U.S. nuclear arsenal,” the group wrote.
The worst-possible scenario was at times unspoken but clear — that Trump's lack of self-control could spark nuclear war.
“A man you can bait with a tweet is not a man we can trust with nuclear weapons,” his Democratic campaign rival, Hillary Clinton, charged.
While Trump has repeatedly dismissed those criticisms, he has done little to calm fears of impending nuclear war since winning the presidency. Last month, Trump tweeted that the United States “must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability.” He did not elaborate on the message, which followed comments by Russian President Vladimir Putin about strengthening his country's nuclear arsenal.
The United States must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability until such time as the world comes to its senses regarding nukes
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 22, 2016
Trump's tweet — and comments he reportedly made the following day to MSNBC's “Morning Joe” co-host Mika Brzezinski — sparked fears of a renewed arms race between the two countries.
Though Trump later seemed to walk back his statements, suggesting in an interview with two European publications that “nuclear weapons should be way down,” there were reasons to be concerned after he gained control of the United States' nearly 1,400 active nuclear warheads on Friday, wrote The Washington Post's Ishaan Tharoor.
Officials in Japan have been paying attention. Two days after Trump was elected, the current mayors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki invited him to visit, the Japan Times reported.
In a statement, Nagasaki Mayor Tomihisa Taue said he wanted Trump to “see with his own eyes, listen with his own ears and feel with his heart what happened under the mushroom cloud,” according to the newspaper.
In recent decades, the Japanese government has recorded stories of the hibakusha and placed many of them online, translated into different languages, to educate those around the world about the consequences of nuclear weapons use.
On the 70th anniversary of the atomic bombings, The Post published some of those survivors' accounts:
“I felt the city of Hiroshima had disappeared all of a sudden,” said Akihiro Takahashi, a 14-year-old at the time in line for school, whose testimony was recorded by researchers in the late 1980s. “Then I looked at myself and found my clothes had turned into rags due to the heat. I was probably burned at the back of the head, on my back, on both arms and both legs. My skin was peeling and hanging like this.”
. . . So many had, in an instant, lost those dearest to them. Eiko Taoka, then 21 years old, was carrying her 1-year-old infant son in her arms aboard a streetcar. He didn't survive the day. “I think fragments of glass had pierced his head,” she recounts. “His face was a mess because of the blood flowing from his head. But he looked at my face and smiled. His smile has remained glued in my memory.”
In May, President Barack Obama became the first sitting American president to visit Hiroshima and acknowledge the suffering of those who were bombed. There, he greeted and hugged survivors of the blast and called for the pursuit of a world without nuclear weapons.
“The world was forever changed here,” Obama said as the Genbaku Dome, or A-Bomb Dome, loomed in the distance. “But today, the children of this city will go through their day in peace. What a precious thing that is. It is worth protecting, and then extending to every child. That is the future we can choose, a future in which Hiroshima and Nagasaki are known not for the dawn of atomic warfare but as the start of our own moral awakening.”