Obama to Make Historic Visit to Hiroshima as U.S. Quietly Upgrades Nuclear Arsenal
President Obama will become the first serving U.S. president to visit Hiroshima, Japan, later this month. The White House said Obama will not apologize for dropping an atomic bomb on the city toward the end of World War II. The attack on Aug. 6, 1945, caused massive and widespread destruction. Shock waves, radiation and heat rays took the lives of some 140,000 people. Three days later, the U.S. dropped a second atomic bomb on Nagasaki, killing another 74,000 people.
President Obama is expected to tour the site of the world’s first nuclear attack with Japan’s prime minister, Shinzo Abe. Obama’s Communications Adviser Ben Rhodes said that Obama’s time in Hiroshima will "reaffirm America’s longstanding commitment—and the president’s personal commitment—to pursue the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons."
Obama’s visit comes as a report by the Alliance for Nuclear Accountability has revealed the U.S. has been quietly upgrading its nuclear arsenal to create smaller, more precise nuclear bombs as part of a massive effort that will cost up to $1 trillion over three decades. We speak with Kevin Martin, president of Peace Action.
Here’s the transcript of the interview:
Amy Goodman: It’s great to be back in New York, though we are still on the road. The White House has announced President Obama will become the first serving U.S. president to visit the Japanese city of Hiroshima later this month. But officials said he will not apologize for what happened on August 6, 1945, when the United States dropped the first nuclear weapon in history on the civilian population of Hiroshima. The attack destroyed the city. Shock waves, radiation and heat waves took the lives of some 140,000 people. Three days later, the U.S. dropped a second atomic bomb on Nagasaki, killing another 74,000 people. President Obama is expected to tour Hiroshima with Japan’s prime minister, Shinzo Abe. On Tuesday, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said Obama will not issue an apology.
Press Secretary Josh Earnest: The president intends to visit to send a much more forward-looking signal about his ambition for realizing the goal of a planet without nuclear weapons. This also is an opportunity for the visit to highlight the remarkable transformation in the relationship between Japan and the United States.
Amy Goodman: Despite the administration’s call for the elimination of nuclear weapons, the United States is pursuing a 30-year, $1 trillion program to modernize its nuclear weapon arsenal by designing bombs with smaller payloads. Retired General James Cartwright recently told The New York Times, quote, "what going smaller does is to make the weapon more thinkable," unquote.
To talk more about the significance of Obama’s Hiroshima visit, we go to Washington, DC, to speak with Kevin Martin, president of Peace Action.
Kevin, welcome to Democracy Now! Your response to President Obama going to Hiroshima and the press secretary making clear he would not apologize for the dropping of the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki?
Kevin Martin: We’re very glad that the president is going to Hiroshima, but we don’t want it to be just another pretty speech where he talks about some day maybe having the right conditions to move towards eliminating nuclear weapons. He’s done that before. He has some accomplishments to show for his presidency, which we can talk about, but, for now, we want him to go with concrete actions. He’s got a bit of time left in his administration and he needs to take concrete action to further that goal. And we can talk about various steps.
As far as the apology is concerned, the hibakusha, the A-bomb survivors, are not asking for it. The Japanese government is not asking for it—for all kinds of reasons. The administration has ruled it out. And I think while I personally would like to see an apology, what might be more meaningful is if he meets with hibakusha and asks their forgiveness for not doing more during his term in office to move towards the elimination of nuclear weapons. But if he will take some concrete steps, then that apology—or that asking forgiveness would be unnecessary.
Amy Goodman: Can you talk about what you are demanding?
Kevin Martin: First of all, as you just mentioned, this 30-year, $1 trillion cockamamie plan—a colleague of ours called it a "trillion-dollar train wreck"—to totally upgrade all of our nuclear weapons complex, from the research laboratories to new warheads to new missiles, bombers, submarines, I can’t think of a worse misappropriation of our tax dollars. And predictably, every other nuclear-weapon state has followed suit, saying that they are going to upgrade their nuclear weapons, as well. It totally shreds any credibility that the United States has on nonproliferation. So that would be the first thing, is cancel that.
There are a lot of other steps that he could take: taking our nuclear weapons off of hair-trigger alert, separating the warheads from their delivery systems, initiating negotiations for the elimination of nuclear weapons globally, initiating talks on a Middle East zone free of weapons of mass destruction, taking unilateral executive action that doesn’t require a long treaty process—negotiations with Russia and then Senate ratification, which would be very difficult. We could cut our reserve nuclear weapons, get rid of a bunch of those. But even the current deployed nuclear weapons, we could go down to a thousand or fewer, as the Pentagon has suggested in the past and the U.S. actually wanted to do with Russia and then challenge Russia to reciprocate. Those are just some of the steps that would be meaningful and worth a trip to Hiroshima.
Amy Goodman:: I want to turn to the words of Kenzaburo Oe, the acclaimed Japanese novelist, recipient of the 1994 Nobel Prize for Literature. When Democracy Now! was in Japan in 2014, I interviewed Kenzaburo Oe and asked him if President Obama should apologize for the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Kenzaburo Oe: [translated] I am not seeking an apology, whether from the president or from any kind of person, in regards to this issue. And I believe the fact that humanity did create these nuclear weapons is a crime that all of humanity is responsible for. And I believe this is an issue of a much greater scale than any individual politician could make an apology for. I believe that it would have great meaning if Obama, for example, was to come to Hiroshima and hear the experiences or the testimony of the survivors. But I don’t believe that what we should be seeing here is an apology from someone on behalf of the United States’ people for dropping the bomb.
So I believe that if Mr. Obama were to come to the memorial ceremonies in Hiroshima or Nagasaki, for example, what he could do is come together with the hibakusha, the survivors and share that moment of silence and also express considering the issue of nuclear weapons from the perspective of all humanity and how important nuclear abolition is from that perspective—I think, would be the most important thing and the most important thing that any politician or representative could do at this time. I believe that the issue or the experience of nuclear weapons is something too large for any individual to apologize for and it’s the responsibility of all humanity to take on board. So rather than an apology, I believe that what’s important is to call for an expression of the will and the dedication to create a world free of nuclear weapons. And so, if any influential U.S. politicians or, for example, even French, were to come to Hiroshima and Nagasaki, that is what I would like to hear.
Amy Goodman: That’s the acclaimed Japanese author, Kenzaburo Oe, recipient of the 1994 Nobel Prize for Literature. I interviewed him in Japan in 2014. I also want to turn to the words of a Hiroshima survivor I spoke to during that same trip. Koji Hosokawa was 17 years old when the U.S. dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. His 13-year-old sister Yoko died in the bombing. He gave us a tour of the city, speaking to us near the A-Bomb Dome in Hiroshima, one of the few structures in the city that survived the atomic blast.
Koji Hosokawa: [translated] The A-bomb was dropped in Hiroshima and also one in Nagasaki. And I think that atomic bombs were dropped not just on our cities, but on the whole human beings. And so, I have many things to talk about, about my experience of the A-bomb, but if the next one, the third A-bomb is to be dropped, then the Earth will be annihilated. I want people to understand, this is going to be—you know, the Earth is going to be annihilated. So whenever I talk, I want them to understand this.
The Peace Memorial Park, until the A-bomb, people lived here. Everything was destroyed. Everyone died around this area. The Peace Memorial Park is a beautiful park today, with so many trees. But later, they planted small trees and after decades these trees became bigger and now a very beautiful park today. So, I tell the visitors about this, too. I want them to understand people lived here. Please tell the people that people used to live here. War makes everyone crazy.
Amy Goodman: That’s Koji Hosokawa, 17 years old when the U.S. dropped an atomic bomb on his city of Hiroshima. His 13-year-old sister Yoko died in the bombing. He was speaking to us next to the A-Bomb Dome, one of the few structures in the city that survived the blast. I want to end by asking you, Kevin Martin, head of Peace Action—you’ve been to Hiroshima. You’ve met with Hiroshima survivors, both in Hiroshima as well as in your home state of New Jersey. Will President Obama meet with hibakusha, Hiroshima survivors?
Kevin Martin: I certainly hope so. I mean, I think he should. I think he needs to hear their stories, listen to their wisdom, listen to their sense of forgiveness, which is just awe-inspiring, as far as I’m concerned. And only thing that the hibakusha want—and, of course, many of them are very elderly—is to see the abolition of nuclear weapons, so that this never happens to anyone again.
I was in New Jersey just a few weeks ago for a dinner that New Jersey Peace Action had. And I was honored to meet again—I had met her years ago—Shigeko Sasamori, who was 13 years old when the bomb was dropped. She was a Hiroshima maiden who was brought to the United States for surgery and adopted by Norman Cousins, American peace activist. And she said she’ll be in Hiroshima and she wants to sneak through the security line and meet President Obama and shake his hand and not let go until he promises to eliminate nuclear weapons. I can’t imagine that they’re going to stop this diminutive 84-year-old grandmother. But hearing those stories could be transformative for this president, who already is committed to nuclear disarmament but just hasn’t done enough during his presidency to move us toward that goal.
Amy Goodman: And the significance of it being Prime Minister Shinzo Abe who will take him around, the prime minister of Japan? When we were in Japan, I interviewed the prime minister at the time of the Fukushima meltdown, Naoto Kan, who was a big supporter of nuclear power before the meltdown, now is one of the leading proponents in the world against nuclear power and weapons. What about Shinzo Abe’s relationship with Obama and his role in renuclearizing Japan?
Kevin Martin: Abe is terrible. He’s a nightmare for the people of Japan and the people of the region. He’s a militarist. He’s in league with the United States in terms of the so-called Asia-Pacific pivot to try to encircle and isolate China and Russia. And one of the worst things he’s doing is shredding Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution, the so-called pacifist part of the Constitution. So, he has to, I think, pay lip service to the goal of nuclear weapons abolition. I think most Japanese national politicians have to do that. But he’s no ally at all, as far as I’m concerned or the Japanese peace groups or Japanese survivors are concerned.
Amy Goodman: Kevin Martin, president of Peace Action, thanks so much for being with us. We’ll link to your piece in CounterPunch headlined "President Obama Should Meet A-Bomb Survivors."
This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. When we come back, we look at a delegate chosen by the Trump organization to represent Trump in California. They say it was a database mistake that the white supremacist was chosen. We’ll look deeper. And then we’ll talk about "Madness"; we’ll talk about what happens to mentally ill prisoners in a prison here in the United States. Stay with us.
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Disasters stemming from hazards like floods, wildfires, and disease often garner attention because of their extreme conditions and heavy societal impacts. Although the nature of the damage may vary, major disasters are alike in that socially vulnerable populations often experience the worst repercussions. For example, we saw this following Hurricanes Katrina and Harvey, each of which generated widespread physical damage and outsized impacts to low-income and minority survivors.
Mapping Social Vulnerability<p>Figure 1a is a typical map of social vulnerability across the United States at the census tract level based on the Social Vulnerability Index (SoVI) algorithm of <a href="https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/1540-6237.8402002" target="_blank"><em>Cutter et al.</em></a> . Spatial representation of the index depicts high social vulnerability regionally in the Southwest, upper Great Plains, eastern Oklahoma, southern Texas, and southern Appalachia, among other places. With such a map, users can focus attention on select places and identify population characteristics associated with elevated vulnerabilities.</p>
Fig. 1. (a) Social vulnerability across the United States at the census tract scale is mapped here following the Social Vulnerability Index (SoVI). Red and pink hues indicate high social vulnerability. (b) This bivariate map depicts social vulnerability (blue hues) and annualized per capita hazard losses (pink hues) for U.S. counties from 2010 to 2019.<p>Many current indexes in the United States and abroad are direct or conceptual offshoots of SoVI, which has been widely replicated [e.g., <a href="https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s13753-016-0090-9" target="_blank"><em>de Loyola Hummell et al.</em></a>, 2016]. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) <a href="https://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/placeandhealth/svi/index.html" target="_blank">has also developed</a> a commonly used social vulnerability index intended to help local officials identify communities that may need support before, during, and after disasters.</p><p>The first modeling and mapping efforts, starting around the mid-2000s, largely focused on describing spatial distributions of social vulnerability at varying geographic scales. Over time, research in this area came to emphasize spatial comparisons between social vulnerability and physical hazards [<a href="https://doi.org/10.1007/s11069-009-9376-1" target="_blank"><em>Wood et al.</em></a>, 2010], modeling population dynamics following disasters [<a href="https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs11111-008-0072-y" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>Myers et al.</em></a>, 2008], and quantifying the robustness of social vulnerability measures [<a href="https://doi.org/10.1007/s11069-012-0152-2" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>Tate</em></a>, 2012].</p><p>More recent work is beginning to dissolve barriers between social vulnerability and environmental justice scholarship [<a href="https://doi.org/10.2105/AJPH.2018.304846" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>Chakraborty et al.</em></a>, 2019], which has traditionally focused on root causes of exposure to pollution hazards. Another prominent new research direction involves deeper interrogation of social vulnerability drivers in specific hazard contexts and disaster phases (e.g., before, during, after). Such work has revealed that interactions among drivers are important, but existing case studies are ill suited to guiding development of new indicators [<a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijdrr.2015.09.013" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>Rufat et al.</em></a>, 2015].</p><p>Advances in geostatistical analyses have enabled researchers to characterize interactions more accurately among social vulnerability and hazard outcomes. Figure 1b depicts social vulnerability and annualized per capita hazard losses for U.S. counties from 2010 to 2019, facilitating visualization of the spatial coincidence of pre‑event susceptibilities and hazard impacts. Places ranked high in both dimensions may be priority locations for management interventions. Further, such analysis provides invaluable comparisons between places as well as information summarizing state and regional conditions.</p><p>In Figure 2, we take the analysis of interactions a step further, dividing counties into two categories: those experiencing annual per capita losses above or below the national average from 2010 to 2019. The differences among individual race, ethnicity, and poverty variables between the two county groups are small. But expressing race together with poverty (poverty attenuated by race) produces quite different results: Counties with high hazard losses have higher percentages of both impoverished Black populations and impoverished white populations than counties with low hazard losses. These county differences are most pronounced for impoverished Black populations.</p>
Fig. 2. Differences in population percentages between counties experiencing annual per capita losses above or below the national average from 2010 to 2019 for individual and compound social vulnerability indicators (race and poverty).<p>Our current work focuses on social vulnerability to floods using geostatistical modeling and mapping. The research directions are twofold. The first is to develop hazard-specific indicators of social vulnerability to aid in mitigation planning [<a href="https://doi.org/10.1007/s11069-020-04470-2" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>Tate et al.</em></a>, 2021]. Because natural hazards differ in their innate characteristics (e.g., rate of onset, spatial extent), causal processes (e.g., urbanization, meteorology), and programmatic responses by government, manifestations of social vulnerability vary across hazards.</p><p>The second is to assess the degree to which socially vulnerable populations benefit from the leading disaster recovery programs [<a href="https://doi.org/10.1080/17477891.2019.1675578" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>Emrich et al.</em></a>, 2020], such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency's (FEMA) <a href="https://www.fema.gov/individual-disaster-assistance" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Individual Assistance</a> program and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) <a href="https://www.hudexchange.info/programs/cdbg-dr/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Disaster Recovery</a> program. Both research directions posit social vulnerability indicators as potential measures of social equity.</p>
Social Vulnerability as a Measure of Equity<p>Given their focus on social marginalization and economic barriers, social vulnerability indicators are attracting growing scientific interest as measures of inequity resulting from disasters. Indeed, social vulnerability and inequity are related concepts. Social vulnerability research explores the differential susceptibilities and capacities of disaster-affected populations, whereas social equity analyses tend to focus on population disparities in the allocation of resources for hazard mitigation and disaster recovery. Interventions with an equity focus emphasize full and equal resource access for all people with unmet disaster needs.</p><p>Yet newer studies of inequity in disaster programs have documented troubling disparities in income, race, and home ownership among those who <a href="https://eos.org/articles/equity-concerns-raised-in-federal-flood-property-buyouts" target="_blank">participate in flood buyout programs</a>, are <a href="https://www.eenews.net/stories/1063477407" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">eligible for postdisaster loans</a>, receive short-term recovery assistance [<a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijdrr.2020.102010" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>Drakes et al.</em></a>, 2021], and have <a href="https://www.texastribune.org/2020/08/25/texas-natural-disasters--mental-health/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">access to mental health services</a>. For example, a recent analysis of federal flood buyouts found racial privilege to be infused at multiple program stages and geographic scales, resulting in resources that disproportionately benefit whiter and more urban counties and neighborhoods [<a href="https://doi.org/10.1177/2378023120905439" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>Elliott et al.</em></a>, 2020].</p><p>Investments in disaster risk reduction are largely prioritized on the basis of hazard modeling, historical impacts, and economic risk. Social equity, meanwhile, has been far less integrated into the considerations of public agencies for hazard and disaster management. But this situation may be beginning to shift. Following the adage of "what gets measured gets managed," social equity metrics are increasingly being inserted into disaster management.</p><p>At the national level, FEMA has <a href="https://www.fema.gov/news-release/20200220/fema-releases-affordability-framework-national-flood-insurance-program" target="_blank">developed options</a> to increase the affordability of flood insurance [Federal Emergency Management Agency, 2018]. At the subnational scale, Puerto Rico has integrated social vulnerability into its CDBG Mitigation Action Plan, expanding its considerations of risk beyond only economic factors. At the local level, Harris County, Texas, has begun using social vulnerability indicators alongside traditional measures of flood risk to introduce equity into the prioritization of flood mitigation projects [<a href="https://www.hcfcd.org/Portals/62/Resilience/Bond-Program/Prioritization-Framework/final_prioritization-framework-report_20190827.pdf?ver=2019-09-19-092535-743" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>Harris County Flood Control District</em></a>, 2019].</p><p>Unfortunately, many existing measures of disaster equity fall short. They may be unidimensional, using single indicators such as income in places where underlying vulnerability processes suggest that a multidimensional measure like racialized poverty (Figure 2) would be more valid. And criteria presumed to be objective and neutral for determining resource allocation, such as economic loss and cost-benefit ratios, prioritize asset value over social equity. For example, following the <a href="http://www.cedar-rapids.org/discover_cedar_rapids/flood_of_2008/2008_flood_facts.php" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">2008 flooding</a> in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, cost-benefit criteria supported new flood protections for the city's central business district on the east side of the Cedar River but not for vulnerable populations and workforce housing on the west side.</p><p>Furthermore, many equity measures are aspatial or ahistorical, even though the roots of marginalization may lie in systemic and spatially explicit processes that originated long ago like redlining and urban renewal. More research is thus needed to understand which measures are most suitable for which social equity analyses.</p>
Challenges for Disaster Equity Analysis<p>Across studies that quantify, map, and analyze social vulnerability to natural hazards, modelers have faced recurrent measurement challenges, many of which also apply in measuring disaster equity (Table 1). The first is clearly establishing the purpose of an equity analysis by defining characteristics such as the end user and intended use, the type of hazard, and the disaster stage (i.e., mitigation, response, or recovery). Analyses using generalized indicators like the CDC Social Vulnerability Index may be appropriate for identifying broad areas of concern, whereas more detailed analyses are ideal for high-stakes decisions about budget allocations and project prioritization.</p>
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