Obama makes first mention of Korean victims in Hiroshima

Posted on : 2016-05-28 14:58 KST Modified on : 2019-10-19 20:29 KST
Korean survivors groups displeased that Obama mentioned no concrete steps to eliminating nuclear weapons
Shim Jin-tae (centre)
Shim Jin-tae (centre)

“President Obama did make his first-ever mention of the issue of Korean atomic bomb victims, and for that I’m grateful. But there wasn’t anything specific about how he plans to eliminate nuclear weapons.“

Shim Jin-tae had deep disappointment in his voice after observing US President Barack Obama’s visit to Hiroshima on May 27. The 73-year-old chairperson of the Hapcheon chapter of the Korea Atomic Bombs Victim Association felt Obama’s pledge to achieve a “world without nuclear weapons” did not live up to his hopes.

“He didn’t say he was going to eliminate nuclear weapons - he just said he was going to reduce them, and even that may have just been sloganeering,” Shim said. “The US needs to act to eliminate nuclear weapons.”

Other survivors who visited Hiroshima also expressed disappointment over Obama’s failure to visit a memorial stone to Korean A-bomb victims at Hiroshima Peace Park.

“Everyone’s thinking it was fortunate at least that he mentioned the existence of Korean victims for the first time, but if he’d walked over just a bit the Korean memorial stone would have been right there,” said Park Seok-bun, a standing committee member with the Busan chapter of Solidarity for Peace And Reunification of Korea (SPARK) who accompanied the delegation. “They were very disappointed, wondering how he could have not stopped by there.”

Lee Jong-geun, an 88-year-old Korean-Japanese survivor of the 1945 Hiroshima blast, noted that “not a single Korean A-bomb victim was able to enter the venue for President Obama’s visit today.”

“I was so upset in the morning that I called the Mayor of Hiroshima to say the Korean survivors were here now and ask that we be allowed in,” Lee added.

Earlier that morning, the visiting South Korean delegation - which included Shim and five other first- and second-generation survivors, as well as representatives from SPARK and other pacific groups - held a press conference in front of the Korean memorial.

“Until responsibility is taken for the atomic bomb, there will be no world peace,” the members said.

“President Obama must stand in front of this memorial and apologize to us.”

Han Jeong-soon, the 57-year-old chairperson of the Association for the Second Generation of Korean Atomic Bomb Survivors, was one of the attendees.

“Our son is 34 this year, but he can’t do anything because of his cerebral palsy,” she said, showing a picture of her son.

“My war didn’t end that day [in August 1945],” Jeong added. “We began our war the day we were born.”

The delegation also distributed a letter to Japanese reporters titled “We demand acknowledgement, investigation, an apology, and compensation for the Korean atomic bomb victims,” in which they asked for more press attention to Korean survivor issues.

By Gil Yun-hyung, Tokyo correspondent

Please direct questions or comments to [english@hani.co.kr]

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