The Ambassador. Spring, 2017

Page 50

 President Obama embraces Mori during his historic visit to Hiroshima (2016) (Courtesy of Peter Grilli)

The Paper Lanterns project draws together many strands of Peter’s life—his childhood in post-war Tokyo, his love of Japanese culture and history, his professional network and connections on both sides of the Pacific and his filmmaking experience—into a neat mizuhiki knot. Even bringing him back to ASIJ. In discussing Paper Lanterns with ASIJ students, Peter said “War is an historical event when terrible things happen, but in some sense it’s an abstraction. When we hear about 300,000 people dying in Hiroshima, that number is an abstraction—it’s too large and overwhelming for us to comprehend. That’s something that we just cannot understand. When we read history books about war happening and its causes and results, those also may seem to be abstractions. It is important to read history, of course, but for me a much more compelling story is learning about the experiences of individual people in wartime. Everyone suffers in war, and each person, on both sides of the conflict, suffers in a unique and personal way. Hearing their stories makes war immediate and concrete.” “There was much debate leading up to President Obama’s visit to Hiroshima, and many people in the White House and the American government advised him not to go. For an American President to go to Hiroshima would be seen as America’s apology for dropping the atomic bomb, they feared. But, following a long and complex series of discussions, the President decided to visit Hiroshima. In his historic speech at the Peace Memorial Park, he asked the question ‘Why do we go to Hiroshima?’ And he answers by saying we must try to understand the personal experiences of those who perished there in order not to repeat such a terrible event. President Obama stated that ‘ordinary people can understand this.’ To me, that’s the point of our film, and the point of history. War is something that brings horrendous suffering to ordinary people, and it is the ordinary people who suffer much more terribly than the politicians and national leaders who create the war,” Peter told students during the Q&A session. “For us, an essential audience for this film is young people who may have no prior knowledge of nuclear warfare or the Hiroshima/Nagasaki experience,” he said. “They are the future.”

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THE AMERICAN SCHOOL IN JAPAN