Obama reiterates call for world without nuclear in historic Hiroshima visit

HISTORIC VISIT — U.S. President Barack Obama (L) hugs Shigeaki Mori, a 79-year-old survivor of the U.S. atomic bombing, at the Peace Memorial Park in Hiroshima on May 27. Obama became the first sitting U.S. president to visit the atomic-bombed city that day. Kyodo News  pool photo

HISTORIC VISIT — U.S. President Barack Obama (L) hugs Shigeaki Mori, a 79-year-old survivor of the U.S. atomic bombing, at the Peace Memorial Park in Hiroshima on May 27. Obama became the first sitting U.S. president to visit the atomic-bombed city that day. Kyodo News
pool photo

HIROSHIMA — U.S. President Barack Obama on May 27 became the first sitting U.S. president to visit Hiroshima, where he reiterated his call for a “world without nuclear weapons” during his speech at the Peace Memorial Park in the city devastated by the world’s first atomic bomb 71 years ago.

“Among those nations like my own that hold nuclear stockpiles, we must have the courage to escape the logic of fear and pursue a world without them,” Obama said in front of an audience of some 100 people, including atomic-bomb survivors.

Accompanied by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Obama laid a wreath at the Cenotaph for the A-bomb victims before the speech. He also visited the Peace Memorial Museum, which displays a number of artifacts of the victims and other exhibits related to the Aug. 6, 1945, attack in the final stage of World War II.

Obama emphasized in his address that a nuclear weapon must not be used again, saying, “We’re not bound by our genetic codes to repeat the mistakes of the past,” but failed to present any new measure to further enhance nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation.

During the 17-minute speech, Obama did not apologize — nor was he expected to — for the atomic bombings, which were authorized by wartime President Harry Truman. He also refrained from making remarks about the impression of the museum exhibiting various items belonging to victims of the nuclear attack, such as a charred tricycle, and images of burned bodies.

About why people come to Hiroshima, the site of the world’s first atomic bombing, he said, “We come to ponder the terrible force unleashed in a not-so-distant past. We come to mourn the dead.”

In addition to “over 100,000 Japanese men, women and children” who died, Obama referred to “thousands of Koreans” and “a dozen Americans” who were killed in the attack.

After delivering the speech, Obama walked over to Sunao Tsuboi, a 91-year-old leader of the Japan Confederation of A- and H- Bomb Sufferers Organizations and had a conversation with him.

He also listened to Shigeaki Mori, 79, and gave a hug to the researcher who followed stories of 12 American soldiers who died in the attack while they were being held as prisoners of war by the Japanese military at that time, as Mori burst into tears during his conversation with the president.

Hiroshima Mayor Kazumi Matsui and Nagasaki Mayor Tomihisa Taue were also among about 100 people in the audience at the ceremony.

Under tight security, Obama took a tour of the park, which houses the museum and the Atomic Bomb Dome — the skeletal remains of the only major building partially left standing after the Aug. 6 blast.

Obama made the trip after dismissing criticism that it could be seen as tantamount to an apology for the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which many in the United States and allied countries believe were necessary to bring an earlier end to the war and save thousands of lives.

Obama traveled to Hiroshima after attending a two-day summit of the Group of Seven countries in Shima, some 400 kilometers (249 miles) east, after the summit wrapped up.

In mid-April, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry visited memorial locations in Hiroshima on the sidelines of G-7 foreign ministers’ meeting there.

Obama, who took office in January 2009, was awarded that year’s Nobel Peace Prize for his stated intention to seek a world without nuclear weapons, a commitment he made in a high-profile speech in Prague three months after his inauguration.

During his first trip to Japan as president in 2009, Obama said at a press conference in Tokyo that he would be “honored” to have the opportunity to visit Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

The United States dropped an atomic bomb on Nagasaki on Aug. 9, 1945, and Japan surrendered six days later. The number of people — mostly civilians — who had died by the end of 1945 from the bombings is estimated at 140,000 in Hiroshima and 74,000 in Nagasaki, according to the cities.

The highest-ranking U.S. official so far to have visited Hiroshima is Nancy Pelosi, who did so in 2008 as speaker of the House of Representatives. The House chief stands behind only the vice president in the line of succession to the U.S. presidency.

In 1984 Jimmy Carter, as a former American president, visited the museum in Hiroshima.

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