HIROSHIMA — President Barack Obama has arrived in Hiroshima, the first visit by a sitting U.S. president to the site of the world’s first atomic bombing.
“71 years ago on a bright cloudless morning, death fell from the sky and the world was changed,” Obama said at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park.
“A flash of light and a wall of fire destroyed a city, and demonstrated that mankind possessed the means to destroy itself.”
Obama’s remarks came after he laid a wreath on the cenotaph bearing an inscription in Japanese: “Let all the souls here rest in peace; For we shall not repeat the evil.”
“Why do we come to this place, to Hiroshima? We come to ponder the terrible force unleashed in the not so distant past. We come to mourn the dead.”
Obama’s visit to the site of the devastation that left tens of thousands dead was at least six years in the making inside the White House, and follows a visit by Secretary of State John Kerry earlier this year.
Obama is expected to meet some survivors of the blast, most of whom were young children at the time their city was destroyed and at least 140,000 lives were lost.
Officials say Obama won’t apologize for the decision to use an atomic bomb however. Nor will Obama say sorry for bombing of Nagasaki days later, where tens of thousands more died.
Such an apology would be highly controversial in the U.S. and in countries like China and Korea, which suffered the brunt of Japanese aggression and atrocities during the war.
Even as Obama planned his visit, families of the tens of thousands of Koreans who were killed in Hiroshima and Nagasaki demanded separate recognition from the American president.
Obama said Thursday he hoped to mark Hiroshima as a history-altering moment — the U.S. is the only country to have ever used a nuclear bomb — that humanity must avoid repeating.
“The dropping of the atomic bomb, the ushering in of nuclear weapons, was an inflection point in modern history,” Obama said during a news conference at the G-7 Summit in Japan.
Sunao Tsuboi, a survivor who will greet Obama at the event, said he “never imagined (the President) would come while I am alive.”
“We do not need apologies,” Tsuboi added.
“I hope that he will present in Hiroshima what is good for the happiness of humankind. I would like to join hands with each other through the power of reason and beyond hatred.”
A world without nukes?
Obama further hopes his appearance at the site will serve to reinforce his bid to reduce global stockpiles of nuclear weapons, an effort that’s had only moderate strides after seven years in office.
While he successfully negotiated a deal for Iran to curb its nuclear program, North Korea only seems more intent on ramping up its own. And Obama has been accused of hypocrisy for his proposed trillion-dollar overhaul of American’s own nuclear weapons program.
Ahead of his visit to Hiroshima, Obama visited Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni to meet with members of the U.S. military, amid long-simmering resentments in Japan over the U.S. military presence in the country.
At a joint press conference late Wednesday, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe railed against an alleged murder committed by an American civilian worker stationed on Okinawa, the southern Japanese island that houses a massive U.S. military presence.