On Friday, President Barack Obama paid tribute to the “silent cry” of the 140,000 people killed by the world’s first atomic bomb attack and sought to renew attention in his unfulfilled vision of a world without nuclear weapons, as he became the first sitting U.S. president to visit Hiroshima. After laying a wreath, closing his eyes and briefly bowing his head before an arched monument in Hiroshima’s Peace Memorial Park Obama said “Death fell from the sky and the world was changed, it demonstrated that mankind possessed the means to destroy itself.”
Obama did not apologize, however in a carefully choreographed display he offered a reflection on the horrors of war and his hope that Hiroshima would be remembered as the beginning of a “moral awakening.” Obama acknowledged the devastating toll of war and urged the world to do better as he and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe stood near an iconic bombed-out domed building.
President Obama said “We stand here in the middle of this city and force ourselves to imagine the moment the bomb fell … we listen to a silent cry.” A second atomic bomb, dropped on Nagasaki three days after Hiroshima, killed 70,000 more.
Obama also sought to look forward to the day when there was less danger of nuclear war. He even received a Nobel Peace Prize early on in his presidency for his anti-nuclear agenda but has since seen uneven progress.
Following the remarks, Abe called Obama’s visit courageous and long-awaited. He said it would help the suffering of survivors and echoed the anti-nuclear sentiments.The visit presented a diplomatic tightrope for a U.S. president trying to make history without ripping open old wounds.
Critics believe Obama’s mere presence in Hiroshima will be viewed as an apology for what they see as a justified attack. But he has also drawn praise from those who see it as a long overdue gesture for two allies ready to bury a troubled past.
Obama’s remarks showed a careful awareness of the sensitivities. He included both South Koreans and American prisoners of war in recounting the death toll at Hiroshima — a nod to advocates for both groups that publicly warned the president not to forget their dead.
Obama also spoke broadly of the brutality of the war that begat the bombing, but did not assign blame. After his remarks, he met with two survivors, but his remarks to the aging men were out of ear shot of reporters.
The visit was meant to demonstrate the strength of the U.S.-Japanese alliance, and Obama and Abe took each step together. Both men went to the lobby of the peace museum to sign the guest book. According to the White House Obama wrote “We have known the agony of war. Let us now find the courage, together, to spread peace, and pursue a world without nuclear weapons.”
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