On Friday, President Obama continued his tour of Japan as the first sitting president to visit Hiroshima since World War II. He paid a somber appearance to the Hiroshima Peace Park Memorial, which followed the Thursday G-7 meeting where he spoke of a “sense of urgency” to eliminate the world’s nuclear weapons. As forecast, Obama did not make apologies for the United States’ 1945 atomic bombings, but did express sympathy. The event was attended by Hiroshima survivors, including Shigeaki Mori, who shared a public embrace with the president. Mori reportedly spent 35 years attempting to contact relatives of the 12 American airmen who were detained in the city when it went up in flames. During his speech, Obama singled out Mori, who “sought out the families of Americans who were killed here because he believed their loss was equal to his own.”
In dropping the “Little Boy” bomb on Hiroshima (and its companion, “Fat Man,” days later on Nagasaki), the United States waged the world’s first nuclear attack. The pages of history paint this event as a way to end the war and end a greater loss of life. Seventy years later, Obama urges nuclear disarmament, which is still a timely subject with Iran defying U.S. sanctions with what they say are deterrent ballistic missiles, but many aren’t sure. After laying a flower wreath at the memorial alongside Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Obama bowed his head near the eternal flame. He then delivered a 17-minute speech that began like this:
“Seventy-one years ago, death fell from the sky and the world was changed. A flash of light and a wall of fire destroyed a city, and demonstrated that mankind possessed the means to destroy itself. Why do we come to this place, to Hiroshima? We come to ponder a terrible force unleashed in the not-so-distant past.
“We come to mourn the dead, including over 100,000 Japanese men, women and children, thousands of Koreans, a dozen Americans held prisoner. Their souls speak to us. They ask us to look inward, to take stock of who we are, and what we might become. It is not the facts of war that sets Hiroshima apart.”
Prime Minister Abe later echoed Obama’s sentiments while taking the podium. He stressed, “This tragedy must not be allowed to occur again.” The two leaders stood in solidarity to symbolize their countries’ alliance, which followed the Japanese surrender. All of this seems quite heady, given that the United States is the only country to have deployed a nuclear bomb, and — as the BBC points reminds us — the U.S. president never travels without a military aide holding nuclear launch codes in a briefcase. Yet this occasion was marked by both leaders expressing a commitment to altogether rid the world of these weapons.
Here’s the video of Obama’s Hiroshima memorial speech and Prime Minister Abe’s subsequent comments.