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Obama makes history by visit to Hiroshima bomb site

USA TODAY logo USA TODAY 27/05/2016 Kirk Spitzer

President Obama made history Friday by becoming the first sitting U.S. head of state to visit Hiroshima since American forces dropped an atomic bomb on the city in 1945, killing an estimated 80,000 people and hastening the end of World War II. 

Obama and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe laid wreaths in the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park shortly after Obama's arrival. Obama called for a "world without nuclear weapons."

"Seventy-one years ago on a bright cloudless morning, death fell from the sky and the world was changed," he said. “The memory of the morning of Aug. 6, 1945, must never fade."

"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 including over 100,000 Japanese men women and children, thousands of Koreans, a dozen Americans held prisoner," Obama said.

 Abe said Obama’s visit opened new chapter of reconciliation for the United States and Japan.

Large and seemingly supportive crowds began gathering outside the Peace Memorial Park before Obama's arrival.

“It’s going to mean a lot for people here to see him come and lay flowers and pay his respects. No one expects him to apologize — the gesture, the visit alone, is enough,” said Matt Steckling, 25, a Chicago native who has lived in Hiroshima for about a year and a half.  

Obama did not apologize for the Hiroshima bombing or the atomic attack on Nagasaki three days later. About 80,000 were killed outright by the bombing in Hiroshima and another 60,000 died by the year’s end. About 70,000 people were killed in Nagasaki. The death toll for both bombings stands at 210,000.

Japanese bomb victim organizations have long pressed for an apology, viewing the use of atomic weapons as inhumane.

President Obama lays a wreath at Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park in Hiroshima, western, Japan, Friday, May 27, 2016. © Shuji Kajiyama, AP President Obama lays a wreath at Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park in Hiroshima, western, Japan, Friday, May 27, 2016. Many American veteran groups and former prisoners of war have opposed an apology, arguing that the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings hastened the end of a long and brutal conflict.

"Our visit to Hiroshima will honor all those who were lost in World War II and reaffirm our shared vision of a world without nuclear weapons," Obama said at a press conference this week.

Japan surrendered on Aug. 15, 1945. Obama was awarded the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize largely on his stated goal of controlling the spread of nuclear weapons.

Obama was in Japan this week to attend the Group of Seven leaders’ conference in Ise-Shima, about 300 miles away. He was scheduled to meet with troops at a U.S. airbase near Hiroshima after the summit ended Friday. 

Obama entered the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, where he was expected to sign a guest book. He and Abe were scheduled to tour the memorial park and speak with three bombing survivors. 

No American veterans or former prisoners of war were invited to the ceremony. A U.S. POW support group announced last week that the White House had invited a former POW to accompany Obama during his visit to the memorial, but the White House later said that no such invitation had been extended.

Supporters said that was a missed opportunity.

“The inclusion of this individual standing alongside our president and the leader of America’s strong ally would have served as a powerful and appropriate reminder of all those who suffered in the Asia Pacific region during WWII,” Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, said in a statement Thursday. 

Among the invited guests was 78-year-old Shigeaki Mori, a Hiroshima bomb survivor. Mori spent 35 years trying to locate and console family members of 12 captured American airmen who were killed in the bombing. 

Mori is not looking for an apology from Obama, said Barry Frechette, a filmmaker who produced a recent documentary on Mori’s efforts.

“The most important thing we can do is recognize what happened, and understand the horrible consequences of war,” Frechette said. “We heard from U.S. POW families about how terrible a sacrifice was paid in the loss of their loved ones, but also what terrible consequences of war on the Japanese side, too, especially to the civilians.”


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