Hiroshima – U.S. President Barack Obama travelled to Hiroshima on Friday, as the first incumbent president to visit the site of the first atomic bombing in the final days of World War II.
Along with Japanese Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, Obama laid a wreath at the arch-shaped Hiroshima Peace Memorial near ground zero, which was inscribed with the words,
“Let all the souls here rest in peace; for we shall not repeat the evil.
“Seventy-one years ago on a bright cloudless morning, death fell from the sky and the world was changed,” Obama said, referring to the atomic bombing.
The nuclear attack on the city on August 6, 1945, killed tens of thousands of residents instantly, and by the end of the year, some 140,000 in total had died.
“A flash of light and a wall of fire destroyed the city and demonstrated that mankind possessed the means to destroy itself.
“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,’’he said.
Obama stopped short of offering an apology for the U.S. atomic bombing in the speech, which he delivered after attending this year’s G7 summit in the coastal city of Shima.
Obama, who arrived on Wednesday after a three-day trip to Vietnam, also stopped by the Peace Memorial Museum before the speech.
“We have known the agony of war. Let us now find the courage, together, to spread peace, and pursue a world without nuclear weapons,” Obama wrote in the museum’s guestbook.
Some survivors, alongside U.S. Ambassador to Japan Caroline Kennedy, Hiroshima Mayor Kazumi Matsui and Nagasaki Mayor Tomihisa Taue, were among about 100 people in the audience at the ceremony.
Obama briefly spoke to a couple of survivors, including Sunao Tsuboi, chairman of the Japan Confederation of Atomic and Hydrogen Bomb Sufferers’ Organisations, who has a mutilated ear and scars on his face.
“I was glad to see the president meet some survivors.
That was the best part of today’s event,” said Keisaburo Toyonaga, a survivor who has long helped atomic-bomb victims in South Korea.
Since Obama outlined his vision of a nuclear-free world in a speech in Prague in 2009, Washington has actively engaged with the nuclear horror in Hiroshima.
In 2010, John Roos became the first U.S. ambassador to Japan to attend an annual memorial ceremony on the bombing anniversary in the city. His successor Kennedy has been present every year.
In April, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry paid tribute to victims of the bombing in the city, saying “everyone in the world should see and feel the power of this memorial.”
However, some criticised Obama’s double-standards because his administration works to expand the country’s own nuclear capabilities, despite calling for a world without nuclear weapons.
Hisayo Takada, the Deputy Programme Director at Greenpeace hollow without far bolder efforts to rid the world of nuclear weapons.
“We welcome President Obama’s attempt to understand the miseries of nuclear warfare, but this visit rings.
“If the U.S. wants to help build a peaceful world, it is not enough to only visit the ruins of the past,’’ he said.
In 1945, three days after the bombing on Hiroshima, a second atom bomb released from a B-29 was detonated over the port city of Nagasaki.
Around 74,000 lost their lives by the end of the year due to that attack.
“It was very disappointing that he did not make it to Nagasaki. I hope he will come to the city with his family after he leaves office,” one of the survivors, Michiko Harada said.
Harada travelled to the U.S. last year and told students and citizens about her experience.
It was her first trip abroad.
More than 70 years after the atomic bombing, children in Hiroshima will go through their day in peace.
“What a precious thing that is. It is worth protecting and then extending to every child.
“That is a future we can choose, a future in which Hiroshima and Nagasaki are known not as the dawn of atomic warfare, but as the start of our own moral awakening,’’ Obama said. (dpa/NAN)