President Barack Obama will be the first sitting U.S. president to visit the site of the world’s first atomic bombing at Hiroshima, Japan, where 140,000 people were killed.
Obama will visit the city on May 27 alongside Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. The White House formally announced the trip, which will be made after he attends the Group of 7 economic summit, the Washington Post reported.
The atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima on Aug. 6, 1945, killing 140,000 people. Three days later, a second bomb was dropped on Nagasaki, killing another 80,000.
Many Americans believe the atomic bomb was justified because it helped end World War II and saved the lives of U.S. soldiers. For decades, Japanese survivor groups have urged leaders from the U.S. and countries with nuclear power to go to Hiroshima as part of a campaign to eliminate nuclear weapons, NBC News added.
According to the New York Times, Obama’s Hiroshima visit has been debated for months while the president planned a trip to Japan and Vietnam. And it comes after Secretary of State John Kerry visited Hiroshima last month — the first secretary of state to do so, Japan Times noted. Deputy national security adviser Benjamin J. Rhodes said the trip has a clear purpose.
“In making this visit, the president will shine a spotlight on the tremendous and devastating human toll of war.”
But the visit to Hiroshima hasn’t come without controversy. Some have accused Obama of apologizing for the war-time decision, but the White House has noted that the trip is part of the president’s ongoing mission to end nuclear weapons. Japan’s Abe, meanwhile, said he will “welcome President Obama’s visit to Hiroshima from the bottom of my heart.”
Rhodes has confirmed that Obama isn’t going to discuss the decision to “use the atomic bomb at the end of World War II” and doesn’t intend to apologize. That hasn’t stopped his critics, however, from accusing him of symbolically apologizing simply by showing up.
According to ABC News, American presidents have avoided Hiroshima and Nagasaki for 71 years because a trip there could be seen as an apology. Obama has often been accused of being too sensitive to complaints lodged against the U.S. for its past policies and actions.
During the 2012 campaign, GOP candidate Mitt Romney called Obama’s sympathies an “apology tour” and accused him of being weak on foreign policy. He was even criticized for bowing to Japan’s emperor; the White House said it was a sign of respect, but his critics called it a sign of weakness.
Scars of Hiroshima
Rhodes said Obama’s visit symbolizes the strong relationship between the U.S. and Japan and how far it has come since World War II. Many people, however, think Obama should take it one step further and apologize for the devastating atomic bomb.
Though Obama may place a wreath at Peace Memorial Park near Hiroshima’s ground zero, the Prime Minster hasn’t urged the president to apologize.
“Seventy years ago, so many people were mercilessly killed by the dropping of the atomic bomb. I would like this visit to be an opportunity to honor all the victims in Japan and in the United States. By having President Obama visit Hiroshima and see the realities of radiation exposure, and by having him communicate his thoughts and feelings to the world, I believe this will lend great power towards achieving a world without nuclear weapons.”
‘Peace and Security’
The White House has stressed that the visit to Hiroshima is part Obama’s plan — which he’s stressed since taking office — to rid the world of nuclear weapons. The administration believed that this year was the time to make a “grand symbolic statement” and emphasize his commitment to “pursue the peace and security.”
The trip will also focus attention on disarmament as GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump urges Japan and South Korea to develop nuclear weapons to fight North Korea, Rhodes noted.
“The symbol of Hiroshima is the significant and even, in some ways, tragic ability that mankind has to wreak terrible destruction,” said White House press secretary Josh Earnest. “Symbolically, there’s no more powerful illustration of that commitment than the city that contained the victims of the first use of that weapon.”
[Photo By Joe Raedle/Getty Images]