Nearly 71 years after an American bomber passed high above this Japanese city on a clear August morning for a mission that would alter history, President Obama on Friday called for an end to nuclear weapons in a solemn visit to Hiroshima to offer respects to the victims of the world’s first deployed atomic bomb.
Writing in the Hiroshima Peace Park guest book, Obama called for the courage to “spread peace and pursue a world without nuclear weapons.” In later remarks, he said that scientific strides must be matched by moral progress or mankind was doomed.
Obama’s visit had brought great anticipation in Hiroshima, and across Japan, among those who longed for an American president to acknowledge the suffering of the estimated 140,000 killed during the bombing on Aug. 6, 1945 and its aftermath. That figure includes 20,000 Koreans who had been forced by the Japanese military to work in the city for the imperial war machine.
Three days later in 1945, a second U.S. atomic bomb in Nagasaki killed a total of 80,000, including another 30,000 Koreans. Most of those killed in both cities were civilians. The Japanese emperor announced his nation’s surrender a week later.
On Friday, people lined streets as Obama’s motorcade entered the city. The presidential limousine pulled up behind the Peace Memorial Museum.
In the park, guests were seated just in front of the curved, concrete cenotaph that pays tribute to the dead with an eternal flame burning just beyond it. The Genbaku Dome, or A-bomb dome, the preserved, skeletal remnants of a municipal building destroyed in the blast, was visible in the distance.
National Security Adviser Susan E. Rice and Ambassador Caroline Kennedy walked out from near the museum, along with their Japanese counterparts, followed by Obama and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
Then Obama was handed a wreath and laid it on a stand in front of the cenotaph. He bowed his head and stood silently for a minute. Abe then did the same.