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Obama Will Visit Hiroshima — But He Won't Apologize for US Dropping the Atomic Bomb

The bombing of Hiroshima was the first time that a nuclear weapon was ever used in war, and it killed between 60,000 and 80,000 people instantly.

by VICE News and Reuters
May 10 2016, 1:40pm

Imagen vía Wikimedia Commons.

US President Barack Obama will visit become the first sitting US president to visit Hiroshima later this month, but he will not offer an apology for the United States' use of an atomic bomb on the city during World War II, the White House said on Tuesday.

The bomb that US warplanes dropped on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, killed between 60,000 and 80,000 people instantly. The final death toll from injuries, radiation, and other fallout was 192,020. Hiroshima was the first time that an atomic bomb was ever used in war. The bombing of Nagasaki three days later killed 38,000 to 80,000 people, including about half who died on the first day. Japan surrendered six days later.

During his May 27 visit, Obama intends to "to highlight his continued commitment to pursuing the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons," the White House said in a statement. He will visit the site alongside Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

"He will not revisit the decision to use the atomic bomb at the end of World War II. Instead, he will offer a forward-looking vision focused on our shared future," Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes wrote in a separate blog.

Related: Next Exit, Armageddon: Photos of America's Nuclear Weapons Legacy

A presidential apology would be controversial in the United States, where many view the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki as justified to end the war and save American lives.

The vast majority of Japanese, however, think the bombings were unjustified.

"If the president is coming to see what really happened here and if that constitutes a step toward the abolition of nuclear arms in future, I don't think we should demand an apology," Takeshi Masuda, a 91-year-old former school teacher, told Reuters.

'What really matters is not repeating the tragedy.'

"It has been really tough for those who lost family members. But if we demand an apology, that would make it impossible for him to come," he said.

Masuda's mother died a few weeks after being caught in the nuclear attack. At schools where he taught after World War II, some students had been orphaned, others severely burned.

Miki Tsukishita, 75, remembers watching something shiny falling from the sky over Hiroshima on that August morning in 1945.

He ran back into his house shouting: "The sun is falling down."

Related: US Veterans Want Japan's Prime Minister to Apologize to Congress

Tsukishita was among those who placed an advertisement in the Washington Post in 1983 urging President Ronald Reagan to visit Hiroshima.

Tsukishita wants Obama, who received the Nobel Peace Prize in part for his push for nuclear disarmament, to use his influence to persuade leaders of other nuclear-armed countries to visit Hiroshima too, so they understand the inhumanity of atomic weapons.

"What really matters is not repeating the tragedy. I want him to say to other nuclear states 'I've come to Hiroshima, so should you'," he said.

Hiroshi Harada, a former head of the atomic bomb museum that US Secretary of State John Kerry visited last month, was six when the bomb was dropped.

"At that moment, we saw people burned black, having their skin melted or limbs blown apart. It is unlikely that survivors would be in a cheery, welcoming mood," Harada said. "But President Obama would be making a very delicate political decision to come to Hiroshima. I would want to accept his visit with hopes that it will lead to the next action (for the abolition of nuclear arms)."

Obama's scheduled visit to Hiroshima later this month will coincide with the 42nd G7 Summit, which he will attend. He will also visit Vietnam for the 10th time during his presidency.

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Photo via Wikimedia Commons