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In Hiroshima, Obama honors ‘silent cry’ of bombing victims

  • ASSOCIATED PRESS

    U.S. President Barack Obama lays a wreath at Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park in Hiroshima, western, Japan, Friday, May 27, 2016. Obama on Friday became the first sitting U.S. president to visit the site of the world’s first atomic bomb attack, bringing global attention both to survivors and to his unfulfilled vision of a world without nuclear weapons.

HIROSHIMA, Japan >> President Barack Obama paid tribute Friday to the “silent cry” of the 140,000 victims of the atomic bomb dropped 71 years ago on Hiroshima, and called on the world to abandon “the logic of fear” that encourages the stockpiling of nuclear weapons.

Obama’s trip to Hiroshima made him the first U.S. president to visit the site of the world’s first atomic bomb attack, and he sought to walk a delicate line between honoring the dead, pushing his as-yet unrealized anti-nuclear vision and avoiding any sense of apology for an act many Americans see as a justified end to a brutal war that Japan started with a sneak attack at Pearl Harbor.

“Death fell from the sky and the world was changed,” Obama said, after laying a wreath, closing his eyes and briefly bowing his head before an arched stone monument in Hiroshima’s Peace Memorial Park that honors those killed on Aug. 6, 1945. “The flash of light and a wall of fire destroyed a city and demonstrated that mankind possessed the means to destroy itself.”

In a carefully choreographed display, Obama offered a somber reflection on the horrors of war and the danger of technology that gives humans the “capacity for unmatched destruction.”

With Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe standing by his side and an iconic bombed-out domed building looming behind him, Obama urged the world to do better.

“We stand here in the middle of this city and force ourselves to imagine the moment the bomb fell,” Obama said. “We force ourselves to feel the dread of children confused by what they see. We listen to a silent cry.”

A second atomic bomb, dropped on Nagasaki three days after Hiroshima, killed 70,000 more. Japan surrendered on Aug. 15, 1945, ending a war that killed millions.

Obama hoped Hiroshima would someday be remembered not as the dawn of the atomic age but as the beginning of a “moral awakening.” He renewed his call for a world less threatened by danger of nuclear war. He received a Nobel Peace Prize early on in his presidency for his anti-nuclear agenda but has since seen uneven progress.

“Among those nations like my own that hold nuclear stockpiles, we must have the courage to escape the logic of fear and pursue a world without them,” Obama said.

Abe, in his speech, called Obama’s visit courageous and long-awaited. He said it would help the suffering of survivors and he echoed the anti-nuclear sentiments.

“At any place in world, this tragedy must not be repeated again,” Abe said.

Critics believe Obama’s mere presence in Hiroshima would be viewed as an apology for what they see as a bombing that was needed to stop a Japanese war machine that had brutalized Asia and killed many Americans. But Obama’s decision also drew praise from those who see it as a long overdue gesture for two allies ready to bury a troubled past.

Obama’s remarks showed a careful awareness of the sensitivities. He included both South Koreans and American prisoners of war in recounting the death toll at Hiroshima — a nod to advocates for both groups who publicly warned the president not to forget their dead.

Obama spoke broadly of the brutality of the war that begat the bombing — saying it “grew out of the same base instinct for domination or conquest that had caused conflicts among the simplest tribes” — but did not assign blame.

After his remarks, he met with two survivors. Although he was out of ear shot of reporters, Obama could be seen laughing and smiling with 91-year-old Sunao Tsuboi. He embraced Shigeaki Mori, 79, in a hug.

Later, Tsuboi told reporters he was struck by how Obama held his hand and listened carefully. He told the U.S. president he will be remembered as the one who “listened to the voice of survivors like us.”

“You should come visit Hiroshima from time to time and meet lots of people. That is what is important,” Tsuboi said.

Obama’s visit, which lasted just under two hours while most Americans were sleeping, was crafted for close scrutiny in Asia, a region he’s tried to put at the center of his foreign policy legacy. Obama and Abe strode together along a tree-lined path, past an eternal flame, toward a river that flows by the domed building that many associate with Hiroshima.

They earlier went to the lobby of the peace museum to sign the guest book: “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, according to the White House.

The president’s call for a nuclear-free world was a long way from the optimistic rallying cry he delivered as young, newly elected president. Obama did not employ his campaign slogan — “Yes, we can” — as he did in a speech in Prague in 2009. Instead, the president spoke of diligent, incremental steps.

“We may not realize this goal in my lifetime but persistent effort can roll back the possibility of catastrophe,” he said. “We can chart a course that leads to the destruction of these stockpiles.”

Obama touched down in Hiroshima after completing talks with world leaders at an international summit in Shima, Japan. He was accompanied by Caroline Kennedy, the U.S. ambassador to Japan.

Hiroshima’s peace park is a poignant place, with searing images of the burnt, tattered clothing of dead children and the exposed steel beams on the iconic A-bomb dome. The skeletal remains of the exhibition hall have become an international symbol of peace and a place for prayer.

Han Jeong-soon, the 58-year-old daughter of a Korean survivor, was also at the park Friday.

“The suffering, such as illness, gets carried on over the generations — that is what I want President Obama to know,” she said. “I want him to understand our sufferings.”

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  • Paying respect is fine. But I don’t see or hear about Japan’s leader coming over here to Pearl Harbor and give his silent tears for the bombing victims of their war regime. Correct me if I’m wrong but didn’t they start this mess? We just ended it.

    • There were various reasons why the Japanese government thought it necessary to cripple the U.S. Pacific fleet in 1941 but there is little point in rehashing them here. Let us just say that the attack on Pearl Harbor did not happen in a vacuum.

      You are correct that open military hostilities between the U.S. and Japan were initiated by the Japanese. But it would also be correct to note that Japanese naval aviators that Sunday morning concentrated their sorties on legitimate military targets such as warships and enemy aircraft.

      While it certainly can be done, it’s more difficult to make a broad generalization that the entire cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were “legitimate military targets.” True, parts of them were, but certainly not the hospitals, schools, temples and churches, and last but not least, the homes of civilians. And as the article mentions, some American prisoners of war perished in the atomic bombings as well.

      I’ll just close by saying that the atomic bombings were simply the price Japan had to pay for Pearl Harbor. Whether the price was entirely justified is up to future historians to sort out after we’re all dead and gone – and maybe not even then. William Tecumseh Sherman, perhaps the first modern advocate of total war, had it right when he said, “It is all hell.”

      • “There were reasons…attack on Pearl Harbor did not happen in a vacuum.” Implies there were good or reasonable reasons. There were not. Japan attacked PH in order to further/consolidate/preserve their military conquests in China, the pacific, and other asian countries—- all of which involved wholesale butchery of civilian populations, without conscience or hesitation. In fact, their brutality was celebrated in the Japanese homeland during the war.

        “Legitimate targets …parts of them were” As though, through painstaking effort, we could have carefully picked and chosen the military targets only in a timely conquest of Japan. Why did it need to be timely? The cold war loomed.

        War is hell. The Japanese nation opened that door, not us.

        • Wrong. Your version of history is the same tired, simple narrative doled out to people eager to hear how America did no wrong. The roots of WWII go back much further than Pearl Harbor and have to do with Western imperialism- the Americans were exploiting the Philippines and Hawai’i, the Dutch- Indonesia, the British- China, and the French- Indochina. America was eager to go to war to stoke its economy, still tottering from the Great Depression, and to preserve its colonial holdings. It essentially goaded Japan into an attack- which incidentally, caught the American military by surprise due to ineptitude, not Japanese treachery.

  • The writer of the article is either is ignorant of the fact that President Jimmy Carter also visited Hiroshima not as a sitting president but as a private citizen. Should be the first sitting President! Also the economic summit wwas held on the island of Ie Shima. The Japanese term shima is equivalent to island, thus on Ie island.

  • The President speech indicates the greatness of our country and delivered by a gentleman with courage! We did not go into this war to destroy but to protect and stop the ravaged and annihilation of our world of that period of conflicts. To introduce peace and tranquility at this moment in time begets hope for a brighter future. Hope is never an enemy!

  • Good for the US and Obama to pay respects in Hiroshima. The past is history and his visit makes a statement to support world peace. No one wins in any war!

  • The extensive coverage being given to Obama’s visit to Hiroshima seems to be portraying the Japanese as victims of American aggression. Survivor after survivor and relatives of many who perished in the A-bombing of Hiroshima have been paraded out to tell horrifying stories of what happened that day. Yes, they deserve an apology, but not from the United States. The apology they are due should come from the Japanese government for decisions made by Japan’s military government to go to war against the United States starting with the sneak attack on Pearl Harbor.

    • Your version of reality, courtesy of Time-Life, fox news, and textbooks written in Texas. Real history is much more complicated and involves Western colonialism in Asia. That you use a Japanese moniker and yet don’t understand some basics about Japan is a little sad.

    • Ronin006,

      Actually, instead of “survivor after survivor” being paraded out as some kind of display of victimhood, the broadcast coverage I saw today inevitably focused on one particular elderly Japanese gentleman. He was just an eight-year-old schoolboy in Hiroshima on that fateful day so obviously he had nothing whatsover to do with Japanese militarism, colonial aspirations and wartime aggression or atrocities. Yet, after reaching adulthood, he spent 41 years of his life researching the fates of the twelve American airmen who were prisoners of the Japanese and who perished in the atom bombing of Hiroshima. For personal reasons, he sincerely felt these brave men (the youngest was just 19) should not be forgotten, and on his own dime, even placed many long-distance phone calls to locate their next of kin to offer some kind of closure as to their fates. (You should take note Ronin, that this man’s efforts took place during a period in history when the U.S. government kept the fact of U.S. casualties in Hiroshima a closely held secret.) If you viewed the same broadcasts I did, you’d know that he felt his life’s greatest accomplishment was seeing the names of these twelve men permanently engraved on the Hiroshima atom bombing memorial wall. And though he was today physically embraced by President Obama, never did he exploit the opportunity to ask for or demand an apology, if not for himself, then for the twelve American airmen.

      You puzzle me a little, Ronin. You use “Ronin” as part of your screen name so you must have some idea what the ronin are in Japanese history and popular culture. Yet you use the disparaging expression “sneak attack on Pearl Harbor.” You should be aware, Ronin, that a typical feudal samurai (of which the ronin were but a masterless variant) of especially the Warring States period, would have regarded a warrior who let his guard down to the point where he was vulnerable to a “sneak attack” as an inept warrior at best, one who fully deserved to have his severed head mounted on a pike. The fault would have fallen upon the careless warrior – not upon the attackers who took advantage of his ineptitude.

      By the way, if you haven’t already done so, go pay a visit to the graves of the 47 ronin in Sengakuji. It’s a quiet little place in the middle of Tokyo and the gravestones as well as the museums there are well worth taking a detour to see.

      • DeltaDog, my comment about survivor after survivor being paraded out to tell their stories was not about what happened on the day of Obama’s visit to Hiroshima. It is about the seemingly endless coverage that has been given to Obama’s visit to Hiroshima since it was first announced. I am currently in Japan with my Japanese family. Been here for several days. The news media has been Obama, Obama, Obama like he was the only person attending the G8 summit and the only one visiting Hiroshima. Many survivors and relatives of some survivors of the A-bombing have been featured on Japanese TV news programs and in TV specials telling stories about what happened to them, their families, friends and neighbors. The stories are sad and tear-jerking and make it appear like they were victimized by the horrible thing the US did to them. I am truly sorry so many innocent people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were killed, injured or scarred for life by the A-bombings, but it was a fate brought upon them by the actions of Japan’s leaders in the 1930s and 1940s.

        • I can understand why NHK and other news media would highlight Obama’s role. After all, he indeed is the first sitting U.S. president to visit the Hiroshima site. I can also understand why the Japanese would tap into the living memories of their own people; like U.S. Second World War military veterans, their numbers dwindle with each passing year.

  • Borrow the DVD, “Japan’s Longest Day” (public library) which was produced and directed in Japan, released 1967. The events during from August 14 and 15, 1945. The production of this film was very controversial at that time and may have not been produced. After you view the failed attempts of the coup d’état to prevent Emperor Hirohito’s announcement to surrender and a rebuild of Japan. You will get caught up in the tension of the conflicting views of surrender or continuing to fight to the death…lives did not matter. The surrender of Japan could have taken another path that would have resulted in more lives lost than the use of both atomic bombs. View it and then decide for yourself. I don’t believe Obama or many took the time to view this excellent production.

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