During his historic visit to Hiroshima this month, Barack Obama would promote his vision of a nuclear weapons-free planet by becoming the first sitting US president to tour the site where America first dropped an atomic bomb in 1945, killing an estimated 140,000 people.
“The President intends the visit to send a much more forward-looking signal about his ambition for realising the goals of a planet without nuclear weapons,” White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said yesterday. Obama would be the first American president to visit Hiroshima -– the site of the first nuclear attack by the US on Japan -– later this month. The visit is also an opportunity to highlight the remarkable transformation in the relationship between Japan and the US.
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“If you would have imagined that one of our closest partners and allies in Asia was Japan just 70 years ago, it would have been very difficult to imagine, given the hostilities between our two countries. “But yet that’s exactly what has occurred, based on a commitment of the leaders of our two countries to forge closer bonds. We’ve also seen deeper ties between our peoples. And even as we speak, there are thousands of US military service members who are stationed in Japan,” Earnest said.
They operate on bases in Japan that enhance not just the national security of the US but also contribute in important ways to the national security of our Japanese allies, he said. The US and Japan also work effectively together, including through our militaries on humanitarian relief efforts, on other emergency response efforts, including the natural disaster that the Japanese people suffered as a result of the Tsunami and an ensuing crisis at the nuclear facility in Fukushima, Earnest said.
“All of this is a testament to the way that the US-Japan relationship has dramatically changed over the last 70 years and the president is certainly interested in further marking the progression of that relationship by visiting Hiroshima,” he said. Obama is visiting Japan to attend the G-7 meeting. Obama’s visit to Hiroshima follows that of US Ambassador to Japan and Secretary of State John Kerry.
“The President will have an opportunity to visit the Peace Park, and offer up his own reflections about his visit to that city. The President certainly does understand the US bears a special responsibility. The US continues to be the only country to have used nuclear weapons.
“It means our country bears a special responsibility to lead the world in an effort to eliminate them. This goal of a nuclear weapons free world has been sought by both Democratic and Republican presidents. It is a goal that would make our country and our planet safer,” Earnest said.
Obama’s decision was welcomed by top US lawmakers and non- governmental organisations. Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi described this historic as a great testimony to Obama’s bold and principled leadership. “President Obama has been a tireless leader in the global effort to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons, and I commend him and the Administration for their strong focus on this vital challenge for global peace and security,” Pelosi said.
Senator Mazie K Hirono welcomed Obama’s announcement that he will visit the Hiroshima Peace Memorial later this month. “I commend President Obama’s decision to visit the Hiroshima Peace Memorial which serves as a poignant reminder of the devastating cost of nuclear warfare, especially on civilian communities,” she said.
“We applaud President Obama’s decision to visit Hiroshima, in part to recognise the innocent victims of war and in particular the experience and work of atomic bomb survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki — the hibakusha — who have worked tirelessly to remind the world why nuclear weapons must never be used again,” said Daryl G Kimball, executive director of the independent, non-partisan Arms Control Association.
However, Peace Action said Obama must not go to Hiroshima empty handed. Peace Action is the largest peace group in the US founded on abolishing nuclear weapons. “It’s time for a US President to visit Hiroshima’s Peace Park in Japan to honour those who died during the atomic bombing and to affirm the goal of a nuclear weapons free world. At this point, it’s not enough to repeat the words Obama has said several times since his historic Prague speech calling for the abolishment of nuclear weapons.
“Obama must announce actions he will take in the his remaining months as President that will actually bring the world closer to being free of nuclear weapons,” it said. “In a complex world of unsolved old problems and mounting new challenges, we have the vision and the ability to solve this one so that future generations might be spared from a nuclear attack. The President’s commemoration at Hiroshima will put this aspiration in stark relief,” Senator Ben Cardin said.
Almost 140,000 people died in Hiroshima after the bombing on August 6, 1945, including those who died of severe radiation exposure. After a second bombing of Nagasaki — the World War II ended. But opinions remain divided whether their use ended the brutality of the war and avoided a US invasion of Japan. This would be particularly sensitive for Obama’s visit. This December marks the 75th anniversary of Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor, in Obama’s home state of Hawaii.