Tokyo, May 27 : Barack Obama on Friday visited Hiroshima, becoming the first sitting US president to visit the site of the world’s first nuclear bombing, and said the memory of the thousands who perished must never fade. Obama also met with survivors of the August 1945 bombing and hugged a 79-year-old survivor.
“Seventy one years ago on a bright cloudless morning, death fell from the sky and the world was changed,” Obama said at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park. He was accompanied by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
Obama said the memory of Hiroshima must never fade. “It allows us to fight complacencies, fuels our moral imagination and allows us to change,” BBC reported.
At least 140,000 people were killed in Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, in what was the world’s first nuclear bombing. Two days later a second nuclear bomb was dropped on Nagasaki, killing another 74,000.
Obama’s remarks expressed sadness and regret but stopped short of an apology.
They came after he laid a wreath on the cenotaph bearing an inscription in Japanese: “Let all the souls here rest in peace; For we shall not repeat the evil.”
“Why do we come to this place, to Hiroshima? We come to ponder the terrible force unleashed in the not so distant past. We come to mourn the dead,” Obama said.
In the museum’s guest book, the president wrote that he hoped the world will “find the courage, together, to spread peace, and pursue a world without nuclear weapons.”
Obama then spoke to survivors, hugging 79-year-old Shigeaki Mori.
The US president earlier flew into the Iwakuni US base, some 40 km from Hiroshima, after leaving the G7 summit.
“This is an opportunity to honour the memory of all who were lost during World War Two,” he said at the base.
He praised the US-Japan alliance as “one of the strongest in the world”, with his visit “a testament to how even the most painful divides can be bridged – how our two nations, former adversaries, cannot just become partners, but become the best of friends and the strongest of allies.”
Japanese officials had initially discouraged Obama from coming, but the final ground was paved by Secretary of State John Kerry, who visited the memorial and museum in April.
Former president Jimmy Carter (1977-1981) had visited Hiroshima in May 1984, after the end of his term in office.
Sunao Tsuboi, a survivor, said he “never imagined (the president) would come while I am alive.”
“We do not need apologies,” Tsuboi added.
“I hope that he will present in Hiroshima what is good for the happiness of humankind. I would like to join hands with each other through the power of reason and beyond hatred.”