In the final days of World War Two, the U.S. attacked the Japanese city of Hiroshima on Aug. 9, 1945 by dropping an atomic bomb that killed over 140,000 people. Now, 71 years later, President Barack Obama is making a long overdue trip to the city first targeted by a nuclear weapon.
The visit will be a historic one, as President Obama will become the first sitting president to travel to Hiroshima since the attack. He’s scheduled to visit the site along with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, the White House announced on Tuesday.
The Washington Post reports that the president will also attend the Group of Seven Economic Summit, which is part of a week-long tour of Asia and includes a stop in Vietnam. Obama and Prime Minister Abe will visit the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park on the last day of the summit in Japan. The park is located near where a U.S. war plane expelled an atomic bomb nearly seven decades ago.
According to Josh Earnest, spokesman for the White House, Pres. Obama intends to “highlight his continued commitment to pursuing the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons” while on his trip.
Don’t count on him apologizing for the deadly attack though. The White House made it clear that Pres. Obama will not offer an apology to the prime minister, nor will he get into discussions about the past.
“He will not revisit the decision to use the atomic bomb at the end of World War II,” wrote deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes. “Instead, he will offer a forward-looking vision focused on our shared future.”
According the the Washington Post, Prime Minster Abe isn’t expecting an apology anyway. He said it would be unnecessary, and that the president’s visit makes a bold enough statement.
“The prime minister of the world’s only nation to have suffered atomic attacks, and the leader of the world’s only nation to have used the atomic weapons at war will together pay respects for the victims,” Abe told reporters on Tuesday. “I believe that would be a way to respond to the victims of the atomic bombings and the survivors who are still in pain.”
The decision to make the trip to Hiroshima was a tough one, as there were concerns that a presidential visit to the city would be greatly criticized if it were mistaken for an apology, Reuters reports.
Sunao Tsuboi, 91, is a survivor of the 1946 bombing and leader of an antinuclear activist group in the western Japanese city. Per the Washington Post, Tsuboi is glad Pres. Obama is finally making plans to visit and praised him for the decision.
“We are not asking for an apology,” Tsuboi old Japan’s NHK national television. “All we want is to see him lay flowers at the peace park and lower his head in silence. This would be a first step toward abolishing nuclear weapons.”
Mayor of Hiroshima, Kazumi Matsui, also welcomed the visit from Pres. Obama, but in a statement said he hopes the president will go over the steps he plans to take in order to further disarmament efforts, the New York Times reports. Matsui also expressed that Obama’s visit is a “historic first step toward an international effort toward abolishing nuclear weapons, which is a wish of all mankind.”
Ever since the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and subsequent bombing of Nagasaki on Aug. 9, U.S. diplomats have largely avoided stopping by either city. That changed in 2010 when former American Ambassador John V. Roos attended a commemoration in Hiroshima. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry also visited the city and toured the peace museum with other foreign ministers of the Group of Seven industrialized nations. Former President Jimmy Carter visited the Hiroshima memorial as did Representative Nancy Pelosi in 2008.