President Obama became the first sitting commander-in-chief to visit Hiroshima, Japan, the city where the United States in 1945 dropped the first atomic bomb used in warfare, killing an estimated 140,000. A second bomb was dropped on Nagasaki three days later. Within weeks, Japan surrendered, ending the war in the Pacific Theater.
"This is an opportunity to honor all who were lost during World War II," Obama said, in brief comments at Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, before he made the short drive to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park.
In a visit heavy on symbolism, the street in front of the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum was lined with Japanese and American flags, flying side by side. Thousands of Japanese crowded in front of the entrance to the memorial, awaiting the president and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's arrival.
The decision to visit Hiroshima, announced weeks ago, reopened debates on the decision to attack Hiroshima and Nagasaki in the closing days of World War II. President Obama has said he will not offer an apology on this visit, and Japan has said it does not seek one. Instead, leaders of both nations have said they intend to use the visit as a chance to heal the wounds of the past and reaffirm a commitment to nuclear disarmament.
"Any more nuclear weapons is an inherently more dangerous world, more dangerous region," says Alexis Dudden, a history professor and Japan specialist at the University of Connecticut. "It's Obama's 'reality tour.' It's an acknowledgement at the highest level that the United States bombed a city, something that never happened before. The way to move all history forward is to acknowledge the truth of what has happened."
Neighbors Korea and China, where many feel Japan hasn't properly atoned for its wartime atrocities, have been critical of the president's trip. China criticized Obama's decision, calling it another opportunity for Japan to play victim rather than aggressor. Hundreds of thousands of Chinese civilians were killed in the Japanese Imperial Army's invasion and occupation of Manchuria; Korea was occupied by the Japanese from 1910 to 1945, and many of its women forced into sexual slavery, servicing the Japanese army at "comfort stations" near battlefields.
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