President Obama Plans Hiroshima Visit During Trip To Japan

May 10, 2016
Originally published on May 10, 2016 7:13 am
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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

News came this morning that President Obama will become the first sitting president to visit Hiroshima. A White House Announcement says it will come later this month when the president goes to Japan. In 1945, about 145,000 people died in Hiroshima after the U.S. dropped an atomic bomb on the city.

And for more, NPR's Scott Horsley joins us now. Good morning.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: And the obvious question is why now?

HORSLEY: Well, Obama's been saying for years, Renee, that he would like to visit Hiroshima ever since his first presidential trip to Japan back in 2009. And now he has the opportunity. He's traveling to Japan later this month for a summit meeting with other G-7 leaders.

This is likely his last trip to Japan while he's in the White House, so it's sort of now or never. Reporters have been asking the White House for weeks if the President's trip would include a stop to Hiroshima. And officials had been noncommittal until this morning, when they announced that he would be going to a memorial park in the center of the city. And he'll give a speech there.

I should say former President Jimmy Carter visited Hiroshima more than 30 years ago, but that was after he had left office. So obviously this trip will carry a lot more weight.

MONTAGNE: And Scott, as visits go, this would be a sensitive one. I mean, no sitting president has taken on going to Hiroshima in all of these years. What about that?

HORSLEY: That's right, Renee. There's always a question of what a visit like this would symbolize. Does a presidential trip to Hiroshima suggest an apology of some sort on behalf of the U.S. government? Keep in mind, this is a president who has wrongly been accused of conducting apology tours even when he does no such thing. So for Obama to travel to Hiroshima is particularly fraught.

There's obviously a great deal of sensitivity both in Japan and here at home about what happened in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Hundreds of thousands of Japanese, as you said - mostly civilians - were killed.

On the other hand, of course, those bombings hastened the end of a deadly and destructive war. By coincidence, the president's visit will come just before Memorial Day, when Obama plans to honor World War II veterans.

For decades, U.S. officials avoided setting foot in Hiroshima, but there has been a change in recent years. And that sort of helped to pave the way for this visit. The last two U.S. ambassadors to Japan have gone, and Secretary of State John Kerry was there last month.

Now, the White House is adamant President Obama's visit does not represent an apology for the bombings. And he won't revisit the decision to use the atomic weapons. Rather, this visit is meant to underscore his determination to prevent the use of nuclear weapons in the future.

MONTAGNE: And just briefly, how is that effort going?

HORSLEY: Well, it's a mixed record. The president's had some notable successes, including the Iran nuclear deal and arms control reduction treaty with Russia. But he's not been able to make additional progress with Vladimir Putin. And right in Japan's backyard, you have nuclear development proceeding in North Korea.

So if ever there was a moment for a cautionary visit to Hiroshima, this might be it.

MONTAGNE: Scott, thanks very much.

HORSLEY: My pleasure, Renee.

MONTAGNE: That's NPR's Scott Horsley. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.