The White House announced today that President Obama will travel to Hiroshima on May 27, after the conclusion of the G-7 Summit in Japan. He will become the first sitting U.S. president to visit the city.
Obama will visit the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, the memorial dedicated to the victims of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima on August 6, 1945. His trip comes on the heels of a visit to Hiroshima in April by Secretary of State John F. Kerry.
More than 70 years after the “Little Boy” uranium and “Fat Man” plutonium bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, respectively, historians and the public continue to debate the decision to use the bombs. In a recent interview with AHF, historian Sam Walker called the enduring dispute “in terms of longevity and in terms of bitterness, the most controversial issue in American history.”
The Obama Administration has emphasized that the President will not apologize for the use of the atomic bombs against Hiroshima and Nagasaki. According to White House Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes, Obama “will share his reflections on the significance of the site and the events that occurred there. He will not revisit the decision to use the atomic bomb at the end of World War II.”
In his remarks, Obama is expected to build on the themes he articulated in Prague in 2009, where he pledged to “take concrete steps towards a world without nuclear weapons.” He will also likely emphasize the strength of the alliance the U.S. and Japan have built since World War II.
Nevertheless, the President’s visit will undoubtedly spark continued debate. Some Japanese bomb survivor groups have long pushed for the United States to apologize for the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in World War II, which killed hundreds of thousands of Japanese.
Critics have called the visit unnecessary. They point to Japan’s responsibility for starting the war and the atrocities committed by the Japanese military against civilians throughout Asia, as well as against American POWs. Some have called for Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to visit sites such as Pearl Harbor and Nanking.
Rhodes couched Obama’s visit as “an opportunity to honor the memory of all innocents who were lost during the war…[t]he President and his team will make this visit knowing that the open recognition of history is essential to understanding our shared past, the forces that shape the world we live in today, and the future that we seek for our children and grandchildren.”
He reiterated that “the United States will be eternally proud of our civilian leaders and the men and women of our armed forces who served in World War II for their sacrifice at a time of maximum peril to our country and our world. Their cause was just, and we owe them a tremendous debt of gratitude.”
In the coming weeks, AHF will follow President Obama’s visit to Hiroshima and the reaction to it closely. The AHF website contains numerous resources about the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. “Voices of the Manhattan Project” features more than a dozen interviews and oral histories with members of the 509th Composite Group, which dropped the bombs. These include an interview with General Paul Tibbets, who piloted the Enola Gay, the B-29 aircraft that dropped the "Little Boy" bomb on Hiroshima. For more information about the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park and Manhattan Project veterans’ reflections on the bombing of Hiroshima, please read below.
The Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park
The Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park is located near the Aioi Bridge, the Little Boy bomb’s target, which has since been reconstructed. The park features a Memorial Cenotaph, which contains the names of all killed in the bombing.
The Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum sits at the southern edge of the Memorial Park. Since 1955, the museum has educated millions about the bombing of Hiroshima through its various exhibits, artifacts, and presentations. Among the museum’s holdings are watches stopped at 8:15, collections of survivors’ testimonies, dioramas of the city pre- and post-bombing, photographs, and pieces of rubble.
Although the target of the bombing was the Aioi Bridge, a crosswind blew the bomb to the southeast, and it detonated 1,800 feet above Shima Hospital. The hospital is thus the hypocenter—the point on the Earth directly below the center of the explosion. There is a small plaque commemorating those lost in front of the hospital.
Shima Hospital and all nearby buildings were completely destroyed in the bombing, with a single exception: the Hiroshima Prefectural Industrial Exhibition Hall. The Exhibition Hall’s brick structure survived the blast, as did the metal skeleton of its central dome. Hiroshima’s government has kept the ruin more or less unchanged ever since, intending the bombed-out structure to serve as a symbol of peace and a memorial to those who perished.
Manhattan Project Veterans on Visiting Hiroshima
A few prominent Manhattan Project veterans have visited Hiroshima. Norman Brown, who worked on plutonium at Los Alamos, visited Hiroshima and Nagasaki and their memorials in the 1990s. “The one in Hiroshima was particularly moving,” he recalled. “What impressed me most about that, besides all the photographs and evidence that we could see on the ground of the devastation, was the fact that the main burden of the exhibits of the museum in Hiroshima was an anti-war message. It was not any resentment toward the United States for having dropped it. It was an anti-war message.”
Radar countermeasures officer Jacob Beser was the only person to be on the strike plane on both missions. He visited Hiroshima years after the atomic bombings on the invitation of the Japanese government.
To read more reflections from Manhattan Project veterans, see “Manhattan Project Veterans on the Bombing of Hiroshima.” The BBC has also compiled a timeline of the events before, during, and after the bombing of Hiroshima.