President Barack Obama continued his trip through Japan and Asia today by visiting Hiroshima, the site of the first use of nuclear weapons in war. He became the first sitting president to visit the site and met with victims of the devastating blast that remains controversial, 71 years later. Obama was joined by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park.
Here are the important facts about Obama’s historic visit.
1. Obama Did Not Apologize
Ever since the White House first announced Obama’s plans to visit Hiroshima, the administration said that he would not apologize for President Harry Truman’s decision to use nuclear weapons to end World War II in the Pacific. The event was met with protesters who wanted an apology from Obama, but he did not apologize.
Instead, as the New York Times reported, Obama instead focused on how the citizens of Hiroshima and Nagasaki are now experiencing peace. He also blamed Japan for the war in the first place, saying that the war “grew out of the same base instinct for domination or conquest that had caused conflicts among the simplest tribes.”
2. Obama Called for the End of Nuclear Weapons
One of Obama’s goals during his presidency has been to rid the world of devastating nuclear weapons. Over 120,000 people were killed by the bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and Obama said that he does not want to see them used again, notes The Washington Post. The president said:
The world was forever changed here. But today, the children of this city will go through their day in peace. What a precious thing that is. It is worth protecting, and then extending to every child. That is the future we can choose, a future in which Hiroshima and Nagasaki are known not for the dawn of atomic warfare but as the start of our own moral awakening.
3. Obama Met Survivors
Several survivors of the bombing were on hand, including Sunao Tsuboi and Shigaeki Mori. Obama met both of them, with Mori even giving Obama a hug. Tsuboi, the chairman of the Japan Confederation of A- and H-bomb Sufferers Organization in Hiroshima, shook Obama’s hand and made sure to have a few words with the president.
Obama and Abe both laid wreaths at the memorial to honor those lost and then shook hands.
4. Other Presidents Visited Hiroshima
Other presidents have visited Hiroshima, just not in office. According to The Atlantic, Jimmy Carter went to Hiroshima in May 1984, a few years after he lost to President Ronald Reagan. Like Obama, Carter used the opportunity to push for an end to nuclear weapons and laid a wreath at the memorial. Rosalyn Carter and their daughter, Amy, also attended.
Richard Nixon visited in April 1964, four years before he became President and after serving as Dwight Eisenhower’s vice president. Nixon’s visit was part of a nearly month-long tour of Asia and was a very small ceremony. A report at the time said that there were only 60 people there and Nixon also laid a wreath.
5. The Trip Showed Greater Unity Between the U.S. & Japan
The trip was also a way for Obama to continue solidifying the relationship between the U.S. and Japan and considered it evidence that enemies can eventually become friends. It was important since the relationship was tested after an American working on the U.S. military base on Okinawa was arrested earlier this month on suspicion of murder.
Japanese police arrested former Marine Kenneth Shinzato, 32, who, they said, told them where the body of a 20-year-old woman was. The woman had been missing since later April and police do suspect Shinzato of killing her, notes the Associated Press.
Just two days before the Hiroshima visit, Abe told Obama that Japan was “deeply shocked” by the case, reports Business Insider. Obama said the U.S. is “appalled” by it.