Barack Obama Makes History With Visit to Hiroshima, Pays Tribute to Dead

Barack Obama lays wreath at Hiroshima memorial
President Barack Obama visits the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, Japan, May 27. It is the first time a sitting U.S. president has visited Hiroshima. Atsushi Tomura/Getty Images

President Barack Obama made history Friday as he became the first sitting U.S. president to visit Hiroshima since the world’s first atomic bomb attack on the city in 1945.

Obama paid tribute to the 140,000 people who lost their lives because of the bombing and called for a nuclear-free world. “Death fell from the sky and the world was changed,” he said. “We stand here in the middle of this city and force ourselves to imagine the moment the bomb fell... we listen to a silent cry.”

He continued: “We come to ponder the terrible force unleashed in the not so distant past. We come to mourn the dead, including over 100,000 Japanese men, women and children, thousands of Koreans and a dozen Americans held prisoner. Their souls speak to us.”

Hiroshima is remembered for the world’s first-ever atomic bombing, when a U.S. plane dropped “Little Boy” on the western Japanese city on August 6, 1945, killing 140,000 people. The U.S. bombed Nagasaki three days later, killing 74,000.

Obama greeted survivors of the attack at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park and laid a wreath at its cenotaph. As expected, he did not apologize for Washington’s decision to bomb the city, with many at home believing it was the act that ended World War II, but he spoke of the need for the world to never witness such an incident again.

He signed a guest book at the memorial, writing: “We have known the agony of war. Let us now find the courage, together, to spread peace, and pursue a world without nuclear weapons.”

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe had earlier said Friday that Obama’s visit to Hiroshima would be a “big boost” to the chances of a nuclear-free world and that the atomic bombing of Hiroshima in 1945 was an act that should never be repeated. He said at the wreath-laying that the visit opened a new chapter of relations between the two countries.

The visit comes in the last year of Obama’s tenure in the White House and is an attempt to continue his call for the elimination of nuclear arms. Ahead of the visit, he said that it would demonstrate that “even former adversaries can become the strongest of allies.”

Writing in Japan’s Asahi newspaper, he said: “Hiroshima reminds us that war, no matter the cause or countries involved, results in tremendous suffering and loss, especially for innocent civilians.”