- The Washington Times - Friday, May 27, 2016

President Obama became the first sitting U.S. president to visit Hiroshima since the nuclear attack in World War II, embracing a survivor but offering no apology Friday, saying that he came “to mourn the dead” and work toward a world without nuclear weapons.

“Seventy-one years ago, on a bright, cloudless morning, death fell from the sky and the world was changed,” Mr. Obama said at Peace Memorial Park. “A flash of light and a wall of fire destroyed a city, and demonstrated that mankind possessed the means to destroy itself.”

Mr. Obama laid a wreath with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at an eternal flame and visited a museum at the site. In a guest book, the president inscribed the message: “We have known the agony of war. Let us now find the courage, together, to spread peace, and pursue a world without nuclear weapons.”

At least 140,000 people died in Hiroshima on Aug. 6, 1945, and another 74,000 were killed three days later in a second atomic bombing in Nagasaki, forcing Japan to surrender. President Harry Truman and many U.S. military leaders said the bombings saved the lives of many U.S. troops by averting the need for a ground invasion.

“The world was forever changed here,” Mr. Obama said. “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 bomb of atomic warfare but as the start of our own moral awakening.”

Prior to his arrival, critics expressed concern that the president’s visit would be viewed as an apology, regardless of his words. Mr. Obama said several times Friday that he was paying tribute to all the war dead, not just Japanese casualties.

“We come to mourn the dead, including over 100,000 Japanese men, women and children, and thousands of Koreans, [and] a dozen Americans held prisoner,” Mr. Obama said.

Earlier, during a visit to a U.S. Marine base, he told troops that his visit to Hiroshima was an “opportunity to honor the memory of all who were lost during World War II.”

The president also met with two elderly survivors of the Hiroshima bombing, including Sunao Tsuboi, 91, chairman of a “Hiroshima sufferers” group. He hugged Mr. Tsuboi and clasped his hands as they spoke.

They laughed at one point, the president throwing back his head and smiling broadly. Mr. Obama mostly listened, though, with an interpreter standing nearby, as Mr. Tsuboi stamped his cane emphatically while speaking.

“He was holding my hands until the end,” Mr. Tsuboi said later. “I was almost about to ask him to stop holding my hands, but he wouldn’t. I think he is such an earnest person, or has the heart to feel for others so strongly. As I was so delightedly talking to him, he was strengthening his hold on my hands more and more.”

Some anti-nuclear activists said Mr. Obama should back up his words with action to reduce stockpiles.

“We applaud the president’s decision to honor the brutal lessons of Hiroshima,” said Derek Johnson, executive director of Global Zero, the international movement for the elimination of nuclear weapons. “But now, with just eight months left in office, the world needs more than words.”

Mr. Johnson said the world “is on the brink of a dangerous new nuclear arms race, fueled by the president’s own outrageous plan to spend $1 trillion on a new generation of nuclear weapons over the next three decades.”

The group called on Mr. Obama to remove U.S. nuclear weapons, currently slated for elimination under the New START Treaty, off of hair-trigger alert as a gesture to seek a mutual stand-down of U.S. and Russian nuclear forces.

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