US President Barack Obama will make a historic visit to Hiroshima, Japan this month – but don’t expect him to apologise for the atomic attack on that city that left tens of thousands dead.
In August 1945, United States planes dropped two atomic bombs on Japan, which sided with Nazi Germany against the US and its allies during World War II. One bomb destroyed the city of Hiroshima, and three days later the other devastated Nagasaki.
Roughly 135,000 people died in the only attacks of their kind in the history of the world, sparking a nuclear arms race that continues to this day.
Historians have debated for decades whether their use was necessary. Many Americans have defended the attacks pointing to the fact the Japanese announced their surrender just days later, effectively ending the war. No US president has visited either city since World War II.
“The president intends to visit to send a much more forward-looking signal about his ambition for realising the goal of a planet without nuclear weapons,” White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest told reporters on Tuesday.
But many people on both sides of the Pacific Ocean want him to go further and formally apologise. Not going to happen, says the White House.
Joshua Walker, Asia specialist at the German Marshall Fund, says Obama’s presence alone will be viewed as an apology and will go “a long way towards settling this chapter in history”.
He adds the Japanese government itself is not asking for one, “and the domestic ramifications of giving his [Obama’s] critics ammunition would hurt him and his successor as well.”
The president’s visit will happen during a trip to Japan for the G7 summit in Ise-Shima.