Barack Obama says memory of Hiroshima 'must never fade'

President lays wreath at memorial and embraces a survivor of the US atomic bombing that killed 140,000 people Barack Obama called on the world to choose a future where Hiroshima was considered “the start of our own moral awakening”, as he became the first sitting US president to visit the Japanese city, 71 years after its bombing ushered in the nuclear age he vowed to bring to an end.


In a scene many survivors of the US bombing believed they would never live to see, Obama laid a floral wreath at a memorial to the dead of the world’s first atomic bombing, pausing in a moment of contemplation, his head slightly bowed.

He then paid tribute to the people of Hiroshima, calling on humanity to learn the lessons of the past to make war less likely.

“On a bright, cloudless morning, death fell from the sky and the world was changed,” he said, adding that humankind had shown that day it had the means to destroy itself.

“Why did we come to this place, to Hiroshima? We come to ponder a terrible force unleashed in the not so distant past. We come to mourn the dead,” he said.

“Their souls speak to us, they ask us to look inward, take stock of who we are.”

In a touching moment, Obama embraced Shigeaki Mori, a 79-year-old survivor who appeared overcome with emotion. “The president gestured as if he was going to give me a hug, so we hugged,” said Mori, who spent decades tracing the families of 12 American POWs who died in the attack and ensured their deaths were officially recognised. Obama also chatted to Sunao Tsuboi, the 91-year-old head of a survivors group, who thanked the president for his visit, but reminded him of his responsibility to act on his desire, first made in Prague in 2009, to bring about a world without nuclear weapons.

Obama urged the world to “choose a future when Hiroshima and Nagasaki are not considered the dawn of atomic warfare but as the start of our own moral awakening.”


He said: “Technological progress without equivalent progress in human institutions can doom us. The scientific revolution that led to the splitting of the atom requires a moral revolution as well.

“This is why we come to this place, we stand here, in the middle of this city and force ourselves to imagine the moment the bomb fell.

“We force ourselves to feel the dread of children confused by what they see. We listen to a silent cry.“Some day, the voices will no longer be with us to bear witness, but the memory must never fade. That memory fuels our imagination. It allows us to change.”

His address included mention of the tens of thousands of Koreans – many of them forced labourers – who died in the attack, as well as the American dead.

In the distance stood the burned-out shell of the Atomic Bomb Dome – a peace memorial that is the most potent physical symbol of Hiroshima’s tragic past and its recovery from the ashes of war.

As expected, Obama did not offer an apology for the decision by his predecessor, Harry Truman, to unleash an atomic bomb over the city. The attack at the end of the second world war on 6 August 1945 killed an estimated 80,000 people soon after the blast. By the end of the year, the death toll had reached 140,000.
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