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Secretary Kerry Visits Hiroshima

Hiroshima Atomic Dome Memorial. Photo by Dmitrij Rodionov, Wikimedia Commons.

On April 11, 2016, Secretary of State John F. Kerry visited the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum and Park. Kerry became the highest-ranking U.S. official to visit the memorial dedicated to the victims of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima on August 6, 1945.

Kerry and other foreign ministers recently attended a meeting in advance of the G-7 summit in Japan. The G-7 officials came together in Hiroshima and laid wreaths at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park. Japanese schoolchildren presented the officials with necklaces made from paper cranes, which symbolize the memory of the atomic bombs’ victims.

After touring the museum, Kerry issued a statement: “It is a stunning display, it is a gut-wrenching display. It tugs at all of your sensibilities as a human being. It reminds everybody of the extraordinary complexity of choices of war and what war does to people, to communities, countries, the world.” He went on to say that everyone should visit Hiroshima: “Everyone in the world should see and feel the power of this memorial. It is a stark, harsh, compelling reminder not only of our obligation to end the threat of nuclear weapons, but to rededicate all our effort to avoid war itself.”

Some Japanese bomb survivor groups have long pushed for the United States to apologize for the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in World War II, which killed hundreds of thousands of Japanese. But the State Department made clear that no such apology was forthcoming. A senior State Department official explained, “If you are asking whether the secretary of state came to Hiroshima to apologize, the answer is no. If you are asking whether the secretary—and I think all Americans and all Japanese—are filled with sorrow at the tragedies that befell so many of our countrymen, the answer is yes.”

In the past, other American officials have visited Hiroshima, including then-Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and former President Jimmy Carter after he left office. President Obama is said to be considering a visit to Hiroshima when he goes Japan in May for the G-7 summit. If he does, Obama would be the first sitting president to visit the city and the memorial.

Clifton Truman Daniel, the grandson of President Harry Truman, encouraged President Obama to visit Hiroshima to “honor the sacrifice” and “listen to those who lived through” the attacks “so that we know how horrible that is and we remember and we don’t do it again.”

Daniel, who has visited Hiroshima, reflected on Truman’s decision to drop the bombs: “I have tried never to see it as a right or wrong thing to do. There is no good decision in war.” He continued, “My grandfather, having ordered the use of the weapons, was nonetheless horrified by the destruction they caused and spent a great deal of his presidency trying to make sure that we never used those kinds of weapons again.”

In another interview, he added: “I think that Americans can still look at the decision and they can still say it was done for the right reasons. They can also say, ‘Look what it cost.’ They can have empathy. It doesn’t take anything away.”


The Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park

The Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park is located near the Aioi Bridge, the Little Boy bomb’s target, and which has since been reconstructed. The park features a Memorial Cenotaph, which contains the names of all killed in the bombing.

The Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum sits at the southern edge of the Memorial Park. Since 1955, the museum has educated millions about the bombing of Hiroshima through its various exhibits, artifacts, and presentations. Among the museum’s holdings are watches stopped at 8:15, collections of survivors’ testimonies, dioramas of the city pre- and post-bombing, photographs, and pieces of rubble.

Although the target of the bombing was the Aioi Bridge, a crosswind blew the bomb to the southeast, and it detonated 1,800 feet above Shima Hospital. The hospital is thus the hypocenter—the point on the Earth directly below the center of the explosion. There is a small plaque commemorating those lost in front of the hospital.

Shima Hospital and all nearby buildings were completely destroyed in the bombing, with a single exception: the Hiroshima Prefectural Industrial Exhibition Hall. The Exhibition Hall’s brick structure survived the blast, as did the metal skeleton of its central dome. Hiroshima’s government has kept the ruin more or less unchanged ever since, intending the bombed-out structure to serve as a symbol of peace and a memorial to those who perished.


Manhattan Project Veterans on Visiting Hiroshima

A few prominent Manhattan Project veterans have visited Hiroshima. Norman Brown, who worked on plutonium at Los Alamos, visited Hiroshima and Nagasaki and their memorials in the 1990s. “The one in Hiroshima was particularly moving. What impressed me most about that, besides all the photographs and evidence that we could see on the ground of the devastation, was the fact that the main burden of the exhibits of the museum in Hiroshima was an anti-war message. It was not any resentment toward the United States for having dropped it. It was an anti-war message.”

Radar countermeasures officer Jacob Beser was the only person to be on the strike plane on both missions. He visited Hiroshima years after the atomic bombings, on the invitation of the Japanese government. He was the only member of the 509th Composite Group, which dropped the bombs, to do so.

For more, see Manhattan Project Veterans on the Bombing of Hiroshima.