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World

Obama To Visit Hiroshima, Japan, Later This Month

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

It's more than 70 years since a U.S. war plane ushered in the nuclear age by dropping an atomic bomb on the Japanese city of Hiroshima. The late Paul Tibbets piloted the aircraft that dropped that A-bomb. He recalled seeing the sky light up in front of him and feeling the taste of lead in his mouth.

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PAUL TIBBETS: Where we had seen the city on the way in, I saw nothing but a bunch of boiling debris with fire and smoke and all of that kind of stuff. It was devastating to take a look at it.

SIEGEL: Today, the White House announced that President Obama will visit Hiroshima later this month. He'll be the first sitting president to make that trip, as NPR's Scott Horsley reports.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Ever since his first presidential visit to Japan seven years ago, Obama's been saying he'd like to see Hiroshima. Spokesman Josh Earnest says Obama will get his chance after a G-7 seven summit later this month.

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JOSH EARNEST: Given the fact that this will be the president's last visit to Japan as president, it seemed appropriate for the president to make this visit.

HORSLEY: White House aides were emphatic in saying Obama's not going to Hiroshima to apologize for the bombing, which killed some 140,000 people. And Japan's prime minister says no apology is expected. Instead, Earnest says the president will underscore his commitment to preventing the use of nuclear weapons in the future.

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EARNEST: The United States continues to be the only country to have used nuclear weapons and it means that our country bears a special responsibility to lead the world in an effort to eliminate them.

HORSLEY: Limiting nuclear weapons has been one of Obama's top priorities, and he's enjoyed some success with the Iranian nuclear deal and an arms control agreement with Russia. North Korea continues to develop nuclear weapons, though, and the U.S. is investing huge sums to modernize its own arsenal.

Tackling this topic in a city that was leveled by an atomic bomb is a delicate gesture for any president, especially one who's been accused by some Republicans in the past of mounting apology tours. Earnest says Obama won't second guess President Truman's decision to use atomic weapons to bring a quick end to World War II.

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EARNEST: He believed that lives on both sides of the conflict could be saved by dropping the bomb, and I'm confident this is a decision that any God-fearing moral person would agonize over.

HORSLEY: Enola Gay pilot Paul Tibbets, who died in 2007, said he never agonized. Like Truman, Tibbets was convinced the bombing helped to save lives.

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TIBBETS: There is no morality in warfare. That's where you start. War itself is immoral.

HORSLEY: The Hiroshima visit will come just days before Memorial Day. Earnest says Obama will continue to honor America's World War II veterans who fought to save the world from tyranny. Scott Horsley, NPR News, the White House. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.