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World

7 Decades After U.S. Dropped Atomic Bombs, Obama To Visit Hiroshima

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

President Obama is in Japan attending the G-7 summit of international leaders. While there, he will also visit Hiroshima, the first city to be bombed by a nuclear weapon. Here's the announcement President Harry Truman made right after that 1945 attack.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

HARRY TRUMAN: A short time ago, an American airplane dropped one bomb on Hiroshima and destroyed its usefulness to the enemy. That bomb has more power than 20,000 tons of TNT.

MONTAGNE: With the aim of ending the war with Japan quickly, the U.S. dropped another atomic bomb on Nagasaki just three days later. These two Japanese cities remain the only places ever struck by nuclear weapons. Following the Cold War buildup, there are now huge stockpiles of nuclear weapons in various countries. And President Obama has made one of the goals of his presidency to reduce that. He will be the first sitting president ever to visit Hiroshima. We spoke to Japan's ambassador to the U.S. Ken Sasae. Good morning.

KENICHIRO SASAE: Good morning. We are very much excited to have President Obama visiting Hiroshima. This is a historic visit for all of us to honor the memory of all who lost their lives during the war.

MONTAGNE: And I gather there was a fair amount of diplomatic back-and-forth. What were the concerns?

SASAE: This Hiroshima visit involved, obviously, some sensitivity in both countries because we had a war. But mostly, 70 years of history has shown that we have built up strong alliance. So it was basically American decisions to go to Hiroshima. And this was great. And we welcome that one.

MONTAGNE: One thing - when the president's visit was announced, the White House was very careful to say that the president would not be apologizing. And that is for reasons that, in America - the view of the bombing - though everyone recognizes this as horrific - the view of the bombing is it was done because it had to be done. What about the question of apology - would Japanese people expect one?

SASAE: Actually, we don't expect that. We called the White House - government official here. He do not say that the president is going to apologize. The basic objective is more of the reflections of the histories. And we Japanese have basically welcomed the fact that the president is going to Hiroshima and pay respect to all the victims.

MONTAGNE: Ambassador, you've been to Hiroshima.

SASAE: Yes. I went to high school in Hiroshima. That was for three years.

MONTAGNE: So you would know people who have a direct experience with the dropping of the bomb.

SASAE: Yes, I think. Actually, I lived in a house where the landlady and land-father (ph) were both suffering from the atomic bomb?

MONTAGNE: Did that give you any particular insight? Did they ever say anything about it?

SASAE: Not much. On and off, they talked about the life after war, going to the hospital and so forth. That was the moment that I came to realize what the sentiment of the people in Hiroshima were all about. But at the same time, as ambassador here, I also understand the sentiment of some of the people who sacrificed their life, too. So, you know, in a way, war has two sides. And once we begin to look back about the values and all the judgment, then there will be always debate. But I think it's a time for us to reconcile and move ahead.

MONTAGNE: Japan's ambassador to the United States Ken Sasae, joining us from the embassy. Thank you very much.

SASAE: Thank you. Good - nice talking to you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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