The White House has announced that President Obama will become the first sitting U.S. president to visit Hiroshima.
The president will visit the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, a site dedicated to the thousands who in the world’s first atomic bombing during World War II. According to Ben Rhodes, Obama’s deputy national security adviser, the President will meet with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe there “to highlight his continued commitment to pursuing the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons.”
“In making this visit, the president will shine a spotlight on the tremendous and devastating human toll of war,” he wrote. “Their visit will offer an opportunity to honor the memory of all innocents who were lost during the war,” Rhodes added.
Rhodes also noted that Obama would use his appearance on May 27 to promote nuclear nonproliferation and America’s strong ties with Japan.
Rhodes continued: “As the president has said, the United States has a special responsibility to continue to lead in pursuit of that objective as we are the only nation to have used a nuclear weapon.”
It sounds like the beginning of an apology. The vast majority of Japanese believe that the United States’ use of the two atomic bombs to end the war was unjustified. There have been calls for a US apology, or even reparations, for years.
Apologies are important in Japanese culture. Japan has issued a litany of apologies for the Empire’s many atrocities during World War II.
Yet Japan’s apologies, or lack of them, remain controversial today. In 2008, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s denied that the Imperial Japanese military had forced “comfort women” into sexual slavery during World War II. In addition, Prime Minister Abe stated “There is no definitive answer either in academia or in the international community on what constitutes aggression. Things that happen between countries appear different depending on which side you’re looking from.”
In 2007, the United States House of Representatives passed House Resolution 121, asking that the Japanese government apologize to former comfort women and include curriculum about them in Japanese schools.
The controversy went on for years. At the end of 2015, Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida and South Korean Foreign Minister Yum Byung-se announced that they “finally and irreversibly” resolve the “comfort women” issue. Nevertheless, many of the surviving “comfort women” expressed their discontent over the agreement.
Obama has been extremely divisive in domestic politics while claiming to be a unifier. No doubt, he will bring his unique brand of controversy to this issue as well.