John Kerry to make historic visit to Hiroshima memorial

John Kerry addresses a nuclear security summit last month in Washington.

The US secretary of state, John Kerry, will become the highest-ranking American official to pay tribute to the victims of the first nuclear attack in history when he visits the peace memorial park in Hiroshima next month.

Japan’s government ended weeks of speculation with the announcement that Kerry and other G7 foreign ministers will lay flowers at a cenotaph to the victims on the sidelines of their summit in the western Japanese city next week.

About 80,000 people were killed instantly when the Enola Gay, a US B-29 bomber, dropped a 15-kilotonne nuclear bomb on Hiroshima on the morning of 6 August 1945. More than 60,000 others died from their injuries and exposure to radiation by the end of the year.

An allied correspondent surveys the devastation in Hiroshima shortly after the bomb was dropped
An allied correspondent surveys the devastation in Hiroshima shortly after the bomb was dropped. Photograph: Stanley Troutman/AP

Officials from Japan and the US may wait to gauge the reception to Kerry’s visit before deciding whether Barack Obama should follow him to Hiroshima during the G7 leader summit in Ise-Shima at the end of May.

It is not clear how Kerry’s visit will be received in the US, where the prevailing view is that the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, and of Nagasaki three days later, helped prevent a costly land battle in Japan and hastened the end of the Pacific war.

Obama, who spoke of his desire for a nuclear-free world during a speech in Prague in 2009, has not been to Hiroshima on any of his three visits to Japan as president.

Survivors of the attack have voiced support for visits by Obama and other leaders, but are divided on whether or not they should offer an apology. “We don’t want to tell world leaders what to think, or to make them apologise,” said Keiko Ogura, who was an eight-year-old schoolgirl when the bomb flattened her hometown.

“I hope Obama and other G7 leaders come here and change their minds about possessing nuclear weapons. They should just view it as an opportunity to lead the world in the right direction, because only they have the power to do that.”

Kerry told his Japanese counterpart, Fumio Kishida, in a telephone call on Monday that he was “looking forward” to going to the peace park, according to Kyodo News.

Kishida, who will issue a declaration on nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation during the summit, told reporters: “To build the momentum we need to realise a world free of nuclear weapons. It is very important for world leaders to visit the A-bomb site and see first hand the realities of atomic bombing.

“I want to send a strong message on nuclear disarmament from Hiroshima.”

It will be the first time that serving foreign ministers from the US, Britain and France – which all possess nuclear weapons – have been to the peace memorial park.

The cenotaph in Hiroshima
The cenotaph in Hiroshima contains the names of all those who died in connection with the bombing. Photograph: Eugene Hoshiko/AP

In 2008, Nancy Pelosi, the then house of representatives speaker, became the highest-raking US official to lay flowers at the Hiroshima cenotaph, which contains the names of every person to have died in connection with the atomic bombing over the past seven decades.

The US ambassador to Japan, Caroline Kennedy, and under-secretary for arms control, Rose Gottemoeller, attended a ceremony at the peace park last year to mark the 70th anniversary of the bombing.

The mayor of Hiroshima, Kazumi Matsui, said the visit would be an opportunity for Kerry, the British foreign secretary, Philip Hammond, and other G7 foreign ministers to “feel how precious peace really is”.

Matsui said the ministers would learn about the immediate aftermath of the bombing, and how the city has transformed itself since the end of the war, according to Kyodo.

“I sincerely hope that they will leave with an unshakable determination to abolish nuclear weapons and achieve lasting world peace,” he said.

[Source:- The Guardian]