President Barack Obama will travel to Hiroshima this month, making the first visit by a sitting American president to the site where the U.S. first dropped an atomic bomb, decimated a city and shot the world into the Atomic Age.
The White House announced the visit in a statement Tuesday morning, saying Obama will make the visit with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe during a previously scheduled trip to Japan.
The president intends to “highlight his continued commitment to pursuing the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapon,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said.
The president’s visit has been widely anticipated since U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s trip to the memorial to the Hiroshima bombing in April. Kerry toured the peace museum with other foreign ministers of the Group of Seven industrialized nations and participated in an annual memorial service just steps from the site’s ground zero.
The U.S. attack on Hiroshima in the final days of World War II killed 140,000 people. While it scarred a generation of Japanese, many Americans believe the bombing, along with another Aug. 9 on the city of Nagasaki miles away, hastened the end of the war.
Those diverging views of an act that forever changed war has made a visit from a sitting U.S. president a delicate and arguably politically risky move. No U.S. president has ever visited, and it took 65 years for a U.S. ambassador to attend the annual memorial service.
Still, Japanese survivors’ groups and anti-nuclear advocates have continued to press U.S. officials on the issue in an effort illustrate the devastation of nuclear weapons. In the U.S., officials remain wary that such a visit could be perceived as an apology for an act believed to have saved American lives.
Early in his presidency, Obama said he would be honored to make the trip, and the White House has said it often considered a visit on previous trips to Asia. It has not explained why a visit there has never come together.
Asked last week whether the president believed an apology was warranted, Earnest was direct: “No, he does not.”
In a statement posted as the visit was announced, a top White House official added that the president does not intend to wade into past debates.
“He will not revisit the decision to use the atomic bomb at the end of World War II. Instead, he will offer a forward-looking vision focused on our shared future,” deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes said. “The United States will be eternally proud of our civilian leaders and the men and women of our armed forces who served in World War II for their sacrifice at a time of maximum peril to our country and our world. Their cause was just, and we owe them a tremendous debt of gratitude.”
Obama will be in Japan to attend the Group of 7 economic summit, part of a weeklong Asia tour that will also include a stop in Vietnam.