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Obama Advances Vision Of Nuclear-Free Future At Hiroshima Peace Memorial


Today, President Barack Obama became the first sitting American president to visit the Japanese city of Hiroshima, the site of the world's first atomic bomb attack. Obama made no apology for the bombing. Instead, he used the moment to advance his vision of a future free of nuclear weapons. In a moment we'll hear some reactions to the speech from people here in the U.S., but first, NPR's Elise Hu has this report from Hiroshima.

ELISE HU, BYLINE: In a place haunted by the past, President Obama tried to look forward.


BARACK OBAMA: The world was forever changed here. But today, the children of this city will go through their days in peace.

HU: Joined by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and with blast survivors in the audience, the president remembered the victims of the day Hiroshima went up in a mushroom cloud. He stood before a building in the shape of a hollowed-out dome, a symbol of the world's first use of a nuclear bomb.


OBAMA: We stand here in the middle of this city and force ourselves to imagine the moment the bomb fell.

HU: After Obama left, the memorial park reopened to the public. Scores of Hiroshima residents streamed onto the lawn, lining up to see the spot where Obama spoke.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Foreign language spoken).

HU: Police officers announced to the hundreds who showed up they'd have to wait more than an hour to reach the front of the line, but Akemi Kosakura said it was worth it. She brought her 10-year-old son and his friend.

AKEMI KOSAKURA: (Through interpreter) They were born in Hiroshima so I think they should see the reality of what happened in the past and they should understand that eternal peace is very important.

HU: Outside the park, throngs of Japanese line the streets to catch the president's motorcade move through town. American and Japanese flags flew together on street lamps.

YOICHI FUNABASHI: I was really moved by his message and gesture.

HU: Yoichi Funabashi is a former Japanese newspaper editor and current head of Rebuild Japan, a Japanese think tank. Public opinion polls showed as many as 70 percent of Japanese supported Obama's decision to come. Afterwards...

FUNABASHI: It was very well received, very positively viewed.

HU: The visit isn't being so well-received in the northeast Asia region. Korea, which Japan occupied for 35 years, has stayed officially silent on it. China criticized it, fearing the visit would ignore Japan's role as an aggressor in the World War that killed millions across Asia, a sentiment that Obama seemed to acknowledge.

SHEILA SMITH: He used very strong language to talk about what happened to people in that conflict.

HU: Sheila Smith is a Japan specialist at the Council on Foreign Relations.

SMITH: They were gassed, they were starved, they were beaten, they were marched. And of course, that marching word for me immediately brought up the behavior of the Japanese army across Asia.

HU: The speech lasted less than 20 minutes, but in it was a sprawling reflection on humanity, the destructiveness of nuclear weapons and the civilian costs of all wars.


OBAMA: That is why we come to Hiroshima, so that we might think of people we love - the first smile from our children in the morning, the gentle touch from a spouse over the kitchen table, the comforting embrace of a parent. We can think of those things and know that those same precious moments took place here 71 years ago.

HU: Two survivors of the blast met briefly with the president following his speech. One of them said he was filled with gratitude that the presidential visit happened during his lifetime. Elise Hu, NPR News, Hiroshima. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Elise Hu is a host-at-large based at NPR West in Culver City, Calif. Previously, she explored the future with her video series, Future You with Elise Hu, and served as the founding bureau chief and International Correspondent for NPR's Seoul office. She was based in Seoul for nearly four years, responsible for the network's coverage of both Koreas and Japan, and filed from a dozen countries across Asia.
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