This month, John Kerry became the first U.S. secretary of state to visit the Japanese city of Hiroshima.
At a press conference held after a wreath-laying ceremony, Kerry said that his visit was a “gut-wrenching” reminder of the need to eradicate nuclear weaponry.
Around 140,000 people, most civilians were killed when the U.S. dropped an atomic bomb on the city in 1945.
Kerry described the visit as “a display that I will, personally, never forget.” He said that “it reminds everybody of the extraordinary complexity of choices in war and what war does to people, to communities, to countries, to the world.”
Kerry was joined by foreign ministers from G7 leaders who were holding talks in the town. The ministers laid wreaths at the memorial and observed a minute of silence.
Besides the Hiroshima Peace Park memorial, the ministers also visited the Bomb Dome, which survived despite being nearly under the bomb when it detonated, and the nearby Hiroshima museum which tells the personal stories of the victims.
At 8:10 a.m. local time on August 6, 1945, a U.S. B-29 bomber named the Enola Gay dropped a uranium bomb nicknamed “Little Boy” on Hiroshima. It exploded 600m above what is now the Hiroshima Peace Dome.
About 70,000 people were killed immediately. At least 140,000 died by the end of the year from injuries and radiation sickness caused by the blast.
The bombing of Hiroshima and a second atomic bombing of the city Nagasaki convinced Japan to surrender, bringing World War II to a close.
U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Hiroshima in 2008. Typically, U.S. diplomats avoid official visits to the city. Many in the U.S. believe that the bombing was necessary to end the war and do not want their leaders to take any action that might be perceived as an apology. This would be very controversial in America, but would be welcomed by many in Japan.
Kerry had previously stated that his trip would “revisit the past and honor those who perished” but insisted that his trip was about the “present and the future.” The visit comes in the midst of efforts to improve relations between the U.S. and Japan as both seek to oppose China’s territorial assertiveness in Asia.
President Obama is attending a G7 leaders’ summit in Japan in May. There are rumors that he may take the time to visit the memorial himself. If it happens, it will be the first visit to the city by a sitting U.S. president.