The Washington Post reports that President Obama will visit Hiroshima, Japan. This would be a historic visit, since Obama would be the first United States President to visit Hiroshima during his administration.
“President Obama will make a historic trip this month to Hiroshima, Japan, becoming first sitting U.S. president to visit the site of the world’s first atomic bombing,” according to the Washington Post, “The White House formally announced the visit Tuesday after weeks of speculation that Obama would stop in the city after attending the Group of 7 economic summit in Ise-Shima from May 25-27. The president is expected to deliver a speech on non-proliferation of nuclear weapons.”
The historical memory of the first atomic bombing at Hiroshima continues to provoke powerful emotions and intense political reactions. Hiroshima has deep significance for Japanese survivors and families of victims, anti-imperial activists, and nationalist politicians. Anti-nuclear activists and anti-war protesters worldwide have long focused on the symbolism of Hiroshima. U.S. veterans of the Second World War have often celebrated the bombing of Hiroshima as necessary and justified.
The World War II generation is fast disappearing and has less political influence now, so perhaps President Obama’s visit will be less controversial. Nonetheless, this visit brings to mind the political controversy surrounding the National Air and Space Museum’s Enola Gay exhibit and the 50th Anniversary of end of World War II in the 1990s.
The New York Times points out that “The visit, hotly debated in the White House for months as the president planned his coming trip to Vietnam and Japan, carries weighty symbolism for Mr. Obama, who is loath to be seen as apologizing for that chapter in American history.”
On the Enola Gay exhibit controversy and related issues, see:Edward T. Linethal and Tom Engelhardt, eds., History Wars: The Enola Gay and Other Battles for the American Past (New York, NY: Macmillan, 1996).