WASHINGTON – A White House spokesman said Tuesday it would be “wrong” to view U.S. President Barack Obama’s historic visit to Hiroshima as an apology for the atomic bombings of Japan at the end of World War II.
“If people do interpret it that way, they’ll be interpreting it wrongly,” Press Secretary Josh Earnest told reporters, in an apparent bid to address opposition by some Americans to the first-ever visit by a sitting U.S. president to the atomic-bombed city.
“I don’t think that there’s much risk in that,” Earnest said, trying to dismiss the view that the Hiroshima trip may anger or displease some Americans who believe the nuclear attacks were necessary to make Japan surrender in the war and save the lives of U.S. soldiers as a result.
Earnest declined to say whether then President Harry Truman was right to order the atomic bombing of Hiroshima on Aug. 6, 1945, and the Nagasaki bombing three days later.
“President Truman was focused on bringing an end to a terrible war, and President Truman made this decision fully mindful of the likely human toll,” Earnest said.
“I think given the way that President Truman approached this dilemma and given the outcome, I think it’s hard to look back and second-guess him too much,” the spokesman said.
Japan surrendered in the war six days after the Nagasaki bombing. The number of people — most of them civilians — who had died by the end of 1945 from the bombings is estimated at 140,000 in Hiroshima and 74,000 in Nagasaki, according to the cities.
Meanwhile, another close aide to Obama said the president is unlikely to comment during his visit to Hiroshima later this month on whether the atomic bombings of Japan were justified.
“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,” Ben Rhodes, deputy national security adviser at the White House, said in a blog post.
With the White House characterizing Obama’s trip to Hiroshima as “historic,” Rhodes said Obama “will shine a spotlight on the tremendous and devastating human toll of war.”
During his visit to Hiroshima, the site of the world’s first nuclear attack, Rhodes said Obama will also reaffirm his commitment “to pursue the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons.”
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and many others in Japan have indicated that seeking an apology is not the primary reason for wanting a U.S. president to come to the atomic-bombed city.
But various opinion leaders in the United States are opposed to the visit, saying it could be construed as tantamount to an apology for the nuclear attacks.
“The president and his team will make this visit knowing that the open recognition of history is essential to understanding our shared past,” Rhodes said.
“The United States has a special responsibility to continue to lead in pursuit of that objective as we are the only nation to have used a nuclear weapon,” Rhodes said.
Before arriving in Hiroshima, Obama will take part in the May 26-27 summit where leaders of the Group of Seven industrialized nations will advance “common interests across the full range of economic and security priorities” and “address pressing global challenges,” the White House said.
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