WASHINGTON/HAPCHEON, SOUTH KOREA – A close aide to U.S. President Barack Obama met war veterans Thursday amid concerns the president’s planned trip to Hiroshima this month could be seen as an apology for the atomic bomb attacks at the end of World War II.
Susan Rice, Obama’s top foreign policy adviser, told war veterans in a meeting that Obama will visit Hiroshima “to honor the memory of all who lost their lives” during the war, according to the White House.
Rice, the White House national security adviser, met with veterans from World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War to explain the purpose of the first visit to Hiroshima by a sitting American president. Obama will also visit Vietnam while in Asia later this month.
The meeting was part of efforts by the Obama administration to address the general view among many Americans, including veterans, that the atomic bomb attacks prompted Japan to surrender earlier than it otherwise would have, saving American soldiers’ lives as a result.
Obama will visit Hiroshima on May 27 after he attends a two-day summit of the Group of Seven nations in Shima, Mie Prefecture. He will visit Vietnam on his way to Japan.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters Tuesday that Obama’s trip to the Peace Memorial Park near ground zero should not be interpreted as tantamount to an apology.
The American Legion, a group of some 2.2 million veterans, commended Earnest’s remarks in a statement.
The White House said Rice also told the veterans the Obama administration was committed to accounting for all American service members who went missing during armed conflict.
The United States dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima on Aug. 6, 1945, and another on Nagasaki on Aug. 9. Japan surrendered six days later. More than 210,000 people, mostly civilians, died in the two cities by the end of the year, according to the city offices.
Meanwhile, an association of South Korean atomic bomb survivors said Thursday it will send representatives to Hiroshima on May 27.
To make Obama aware that people from the Korean Peninsula were among the victims of two atomic bombings on Japan, the Korea Atomic Bomb Victim Association hopes to unfurl a banner near a monument to Korean victims at Peace Memorial Park.
The association also plans to send a letter to Obama asking him to offer flowers at the monument, recognize the existence of survivors in South Korea, offer an apology and provide compensation.
It reached the decision at a meeting of its governing body in Hapcheon, a farming community in southeastern South Korea dubbed “South Korea’s Hiroshima,” as it is home to many Korean victims of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombings who relocated there from Japan after the war.
Koreans are the largest group of non-Japanese atomic bomb victims. A survivors’ association estimates that about 30,000 of the 70,000 Koreans in Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the time lived through the bombings.