Becoming the first U.S. president to visit Hiroshima since U.S. warplanes bombed the city with a nuclear payload in World War II, President Barack Obama used the occasion to call for nonproliferation of the destructive weapons.
Flanked by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Obama visited Peace Memorial Park in Hiroshima, laying a wreath before the "eternal flame" that memorializes the bombing's victims, according to the BBC.
"Death fell from the sky and the world was changed," Obama told the Japanese crowd, noting that, for the first time, "mankind possessed the means to destroy itself."
The U.S. became the only country ever to deploy nuclear weapons when it dropped the ultra-destructive bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945, as Allied forces claimed victory in the European theater and were intent on ending the war in the Pacific, where Japan remained defiant.
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After the Japanese ignored a call for surrender, President Harry S Truman authorized the bombing run, which killed an estimated 140,000 people in the Japanese city. Three days later, the U.S. dropped another bomb on Nagasaki, killing nearly 80,000 people.
While stopping short of apologizing for the nuclear strikes -- after which imperial Japan surrendered -- Obama said the attacks should be a reminder of the destructive power men can inflict on each other, and that peace should always prevail to prevent large-scale destruction.
"We must have the courage to escape the logic of fear and pursue a world without [nuclear weapons]," the president said.
After his speech, Obama spoke with two survivors, hugging 79-year-old Shigeaki Mori.
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While polls showed the Japanese public viewed Obama's visit favorably, citizens like Seiki Sato spoke about the incomprehensible destruction wrought by the nuclear weapons.
"Of course, we Japanese did terrible, terrible things all over Asia. That is true," the Hiroshima-born Sato told The New York Times. "And we Japanese, I think, should say we are sorry because we are so ashamed, and we have not apologized sincerely to all these Asian countries, that is true. But the dropping of the atomic bomb was completely evil."
Tomoko Miyoshi, 50, shed tears as she watched Obama deliver his speech. Ten members of her family were killed by the atomic bomb and its fallout.
“I am simply grateful for his visit,” Miyoshi told the Times.