A Historic Presidential Visit to Hiroshima

Barack Obama will go to the city, one of two to be attacked with a U.S. nuclear device, later this month, the White House said.

Susan Walsh / AP

Updated on May 10 at 11:07 a.m. ET

Barack Obama will become the first sitting American president to visit Hiroshima, the Japanese city whose targeting by the U.S. with an atomic bomb in 1945 precipitated Japan’s surrender in World War II.

Here’s an excerpt from a White House statement issued Tuesday:

[T]he President will make an historic visit to Hiroshima with Prime Minister Abe to highlight his continued commitment to pursuing the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons.

The visit is part of Obama’s May 21-28 trip to Vietnam and Japan. The White House said Obama would not apologize for the use of nuclear weapons during his trip. Writing on Medium, Ben Rhodes, the president’s deputy national security adviser noted:

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.

To be sure, the United States will be eternally proud of our civilian leaders and the men and women of our armed forces who served in World War II for their sacrifice at a time of maximum peril to our country and our world. Their cause was just, and we owe them a tremendous debt of gratitude, which the President will again commemorate shortly after the visit on Memorial Day. This visit will offer an opportunity to honor the memory of all innocents who were lost during the war.

Obama would be the first sitting U.S. president to visit the city. Richard Nixon visited in 1964, but that was before he entered the White House. Jimmy Carter did so in 1984, after he’d left office.

Last month John Kerry, the U.S. secretary of state, became the highest-ranking American official to visit Hiroshima. As my colleague Matt Vasilogambros noted during that visit:

While Kerry’s visit is a recognition of the U.S. bombing of Hiroshima, he did not apologize for the act. He said in Hiroshima on Monday, the visit was “not about the past,” but looking ahead to a possibly nuclear-free world—even though the U.S. has one of the largest nuclear arsenals in the world.

The U.S. dropped an atomic bomb nicknamed “Little Boy” on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945. Three days later, it dropped another device, “Fat Man,” on Nagasaki. The attacks killed more than 120,000 people, and remain the only times nuclear weapons have been used in combat.