Barack Obama said Thursday that his historic visit to Hiroshima will underline the dangers of warfare and the need to work towards peace.
Obama, who will Friday become the only sitting US president ever to visit Hiroshima – the site of the world’s first nuclear bomb – said the August 6, 1945 attack was “an inflection point in modern history”.
“It is something that all of us have had to deal with in one way or another,” he told reporters at the summit in Ise-Shima, 300 kilometres (200 miles) southwest of Tokyo.
The bombing claimed the lives of 140,000 people, some of whom died immediately in a ball of searing heat, while many succumbed to injuries or radiation-related illnesses in the weeks, months and years afterwards.
The attack is no longer as present in the modern mind as it was during the decades of the Cold War, said Obama.
“But the backdrop of a nuclear event remains something that presses on the back of our imagination.”
“I want to once again underscore the very real risks that are out there and the sense of urgency that we all should have,” he told reporters.
Obama is expected to lay flowers at the cenotaph in Hiroshima, which sits in the shadow of a domed building, whose skeleton has been left standing in silent testament to the victims of the first ever nuclear attack.
He will also speak at the spot, and national broadcaster NHK reported Thursday he could meet some of the ageing survivors of the blast.
Despite some calls from a section of Japanese society, however, he will not offer an apology for the raid, launched by his predecessor Harry Truman at the close of World War II.
While some in Japan feel the attack was an abomination because it targeted civilans, many Americans say it hastened the end of a brutal and bloody conflict, and ultimately saved lives.
They point to the high human cost of the Pacific campaign and the ferociousness of the Imperial Army’s resistance, even in the face of insurmountable odds, and say a ground invasion of the Japanese mainland could have killed thousands of GIs and civilians alike.
“Our visit to Hiroshima will honour all those who were lost in World War II and reaffirm our shared vision of a world without nuclear weapons,” Obama said Wednesday.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will accompany the US president on the trip, which Obama said would highlight the “extraordinary alliance” forged between Japan and the United States from the ashes of war.