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Obama Makes Historic Visit To Hiroshima


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.


BARACK OBAMA: Seventy-one years ago, on a bright cloudless morning, death fell from the sky and the world was changed.

SIMON: That's President Obama in Hiroshima, the Japanese city that was blasted by a nuclear bomb on August 6, 1945. NPR's Asia correspondent Elise Hu was at yesterday's memorial. She joins us now from her post in Seoul. Elise, thanks for being with us.

ELISE HU, BYLINE: Of course.

SIMON: What was it like to be at that memorial?

HU: Well, Scott, the main thing I noticed was the silence, a sense of the weight of what had happened in that city. Even 20, 30 minutes before the president arrived, there were throngs of international press. We were kept to the side of the lawn. But as we waited for the president's arrival, it was just complete silence but for the occasional clicking of cameras and the helicopters buzzing overhead.

And the Peace Memorial Park itself has a real poignant feel to it. Its centerpiece is this exposed steel dome of a building that was bombed out 71 years ago now. And the speech itself, quite lofty and emotional. And President Obama really tried to sort of widen the scope of what he was talking about to war in general, humanity, the consequences of nuclear power.

SIMON: And let's listen more to the president's speech.


OBAMA: But among those nations like my own that hold nuclear stockpiles, we must have the courage to escape the logic of fear and pursue a world without them.

SIMON: Elise, how is that message perceived in Japan?

HU: Well, Japan is quite pacifist, as you know, given its experiences with nuclear war and with nuclear energy. It was just five years ago that Fukushima's power plant melted down, which killed tens of thousands in Japan. So one thing I heard from the Japanese was actually some skepticism about the sincerity of the president's call for this end to nuclear weapons because on one hand, he has this long game and has brokered some nuclear agreements, notably with Iran. But on the other, the U.S. has also committed to spending something like half a trillion dollars over the next few decades to updating the American arsenal and the technology of our existing nuclear stockpile.

SIMON: And, Elise, help us understand how the president's visit was received elsewhere in the region that you cover, especially in major countries that had a very bitter experience with Japan during World War II.

HU: Yeah, one thing that really strikes me about being out here in Asia, living in Northeast Asia, is how history really colors everything and especially the history of World War II. In this weeklong trip to Asia, the president really did try and address a lot of those wounds of the past. But China still criticized this visit saying that it allows Japan to sort of play victim rather than the aggressor in the war.

Korea and Koreans really wanted their deaths to be remembered. Many of them were conscripts during World War II and they died in Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings. And so President Obama did have to walk a diplomatic tightrope there. It is quite delicate. But, you know, we should say business did get done prior to the Hiroshima visit. There was the G7 summit with industrial nations where there was a lot of agreement on the need for global growth.

SIMON: Elise Hu in Seoul, thanks so much.

HU: You bet.

[POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: An earlier version of the audio of this story mistakenly referred to the 2011 Fukushima nuclear power plant accident causing "tens of thousands" of deaths. The large death toll was caused by the earthquake and tsunami, not the nuclear accident. The incorrect reference was removed for subsequent airings of the broadcast and on our digital platforms.] Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Corrected: May 27, 2016 at 10:00 PM MDT
An earlier version of this story mistakenly referred to the 2011 Fukushima nuclear power plant accident causing "tens of thousands" of deaths. The large death toll was caused by the earthquake and tsunami, not the nuclear accident.
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