Hiroshima memorial visit: unspoken apology or commitment to disarmament?

While some Japanese still want an apology for the nuclear attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the Obama Administration called the first official US visit to the annual Hiroshima commemoration a demonstration of its commitment to nuclear disarmament.

Eliseo Fernandez/Reuters
Children arrange origami cranes into a symbol for peace at a public square in Valparaiso city, about 121 km (75 miles) northwest of Santiago, Friday. The cranes were made by children from different schools as part of a campaign to promote world peace in remembrance of the victims of the atomic bomb on the 65th anniversary of the US atomic bombing of Hiroshima in Japan.

For the first time since the A-bomb was dropped on Japan, ending World War II and killing more than 100,000 people, the United States sent a representative to the annual memorial at Hiroshima.

While some Japanese still want an apology for the nuclear attacks on Hiroshima and on Nagasaki three days later, President Barack Obama's administration is calling it a demonstration of its commitment to nuclear disarmament.

Opinion is also divided in the US, where many believe the nuclear attacks hastened Japan’s surrender on Aug. 15, 1945 without the need for a potentially catastrophic land invasion.

IN PICTURES: Hiroshima bombing 65th anniversary

Gene Tibbets, whose deceased father, Brig. Gen. Paul Tibbets, piloted the Enola Gay, said that the decision to attend the ceremony amounted to an “unspoken apology” for the attack.

“It's making the Japanese look like they're the poor people, like they didn't do anything,” he told Fox News this week. “They hit Pearl Harbor, they struck us. We didn't slaughter the Japanese. We stopped the war.”

Indeed, retired Army Air Corps Captain Theodore "Dutch" Van Kirk, the navigator of the Enola Gay and only still-surviving crew member, told the English Russian news channel RT, "The Japanese you know today are not the Japanese we fought during World War II." He said, "We had been in a long war, had been attacked by the Japanese, and the policy of the US government at that time was to subdue the nation of Japan."

High profile attendees, but no Obama

The US ambassador to Japan, John Roos, was among more than 70 foreign envoys attending the ceremony, held 65 years to the day since an American B-29 bomber dropped an atomic bomb on the city. An estimated 140,000 people were killed instantly or died later from the effects of radiation.

Roos did not speak and declined to comment to reporters after the event. In a statement released through the US embassy in Tokyo, he said he had attended to “show respect for all of the victims” of the war.

“On the 65th anniversary of the end of the Second World War, it is fitting that we renew our determination to ensure that such a conflict is never again repeated,” the statement said. “We also share a common goal of advancing President Obama's vision of a world without nuclear weapons.''

Roos was joined by envoys from France and Britain – both nuclear powers attending for the first time – and the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.

After laying flowers at the Eternal Flame monument to the victims, Ban said: “Life is short, but memory is long. For many of you, that day endures … as vivid as the white light that seared the sky, as dark as the black rains that followed.”

Hopes that President Obama will visit Japan

Roos’s presence has raised hopes in Hiroshima that Obama will become the first sitting US president to visit the city when he attends a meeting of Apec leaders in Japan in November. The White House says there are no plans, as yet, for Obama to accept the invitation.

Jimmy Carter visited Hiroshima peace museum in 1984, long after he left office, while Roos made a private visit soon after being appointed ambassador last year.

The mayor of Hiroshima, Tadatoshi Akiba, welcomed Washington’s decision to send a representative. “We need to communicate to every corner of the globe the intense yearning of the survivors for the abolition of nuclear weapons,” he told a crowd of 55,000 that included survivors and relatives of the victims.

But a small group of leftwing protesters objected to Roos’s presence, displaying a banner that read: "US, take your nukes and go home."

"Whether they will accept it or not, dropping the A-bomb saved our lives and their lives, Japanese lives," said Van Kirk. "If we had had to invade Japan, Japanese casualties would have been much, much, much higher ... I regret we had to do it. But I think we had to do it in order to end the war with a minimum loss of life."

IN PICTURES: Hiroshima bombing 65th anniversary

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