President Biden was two years old when the nuclear age opened with an explosion of destruction the likes of which the world had not seen before. Seventy-eight years later, Friday ground zero for the first atomic bomb used in warfare to honor the dead.
Mr. Biden and other world leaders met privately with a survivor, toured a museum, laid wreaths at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial and planted a tree. The president stared earnestly at the memorial to the atomic bomb victims as the mayor of the city described the memorial. But the president made no comments on what he saw, let alone an apology that some Japanese still wish the United States could offer.
Biden’s visit came at a pivotal moment in the atomic age, with “the potential for Armageddon,” as he called it, greater than at any time since the 1962 Cuban missile crisis. Russian President Vladimir Putin has hinted ominously that he might unleash nuclear weapons to salvage his faltering invasion of Ukraine. Instead of turning away from the kind of destruction that Hiroshima represented, the world is seeing more of these weapons being manufactured and fewer restrictions on their proliferation.
said John B. Now a senior advisor to Global Zero, a group advocating the abolition of nuclear weapons. “For me, the significance of going to Hiroshima is not only about symbolism, but also about using the legacy of Hiroshima to remind people that these weapons are destructive and should not be used again.”
The visit to the Hiroshima memorial was a symbolic opening to this year’s G-7 summit meeting of the major industrial democracies, where the war in Ukraine will be a major topic of discussion. Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, who is hosting the rally and representing Hiroshima in Parliament, hopes to highlight efforts to rid the world of nuclear weapons.
“Through their visit to the Peace Memorial Park, the G7 leaders deepened their understanding of the reality of the atomic bombings and joined their hearts in sympathizing with the victims,” Japan’s foreign ministry said in a statement. “The G7 leaders have reiterated their position that Russia’s threats to use nuclear weapons, let alone their use, are unacceptable.”
But there appear to be no major new initiatives in the works to achieve this goal; If anything, nuclear proliferation has only escalated in recent years. Russia recently suspended the last major nuclear arms control treaty with the United States, the New START agreement that limited warheads and delivery systems. North Korea has expanded its nuclear arsenal as diplomatic efforts to persuade it to reverse course have failed. Mr. Biden’s effort to revive Mr. Obama’s deal with Iran, which aims to prevent it from developing nuclear weapons, has all but collapsed. The Pentagon warns that China could double its nuclear arsenal to 1,000 warheads by 2030.
America’s mission to stop the spread of nuclear weapons has been complicated by its history of bringing them into modern warfare. “The United States is the only country in the world that used nuclear weapons twice, destroying the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and setting a precedent,” Putin said last fall while annexing the eastern parts of Ukraine.
The issue has always been sensitive in Japan-US relations as well. Mr. Obama became the first sitting US president to visit Hiroshima, in 2016, but refused to apologize for the bombing, which could have sparked criticism back home among Americans citing the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor that brought the US into World War II. .
Instead, Mr. Obama, who has made global nuclear disarmament a long-term goal, has sought to use his visit to articulate his vision of “a future in which Hiroshima and Nagasaki are known not as the dawn of nuclear war but as the beginning of our moral awakening” — an idea that seems far from reality yet. Seven years.
A B-29 Superfortress named the Enola Gay dropped the atomic bomb, named Little Boy, on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945. The blast generated heat approaching 14,000 degrees Fahrenheit by one account and destroyed or damaged 60,000 of the city’s 90,000 buildings; An estimated 140,000 people were killed, most of them civilians. A second bomb was dropped three days later on Nagasaki. Within a week, Japan announced that it would surrender, bringing an end to the bloodiest war in human history.
Debate has raged ever since about President Harry S. Truman’s decision to use the newly developed weapon without more explicit warning or display, a decision justified as the best way to force the surrender of the military-dominated leadership in Tokyo without forcing the United States. States to launch a bloody amphibious invasion of the home islands.
Hiroshima was long ago rebuilt into a vibrant city of 1.2 million people and a manufacturing center known for heavy industries, such as automobiles, steel, and shipbuilding. Bustling shopping districts and lush, tree-lined parks leave no sense of the legacy of death. The progress of time has reduced the number of hibakusha, as the survivors are known.
How this legacy translates into reducing the new Hiroshima risks “will be the most important legacy of this G-7 summit,” said Daryl G. Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association, but will require active presidential participation.
“Preventing the arms race, proliferation and nuclear war is a global endeavor,” said Mr. Kimball. “But history shows that there is no substitute for American leadership in reducing nuclear risk, and there is no better time than now for President Biden to outline his plan for renewed nuclear risk reduction and disarmament diplomacy to bring us back from the brink.”