Monday, 11 April 2016
Kerry visits memorial near ground zero of WWII atomic bombing in Hiroshima
HIROSHIMA, Japan — Secretary of State John F. Kerry on Monday said he thought everybody, including President Obama, should visit Hiroshima, after completing what he called a “gut-wrenching” visit to a museum at Ground Zero in the city where the United States dropped the first atomic bomb in World War II.
“Everyone means everyone,” Kerry told reporters after diplomats from seven powerful democracies issued a declaration to work for a safer world free of nuclear weapons. “So I hope one day the president of the United States will be among the everyone who should be here.” Kerry allowed that he did not know whether Obama would make a side trip to Hiroshima when he visits Japan next month, as the White House is pondering, and he might have to come as an ex-president.
But Kerry vowed, “I will certainly convey to him what I saw here and how important it is at some point that he gets here.” Kerry was in Hiroshima for a two-day meeting with foreign ministers preparing for a meeting next month of the Group of Seven major industrialized countries.
But their discussions on the crises of the moment were overshadowed by reminders of past horrors.
At the Hiroshima Peace Memorial museum, Kerry and his fellow diplomats viewed powerful remnants left by the bomb nicknamed “Little Boy,” from charred tricycles and melted roof tiles to cancerous tongues and mannequins with melting skin. “Going through this museum was a reminder of the depth of obligation that every single one of us in public life carries, in fact every person in position of responsibility carries, to work for peace,” Kerry said.
He also took an unprompted swipe at suggestions by GOP presidential contender Donald Trump that Japan and South Korea should get nuclear weapons to defend itself from aggressive moves by North Korea. “That is also why any suggestion by any candidate for high public office that we should be building more weapons and giving them to countries like Korea or Japan are absurd on their face and run counter to everything every president, Republican and Democrat alike, has tried to achieve since World War II,” Kerry said, his voice tinged with anger and disbelief. Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida was equally blunt earlier when asked about Trump’s suggestion. “For us to attain nuclear weapons is completely inconceivable,” he said in Japanese. Kerry’s final day in Hiroshima was marked by contrasts: sunshine and dark memories, stunned silence and children’s laughter, and, ultimately, a note of optimism.
After spending almost an hour at the museum, Kerry and the foreign ministers walked solemnly to lay wreaths of white and pink carnations at a cenotaph that frames an eternal flame and the skeletal ruins of the one, dome-shaped building left standing after the August 1945 nuclear blast.
They approached the marker past about 800 elementary schoolchildren who cheered and waved flags, in a calculated effort to keep the focus on the future.
The children seemed to lift the spirits of the diplomats after a wrenching hour touring the museum’s gruesome and poignant exhibits.
One minute, they were standing grim-faced at the cenotaph, laying wreaths with their names and the countries they represented. The next, they smiled and bent over to shake hands or hug the young children who approached them with paper leis. As they talked to the children, their backs to the marker, a brisk wind arose and blew several wreaths off their silver mounts, but they were quickly put back into place and secured. “They were touched and moved and truly impressed and shocked,” said Kishida, a Hiroshima native who emotionally described how his fellow diplomats had extended their visit .
The diplomatic lineup at the wreath-laying ceremony presented a strong image of nations once locked in war with each other and now standing shoulder to shoulder as allies. Kerry stood between Kishida and British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond.
They were joined by foreign ministers from Germany, Italy, France and Canada, as well as the European Union. Kerry, an optimistic man by nature, said the purpose of his visit was one he hoped North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong Un, would heed. “We have built out of the ashes of war and that moment of horror an extraordinary relationship that stands as an example to people all over world of what can be,” Kerry said.
To that end, the diplomats issued four highly detailed, joint communiques and declarations reiterating their positions on a wide range of issues and conflicts around the world.
They called for nuclear disarmament, beseeched North Korea to abandon its pursuit of nuclear weapons and decried attempts by terrorist groups to obtain chemical weapons and nuclear explosives.
In the Hiroshima Declaration, they addressed the symbolism of meeting in the city nearly 71 years after the end of World War II, a conflict they said “unleashed unprecedented horror upon the world.” “The people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki experienced immense devastation and human suffering as a consequence of the atomic bombings and have rebuilt their cities so impressively,” they said.
“In this historic meeting, we reaffirm our commitment to seeking a safer world for all and to creating the conditions for a world without nuclear weapons in a way that promotes international stability.
This task is made more complex by the deteriorating security environment in a number of regions, such as Syria and Ukraine, and, in particular by North Korea’s repeated provocations.” Kerry and other State Department officials stepped delicately around his visit, straddling the ground between an empathetic acknowledgment of the bomb’s massive death toll and a focus on the quest for a nuclear-free future. “While we will revisit the past and honor those who perished, this trip is not about the past,” Kerry said before a meeting with Kishida.
“It’s about the present and the future particularly, and the strength of the relationship that we have built, the friendship that we share, the strength of our alliance, and the strong reminder of the imperative we all have to work for peace for peoples everywhere.” Kerry is the first secretary of state to visit Hiroshima, though other senior government officials have come.
Despite concerns that Kerry might say something that could construed as an apology, few Japanese seem to consider one necessary.
“I think and I hope that his visit will show that the reconciliation between the U.S. and Japan has advanced to an extraordinary level,” said a senior State Department official, speaking anonymously under ground rules for briefing reporters. “That the American people and the Japanese people share a revulsion towards war and a determination to work for peace.
That he admires, as I think most of us do, the resilience and the determination of the people of Hiroshima, who have rebuilt with love in their hearts, not hatred.”