Obama: Hiroshima Visit Will Honor All WWII VictimsMay 25, 201600:22
President Barack Obama's historic visit to Hiroshima is stirring conflicting emotions on both sides of the Atlantic.
Some 140,000 people were killed when the U.S. dropped an atomic bomb on the city on Aug. 6, 1945. Countless others suffered after-effects that endure to this day.
The White House has stressed Obama will not apologize for America's use of the bombs when he visits the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park on Friday — the first sitting president to do so.
An apology would please some in Japan.
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"Of course everyone wants to hear an apology. Our families were killed," Hiroshi Shimizu, general secretary of the Hiroshima Confederation of A-Bomb Sufferers Organizations, told The Associated Press.
However, it would risk alienating Americans back home — especially giving the trip's timing just ahead of Memorial Day.
Retired Army Staff Sgt. Lester Tenney, 95, spent more than three years in Japanese prison camps, and still has the blood-stained, bamboo stick Japanese troops used to beat him across the face.
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"If you didn't walk fast enough, you were killed. If you didn't say the right words, you were killed, and if you were killed, you were either shot to death, bayoneted, or decapitated," he told The Associated Press. "I'll never forget it. And so for that reason ... there's no reason for us to apologize to them, not any reason whatsoever.
Arthur Ishimoto agrees — the 93-year-old believes he would have died in an invasion of Japan if the country's hadn't surrendered but thinks it's good for Obama to go to Hiroshima to "bury the hatchet.
"War is hell. Nobody wins," Ishimoto told the AP. "There's no victor, really."
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Kunihiko Iida knows too well the horror of war. He was 3 years old when the mushroom cloud swept Hiroshima and destroyed his home, less than a mile from the epicenter.
His mother and sister died one month later from radiation exposure. The grandfather who’d pulled him out of the rubble died three months after that, also from radiation. Iida was covered in bandages from shrapnel wounds; his classmates nicknamed him "The Mummy.”
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Iida told NBC News he’s been waiting for this moment for decades.
“I would like the president to really see the true horrors of what Hiroshima experienced with the dropping of the atomic bomb,” said Iida, now 73. “I would like him to try to understand the misery.”
But he said he and other survivors aren’t looking for an apology — just change.
“The movement to abolish nuclear weapons hasn’t progressed and in order to raise the momentum we’re hoping that President Obama’s visit will do just that.”
Setsuko Thurlow was 13 when the bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. She'd been recruited to decode secret messages for the Japanese government and was at army headquarters instead of school when she saw a bluish-white flash outside the window.
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The force of the blast knocked her out and pinned her under debris.
"I wasn't panic stricken," Thurlow said. "I just calmly faced my death."
Now 84, Thurlow is ambivalent about an apology. "If the president choose to apologize, I think it's appropriate... but if he chooses not to apologize, that's understandable considering the American political climate," she said.
What she's really hoping for, though, is for Obama to commit to nuclear disarmament.
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"So far our problem continues and actually it's worse," she said. "It's a huge, huge disappointment for the world."
Michiko Kodama agreed. Kodama has never forgotten the hell she witnessed once her father dug her out from her elementary school classroom in the bomb's aftermath.
"For me, the war is not over until the day I see a world without nuclear weapons." said Kodama, now 78. "Mr. Obama's Hiroshima visit is only a step in the process."