President Barack Obama will be the first sitting president to visit Hiroshima this month, but he won’t be the first White House occupant to pay his respects. Former president Jimmy Carter visited the Japanese city in 1984 after he left office, and his visit may be a template for Obama following in his footsteps more than 30 years later.
About 200,000 were killed in the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. Historians have debated the United States’ decision to use the nuclear weapons, which killed mostly civilians and led to Japan’s surrender.
But when Carter arrived in Hiroshima with his wife Rosalyn and daughter Amy on May 25, 1984, nearly 40 years after Hiroshima’s bombing, his visit was one of remembrance rather than blame.
Hiroshima’s mayor Takeshi Araki welcomed the presidential family, leading them on a tour of the Memorial Museum built in 1955, which documents the destruction wreaked by the atomic blast. The Carters walked through exhibits of Hiroshima’s history, the consequences of the bombing and “paused at the final display — the shadow of a man, who was disintegrated in the blast, burned into stone steps,” the AP reported.
At Hiroshima Peace Park, schoolchildren gave then-16-year-old Amy Carter necklaces made of paper cranes, symbolizing peace. With them draped around her neck, she prayed at the Children’s Peace Memorial, head bowed, hands pressed together.
Jimmy Carter and the mayor also laid a wreath at the city’s memorial cenotaph, with the names of those killed by the bomb.
Before departing, Carter, who had worked in the Navy’s nuclear submarine program as a young man, said in a speech at Hiroshima Peace Park that he would work to “eliminate nuclear weapons from the face of the earth.”