U.S. joins Japan to remember Hiroshima

Player utilities

Listen to the Story.

Audio Transcript:

Japan today paused to commemorate the 65th anniversary of the atomic bombing of the city of Hiroshima. Thousands gathered for the ceremony including for the first time, official representatives of the United States. Anchor David Baron speaks about the significance of this with Leonard Spector, an expert in nuclear non-proliferation.

DAVID BARON: Japan today paused to commemorate the 65th anniversary of the world's first atomic bombing. It was on August 6th, 1945 that a US military plane, the Enola Gay, dropped its bomb on the city of Hiroshima. About 140,000 people were killed or died within months. Today's ceremony began with a traditional offering of water to the dead and the ringing of a peace bell. Thousands gathered for the ceremony in Hiroshima including for the first time, representatives of the United States. Organizers of today's memorial say they hope to bolster global efforts toward nuclear disarmament. Leonard Spector is with the Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Monterey Institute of International Studies. Mr. Spector, what is the symbolism of the attendance of the US Ambassador to Japan at the memorial services today?

LEONARD SPECTOR: I think there are two parts. One is that the United States can actually participate in a ceremony like this when we were responsible for the actual bombing. I think there's a sense that everyone looks back on this as an event of enormous consequence. Of course, the United States does believe that it was necessary at the time. Nonetheless, there's a sense of the horror that was inflicted. And the second is, I think people see us going there as reflecting the views of the rest of the world about nuclear weapons in general. That we are not standoffish. We appreciate this is a problem we all confront and so we're part of the solution, we like to think, rather than possibly being the state that is making things more troubling and more difficult in this very sensitive area.

BARON: Well, does this in some way represent a shift from previous administrations to the Obama administration. Do you really think they're sending some important signal here?

SPECTOR: It's part of a larger reorientation of American policy under Obama. The essence is that we are trying to reduce the threat from nuclear weapons, from nuclear weapon materials, as best we can and we want people to observe that we are in the forefront of this. We held a nuclear summit, just signed a treaty with the Russians. We've done quite a bit in this in terms of cutting back and trying to reduce the profile and [SOUNDS LIKE] salience of nuclear arms.

BARON: Do you think that the Obama administration is trying to send some sort of message to Japan? Not only a message of perhaps some acknowledgment of the suffering, but a political message that there are some Japanese politicians who would like to develop nuclear weapons and is this a message of encouraging nonproliferation, that Japan should hew to its postwar constitution of non-aggression?

SPECTOR: I think this is a message to a different part of the Japanese community. I mean there is a deep, deep anti-nuclear sentiment in the country. And I'd say this is a gesture toward that part of the community. More hawkish part of the community, the military side let's say, they have to be concerned about the country's security and we try to deal with that by bringing them under our security umbrella. And I think those kind of talks, those get pushed forward and explained and reinforced in other settings.

BARON: Actually it surprises me that the US has never officially sent anyone to the ceremony there. It seems even if the US does not feel it needs to apologize for dropping the bomb on Hiroshima, one can at least acknowledge the great suffering of civilians.

SPECTOR: Certainly some administrations do not like to make a gesture toward the need to reduce nuclear arsenals. They see it more important to look strong before the world and don't like to take steps that appear to suggest that we would hesitate to use these weapons if we had to. So I think there is a sort of reorientation of American policy and it may be that the passage of time is also a factor that allows us to be present at a ceremony like this and to see it as a gesture of recognition of the Japanese suffering at the time of the war.

BARON: Leonard Spector of the Monterey Institute's Center for Nonproliferation Studies who is waiting for a plane at Dulles International Airport. Thanks for your time.

SPECTOR: Bye bye.