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White House Hiroshima Visit Puts Spotlight on Nuclear Hypocrisy

"At this point, it’s not enough to repeat the words."

An annual lantern-floating ceremony takes place at the Hiroshima Memorial to commemorate those who died in the atomic bombing. (Photo: Florence Nobuko Smith/flickr/cc)

The White House said Tuesday that President Barack Obama's historic trip to Hiroshima should not be seen as an apology to victims of the 1945 U.S. atomic bombing of Japan, doubling down on what anti-nuclear advocates say was already a hypocritical gesture.

Press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters during a press conference that if people see Obama's visit as an apology, "they'll be interpreting it wrongly."

"The president intends to visit to send a much more forward-looking signal for his ambition of realizing the goal of a planet without nuclear weapons," Earnest said.

However, as Pulitzer Prize-winning national security and military reporter Mark Thompson wrote for Time on Tuesday, Obama's supposed anti-nuclear mission "may get lost" amid his $348 billion (pdf) atomic arsenal upgrade.

Thompson wrote:

President Obama will end his Presidency pretty much the same way he began it: with a call to the world to rid itself of nuclear arms—this time at Hiroshima, the site of the first atomic weapon used in war.

Too bad he did so little to reach that goal during the intervening seven years. Instead of bequeathing a smarter nuclear arsenal to his successor, he has launched the most-costly upgrade to the U.S. nuclear arsenal ever.

And while Obama received many accolades for being the first sitting U.S. president to visit the memorial, peace and anti-nuclear groups like the Coalition for Peace Action (CFPA) and the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) called for the visit to serve as a long-awaited springboard for action, rather than an occasion to make a speech.

"[T]he president must do more than give another beautiful speech about nuclear disarmament. The world needs—indeed, is desperate for—concrete action," said UCS physicist Lisbeth Gronlund, outlining some of the immediate steps the president can take, including:

The Rev. Robert Moore, CFPA executive director, noted in a statement on Tuesday that Obama's visit "has great symbolic significance, especially following the president's inspirational speech calling for a world without nuclear weapons in Prague in 2009."

"Remembering the utter horror and destruction wreaked by a relatively small nuclear weapon, compared to today's nuclear weapons, is crucial to generating the global will to move toward abolishing such weapons worldwide. But we can't get that result just with lofty speeches; concrete actions are needed," Moore said.

Kevin Martin, the president of Peace Action, added, "At this point, it’s not enough to repeat the words Obama has said several times since his historic Prague speech calling for the abolishment of nuclear weapons.  Obama must announce actions he will take in the his remaining months as president that will actually bring the world closer to being free of nuclear weapons."

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