President Obama became the first sitting U.S. president to visit the Japanese city destroyed by a horrific atomic bombing in World War II Friday. He spoke after a wreath-laying ceremony at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, calling for a peaceful world without nuclear weapons. The most moving quote from Obama's Hiroshima speech focused on how far the city has come since then and what he hopes the world will learn from the tragedy.
Standing in front of the large stone arch honoring the Japanese lives lost in the war, Obama explained that scientific revolutions that allow such mass destruction also require a moral revolution. "The world was forever changed here, but today the children of this city will go through their day in peace," he said Friday. "What a precious thing that is. It is worth protecting, and then extending to every child. That is a future we can choose, a future in which Hiroshima and Nagasaki are known not as the dawn of atomic warfare but as the start of our own moral awakening."
His whole speech focused on the concept of needing a moral awakening to stop such violent acts of war, but this quote sums it up perfectly. The world can learn from the past and choose to view the aftermath of the tragedy as a positive shift in people's thought, rather than see the act itself as a moral decline in human history.
Obama also pointed out what led to the bombing, and how people have to consciously decide that peace is better than violence in order to prevent similar events from happening again. "Yet in the image of a mushroom cloud that rose into these skies, we are most starkly reminded of humanity’s core contradiction," he said. "How the very spark that marks us as a species, our thoughts, our imagination, our language, our toolmaking, our ability to set ourselves apart from nature and bend it to our will — those very things also give us the capacity for unmatched destruction."
In the hopes that nuclear weapons will one day be completely eliminated (though recognizing that goal is unlikely to happen in his lifetime), Obama called on the world to continue working toward peace. "We’re not bound by genetic code to repeat the mistakes of the past," he told the crowd. "We can learn. We can choose. We can tell our children a different story, one that describes a common humanity, one that makes war less likely and cruelty less easily accepted."
After the speech, Obama greeted survivors of the atomic bombing who came to see him speak. Though he never apologized for the attack, the president talked about the significance of the friendship the United States and Japan have developed since then, saying: "It’s a testament to how even the most painful divides could be bridged."