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Nancy Pelosi visits Hiroshima atomic bomb memorial
Japan US Hiroshima 5131610
U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi offers flowers to the victims of the 1945 atomic bombing at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park in Hiroshima, western Japan, Tuesday, Sept. 2, 2008. Pelosi became the highest-ranking U.S. official to visit ground zero of the world's first atomic bombing in Hiroshima, Japan. Pelosi is in Japan for a two-day meeting of top legislators from the Group of Eight industrialized countries - photo by Associated Press
    HIROSHIMA, Japan — U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Tuesday became the highest-ranking sitting American official to visit ground zero of the world’s first atomic bombing.
    The Democrat, who came to this western port city for a two-day annual gathering of Group of Eight legislative heads, joined other speakers in paying their respects at a memorial to the Hiroshima bombing. One by one, each bowed, then laid flowers at a white, arch-shaped monument containing the names of more than 200,000 victims of the nuclear blast.
    No serving U.S. president or vice president has ever visited Hiroshima. As speaker of the House of Representatives, Pelosi is second in line to the presidency after U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney.
    Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter stopped by the memorial in 1984, after his term, as a private citizen.
    Yohei Kono, leader of Japan’s House of Representatives, said no decisions were made during the meeting on peace and disarmament, but he emphasized the symbolic importance of discussing the future of nuclear weapons in the city.
    ‘‘The fact that they all came to Hiroshima has significant meaning,’’ said Kono after the group’s daylong meeting Tuesday.
    ‘‘I hope that even more international political leaders come to Hiroshima and Nagasaki and see with their own eyes, so that they will be able to strengthen their resolve for disarmament and nuclear disarmament going forward.’’
    Pelosi said nothing to reporters after the ceremony, a possible reflection of the lingering sensitivity that surrounds the history of Hiroshima.
    Americans and others continue to debate whether the decision to use the nuclear bomb was a pragmatic one that hastened the war’s end or a brutal, unnecessary crime against humanity.
    An estimated 140,000 people were killed instantly or died within a few months after an American B-29 bomber dropped its lethal payload on Aug. 6, 1945. Tens of thousands more died from radiation poisoning in the years following.
    Three days later on Aug. 9, 1945, the U.S. dropped a second nuclear bomb on the city of Nagasaki, killing some 80,000 people. Japan surrendered on Aug. 15, ending World War II.
    Japan adopted a pacifist constitution after the war and has since become one of the world’s staunchest crusaders against nuclear proliferation.
    For any government official visiting Hiroshima, a statement expressing sympathy could ‘‘get taken within the American political context as some sort of criticism of the decision itself and then by extension fighting a good war, a just war,’’ said James J. Orr, chair of the East Asian Studies Department at Bucknell University.
    Sadami Naganishi, 73, of Hiroshima, said she was just glad to see Pelosi at the memorial. She hopes the G-8 officials’ visit to the city leads to heightened recognition of the horrors of the atomic bomb and greater commitment toward eradicating the world of nuclear weapons.
    ‘‘I hope they see what happened here and take that back to their countries,’’ said Naganishi, whose father died of a bomb-related illness several years after the war. ‘‘The bomb shattered my family. It changed our whole lives.’’

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