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Obama, Hiroshima anniversary, and the future of nuclear weapons

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(Read caption) Lanterns float down the Motoyasu River in Hiroshima at night during the 2009 anniversary of the 1945 atomic bombing. In the background is the skeleton of the former Chamber of Industry and Commerce building.

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President Obama’s campaign to eliminate the world’s nuclear weapons takes on a symbolic twist this Aug. 6. For the first time, a top US official will attend an anniversary ceremony in Japan marking the 1945 dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima.

The American ambassador to Japan, John Roos, will join the annual memorial service for the bomb’s victims. Also attending for the first time will be a UN secretary-general, Ban Ki Moon. Japan wants to highlight this 65th anniversary of the attack – which helped end World War II at a terrible cost – by bringing together as many foreign dignitaries as possible.

It is certainly fitting for both Japan and Mr. Obama to keep alive the memories of the kind of devastation that a nuclear weapon can cause on a civilian population. More than 100,000 Japanese died from the bombing. Since 1945, a pacifist and democratic Japan has been a leader in world efforts to achieve nuclear nonproliferation. And it now welcomes a US president acting boldly toward a goal that seems so elusive, even impossible.

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