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President Obama’s speech
at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial,
May 27th, 2016 (1,449 words)

Seventy one years ago,
on a bright, cloudless morning,
death fell from the sky
and the world was changed.

The flash of light
and a wall of fire
destroyed a city
and demonstrated that mankind
possessed the means to destroy itself.

Why do we come to this place,
to Hiroshima?
We come to ponder a terrible force
unleashed in a not-so-distant past.
We come to mourn the dead,
including over 100,000 Japanese
men, women and children,
thousands of Koreans,
a dozen Americans held prisoner.

Their souls speak to us.
They ask us to look inward,
to take stock of who we are
and what we might become.

It is not the fact of war
that sets Hiroshima apart.
Artifacts tell us that violent conflict
appeared with the very first man.
Our early ancestors,
having learned to make blades from flint
and spears from wood,
used these tools not just for hunting
but against their own kind.

On every continent,
the history of civilization
is filled with war,
whether driven by
scarcity of grain
or hunger for gold,
compelled by
nationalist fervor
or religious zeal.
Empires have risen and fallen.
Peoples have been subjugated and liberated,
and at each juncture,
innocents have suffered —
a countless toll,
their names forgotten by time.

The world war that reached its brutal end
in Hiroshima and Nagasaki
was fought
among the wealthiest
and most powerful of nations.
Their civilizations
had given the world
great cities
and magnificent art.
Their thinkers
had advanced ideas of justice
and harmony
and truth.

And yet,
the war grew out of
the same base instinct
for domination or conquest
that had caused conflicts
among the simplest tribes.
An old pattern
amplified by new capabilities
and without new constraints.

In the span of a few years,
some 60 million people would die.
Men, women, children —
no different than us —
shot, beaten, marched, bombed,
jailed, starved, gassed to death.
There are many sites around the world
that chronicle this war,
memorials that tell stories
of courage and heroism,
graves and empty camps,
that echo of unspeakable depravity.

Yet in the image of a mushroom cloud
that rose into these skies,
we are most starkly reminded
of humanity’s core contradiction:
how the very spark that marks us a species —
our thoughts,
our imagination,
our language,
our tool-making,
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.

How often does material advancement
or social innovation
blind us to this truth?
How easily we learn to justify violence
in the name of some higher cost.

Every great religion promises a pathway
to love and peace and righteousness.
And yet no religion
has been spared from believers
who have claimed their faith
as a license to kill.

Nations arise telling a story
that binds people together
in sacrifice and cooperation,
allowing for remarkable feats.
But those same stories
have so often been used
to oppress and dehumanize
those who are different.

Science allows us
to communicate across the seas
and fly above the clouds,
to cure disease
and understand the cosmos.
But those same discoveries
can be turned into
ever more efficient killing machines.

The wars of the modern age
teach us this truth.
Hiroshima
teaches this truth.
Technological progress
without an equivalent progress
in human institutions
can doom us.
The scientific revolution
that led to the splitting of an atom
requires a moral revolution as well.

That is why we come to this place.

We stand here
in the middle of this city
and force ourselves to imagine
the moment the bomb fell.
We force ourselves
to feel the dread
of children confused by what they see.
We listen to a silent cry.
We remember all the innocents
killed across the arc of that terrible war,
and the wars that came before,
and the wars that would follow.

Mere words
cannot give voice
to such suffering,
but we have a shared responsibility
to look directly into the eye of history
and ask what we must do differently
to curb such suffering again.

Someday the voices of the hibakusha
will no longer be with us
to bear witness.
But the memory of the morning of Aug. 6, 1945,
must never fade.
That memory allows us to fight complacency.
It fuels our moral imagination.
It allows us to change.
And since that fateful day,
we have made choices
that give us hope.
The United States and Japan
forged not only an alliance
but a friendship
that has won far more for our people
than we could ever claim through war.

The nations of Europe built a union
that replaced battlefields
with bonds of commerce and democracy.
Oppressed peoples and nations
won liberation.
An international community
established institutions and treaties
that worked to avoid war
and aspired to restrict
and roll back
and ultimately eliminate
the existence of nuclear weapons.

Still,
every act of aggression between nations,
every act of terror and corruption
and cruelty and oppression
that we see around the world,
shows our work is never done.
We may not be able to eliminate
man’s capacity to do evil.

So nations
and the alliances that we form
must possess the means to defend ourselves.
But among those nations
like my own
that hold nuclear stockpiles,
we must have the courage
to escape the logic of fear
and pursue a world without them.

We may not realize this goal
in my lifetime,
but persistent effort
can roll back
the possibility of catastrophe.
We can chart a course
that leads to the destruction
of these stockpiles.
We can stop the spread to new nations
and secure deadly material from fanatics.

And yet, that is not enough.
For we see around the world today
how even the crudest rifles and barrel bombs
can serve up violence on a terrible scale.

We must change our mindset
about war itself
to prevent conflict
through diplomacy
and strive to end conflicts
after they’ve begun.
To see our growing interdependence
as a cause for peaceful cooperation
and not violent competition.
To define our nations
not by our capacity to destroy,
but by what we build.
And perhaps above all,
we must reimagine
our connection to one another
as members of one human race.

For this, too,
is what makes our species unique.
We are not bound by genetic code
to repeat the mistakes of the past.
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.

We see these stories in the hibakusha:
the woman who forgave a pilot
who flew the plane
that dropped the atomic bomb
because she recognized
that what she really hated
was war itself.
The man who sought out families
of Americans killed here
because he believed their loss
was equal to his own.

My own nation’s story
began with simple words.
All men are created equal
and endowed by our creator
with certain unalienable rights,
including life, liberty
and the pursuit of happiness.
Realizing that ideal
has never been easy,
even within our own borders,
even among our own citizens.

But staying true to that story
is worth the effort.
It is an ideal to be strived for,
an ideal that extends across continents
and across oceans.
The irreducible worth of every person.
The insistence that every life is precious.
The radical and necessary notion
that we are part of a single human family.

That is the story that we all must tell.
That is why we come to Hiroshima:
so that we might think of people we love.
The first smile from our children
in the morning.
The gentle touch from a spouse
over the kitchen table.
The comforting embrace of a parent.
We can think of those things
and know that those same precious moments
took place here 71 years ago.

Those who died,
they are like us.
Ordinary people understand this,I think.
They do not want more war.
They would rather that
the wonders of science
be focused on improving life
and not eliminating it.
When the choices made by nations —
when the choices made by leaders —
reflect this simple wisdom,
then the lesson of Hiroshima is done.

The world was forever changed here.
But today, the children of this city
will go through their day in peace.
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.

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