Hiroshima marked the 73rd anniversary of the U.S. atomic bombing on Monday, with its mayor making a fresh call for a world without nuclear weapons through dialogue but stopping short of explicitly urging Japan to join a global nuclear weapons ban treaty.
Despite some expectations of progress toward nuclear disarmament in recent years, Mayor Kazumi Matsui warned of the re-emergence of tensions over nuclear weapons seen during the Cold War and sought rational actions by global leaders.
“If the human family forgets history or stops confronting it, we could again commit a terrible error,” Matsui said at a memorial ceremony to remember the atomic bombing. “With over 14,000 nuclear warheads remaining, the likelihood is growing that what we saw in Hiroshima that day will return by intent or accident.
“Certain countries are proclaiming self-centered nationalism and Cold War-era tensions are rekindled,” he said. “Global leaders’ intelligent actions are needed in eliminating nuclear weapons. They must make the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons a milestone. The Japanese government needs to manifest pacifism in the Constitution and lead the world toward dialogue and cooperation for a nuclear-free world.”
At the Peace Memorial Park, a moment of silence was observed at 8:15 a.m., when the “Little Boy” uranium-core atomic bomb dropped by a U.S. bomber exploded above Hiroshima on Aug 6, 1945. It killed an estimated 140,000 people by the end of that year.
The 73rd anniversary comes after Pyongyang’s promise of a complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula grabbed attention following the historic U.S.-North Korean summit in June.
Matsui expressed hope that the easing of tensions on the Korean Peninsula will continue through dialogue and called on global leaders to make an international treaty comprehensively prohibiting nuclear weapons a “milestone” toward the goal of ridding the world of nuclear arsenals.
For years, Japan has relied on U.S. deterrence and did not sign the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons that referred to the suffering of hibakusha, or atomic bomb survivors. The pact was adopted in July 2017.
The mayor made the Peace Declaration before representatives from 85 countries and the European Union. The United States sent its ambassador to Japan to the annual ceremony for the first time in three years.
“Certain countries are blatantly proclaiming self-centered nationalism and modernizing their nuclear arsenals, rekindling tensions that had eased with the end of the Cold War,” Matsui said.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, attending the memorial ceremony, pledged that Japan will try to bridge nuclear powers and non-nuclear states and lead international efforts.
“Maintaining its three non-nuclear principles, our country is determined to make strenuous efforts to serve as a bridge between both parties,” Abe said. “It is the duty of Japan, as the only country to have sustained atomic bombings in wartime, to work tirelessly in pursuit of a world without nuclear weapons.
“Japan will actively contribute to make the 2020 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty review conference a meaningful one. Both nuclear weapon states and non-nuclear weapon states must cooperate to truly realize a world without nuclear weapons,” he said. “The government will continue to push forward its support of survivors of the bombings and carry out as swiftly as possible the process of certifying atomic bomb radiation disease sufferers.”
As of March, the number of hibakusha stood at 154,859. Their average age is now just over 82.
U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres said in his message the legacy of Hiroshima is one of “resilience” and sought continued moral support from hibakusha (atomic bomb survivors).
Atomic bomb survivors and many visitors prayed for peace at the Peace Memorial Park near Ground Zero under the scorching summer heat.
Tomie Makita, 88, of Hiroshima pays a visit to the park every year on Aug. 6 to remember the bombing that claimed the lives of her friends.
Makita said for a long time the experience of the bombing was “so painful” to recall, but from around the 70th anniversary of the attack she has started to feel the need to share her experience with her grandchildren.
“They can’t imagine what it was like because it feels like a different world, but it’s important to keep telling them,” Makita said.
Another Hiroshima resident Yoshinobu Ota, 71, was born after the bombing. But he knows its impact from his firsthand experience of taking care of his late mother who lost her eyesight and was severely burned due to the bombing.
“My mother used to say an atomic bomb instantly destroys people’s lives,” Ota said. “As long as there are countries possessing nuclear weapons, they can be used any time. I want Japan to work toward eliminating nuclear weapons,” Ota added.