HIROSHIMA — At a memorial ceremony attended for the first time ever by a U.N. secretary general and a U.S. representative, Hiroshima on Friday marked the 65th anniversary of its atomic bombing by calling on Japan to withdraw from the U.S. nuclear umbrella and accelerate the progress made over the past 18 months to eliminate nuclear arms.
On a sweltering morning, Prime Minister Naoto Kan, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, U.S. Ambassador John Roos, as well as representatives of nuclear states Great Britain and France were on hand for the ceremony. Some 55,000 people took part in the memorial, according to city officials.
This year’s ceremony took place three months after the Nuclear Nonproliferation Review Conference in New York, which followed an April meeting hosted by the U.S. on nuclear disarmament.
Hiroshima Mayor Tadatoshi Akiba said in his message to the ceremony that Japan needs to do more to assure the world it is serious about remaining a nonnuclear state.
“The time is ripe for the Japanese government to take decisive action. It should begin to take the lead in the pursuit of the elimination of nuclear weapons by legislating the three nonnuclear principles, abandoning the U.S. nuclear umbrella, and implementing passionate, caring assistance measures for all of the aging hibakusha anywhere in the world,” Akiba said.
Earlier this week, Akiba said it is ridiculous for Japan to think about national security policies while still being dependent on America’s nuclear umbrella.
Akiba’s call to turn Japan’s long-standing three nonnuclear principles into law is something antinuclear groups have long desired.
The three nonnuclear principles of not possessing, manufacturing or introducing nuclear weapons were introduced as a Diet resolution in the late 1960s and adopted in 1971, but have yet to be codified into law.
The mayor also urged Kan to speak to nuclear weapons states directly and push them to disarm completely by 2020.
Kan, who was once an activist, gave credit to the hibakusha, their next of kin, and citizens’ groups worldwide for their efforts to rid the world of nuclear weapons, and for the recent political progress toward that goal.
“Last May, at the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty review conference in New York, nearly 100 hibakusha spoke about their experiences. Over 4,000 cities worldwide, including Hiroshima and Nagasaki, belong to the Mayors for Peace Conference, which is calling for the elimination of nuclear weapons. It is the activities of citizens and NGOs that have played a critical role in arms reduction,” he said.
U.S. Ambassador Roos laid a memorial wreath at the cenotaph but did not address the ceremony.
Kan, Ban and Akiba all welcomed his attendance to the annual event, as well as the ambassadors from Great Britain and France.
Roos, who visited the A-bomb Dome and the memorial museum in Hiroshima last October shortly after assuming his post, said he was “deeply moved.” His visit was generally received favorably by the Japanese government and the public.
But this time, the ambassador stayed at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, the site of the memorial service, for one hour without talking to any survivors.
In Tokyo, the U.S. Embassy released a press release after the memorial saying that Roos attended the ceremony “to express respect for all the victims of World War II.”
“For the sake of future generations, we must continue to work together to realize a world without nuclear weapons,” Roos was quoted as saying in the release.
Ban’s attendance at the annual ceremony, the first ever by a U.N. secretary general, was even more anticipated and drew the lion’s share of the attention.
Recalling the destruction he saw during the Korean War as a youth, Ban said his experience of marching along a muddy country road while his home village burned led him to devote his life to peace, and also brought him to Hiroshima.
Paying his respects to the hibakusha and their families, Ban said the efforts made since the atomic bombing on Aug. 6, 1945, by Hiroshima citizens to convey the horrors of the atomic bomb have made city the epicenter of peace.
“Together, we are on a journey from ground zero to ground zero, a world free of weapons of mass destruction,” Ban said.
Some of the A-bomb survivors and their families who attended the memorial were happy to see the U.S. finally send a representative, and expressed hope that it will lead to a future visit by a U.S. president.
Many victims and their families said they hope that Roos’ attendance will pave the way for a visit by Obama.