HIROSHIMA — Hiroshima marked the 60th anniversary of the 1945 atomic bombing Saturday with calls for more international grassroots activism to stop the proliferation of nuclear weapons and harsh criticism of the nuclear powers for blocking such efforts.
But many of the ever-dwindling number of atomic bomb victims and their families worry that with each passing year, domestic and international interest in the Aug. 6, 1945, bombing by the United States and its effects on Hiroshima is decreasing.
Interest certainly appeared high Saturday. Despite blistering heat topping 30 degrees and high humidity, city officials estimated that nearly 55,000 people, including a large contingent of peace activists from around the world, gathered in Peace Memorial Park by 7:45 a.m.
As he has done in the past, Hiroshima Mayor Tadatoshi Akiba used the occasion to touch on recent international trends related to the abolition of nuclear weapons. This year’s news, the mayor said, was particularly bad.
“Unfortunately, the Review Conference of Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty this past May left no doubt that the U.S., Russia, Britain, France, China, India, Pakistan and North Korea, and a few other nations wishing to become nuclear-weapon states, are ignoring the majority voices of the people and governments of the world,” Akiba said in the annual peace declaration.
“Within the United Nations, nuclear club members use their veto power to override the global majority and pursue their selfish objectives.”
Akiba also declared the period from Saturday until Aug. 9, 2006, as the “Year of Inheritance, Awakening and Commitment.”
“Over the next year, Mayors for Peace, which consists of mayors from over 1,000 cities worldwide, will work with nations, NGOs and others to launch a great diversity of campaigns for the abolition of nuclear weapons,” Akiba said.
“Japan will take the lead in the international community to push for the global disarmament of nuclear weapons,” Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi said in a separate speech. “We will also do all we can to push for the abolition of nuclear weapons.”
Prior to Koizumi’s remarks and Akiba’s recital of the Hiroshima Peace Declaration, a total of 5,375 names were added to the register of atomic bomb victims.
This brought the total number of those who have died due to the bomb or bomb-related illnesses that developed months and years later to 242,437, according to the city.
However, six decades after the bombing, the true death toll remains difficult to ascertain.
Hiroshima’s population was about 310,000 at the time of the blast. The joint Japan-U.S. Radiation Effects Research Foundation, which studies the health effects of radiation in Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombing victims, has officially concluded that between 90,000 and 140,000 perished in Hiroshima due to the blast and radiation fallout.
The 140,000 figure has been cited by the Japanese government, and is commonly used by scholars and media in the United States as well.
But the foundation notes that no records exist for the number of military personnel in Hiroshima at the time, or for the exact number of forced laborers, making a thorough accounting impossible.
More worrisome than the number of those who have passed away to many who were at Saturday’s commemoration ceremonies was the present and future of those still alive.
The number of hibakusha continues to decline. As of last April, there were 81,649 officially recognized hibakusha victims of the Hiroshima bomb, and their average age was 72.
“It’s not going to be that much longer before the last of the hibakusha passes away. What’s going to happen to attitudes toward nuclear weapons in both Japan and the world when the last of those with direct experience of the horrors of the Hiroshima bombing pass away? Will future generations still understand the necessity of ‘no more Hiroshimas?’ ” asked Hanako Furukawa, a 76-year-old hibakusha.
“Each year, it seems fewer people are really listening to the voices of Hiroshima. Some days, I really feel as if time is running out, both for myself and for the world,” said Kunihiko Terada, a 73-year-old hibakusha.
Outside of Peace Memorial Park, in Hiroshima’s busy, modern streets, residents born long after the war spent the day shopping or dining al fresco under the shade of the city’s many European-style cafes.
“My friends and I feel bad for the hibakusha and we all want Hiroshima to be seen around the world as a city of peace. But the peace movement and the atomic bomb is something I don’t really feel a personal connection toward,” said Aya Okazaki, a 25-year-old Hiroshima office worker.
Other young Hiroshima residents said that while they agree with the sentiments expressed at Peace Memorial Park every Aug. 6, and understand the concern of the hibakusha for what will happen after the last of them passes away, some of their older relatives feel the way the ceremony is carried out leaves them cold.
“I have friends whose grandparents are hibakusha,” said Masahiro Iwata, a 33-year-old man who works at an Internet cafe. “But they say their grandparents don’t like to go to the ceremony because it’s too much of a media circus and the emotions are too contrived. Maybe that’s part of the reason why a lot of younger Hiroshima people aren’t as interested in the bombing.”
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