HIROSHIMA – Marking the 73rd anniversary of the U.S. atomic bomb attack, Hiroshima once again fell silent Monday morning while traffic came to a halt in remembrance of those lost, with dignitaries urging world leaders to strengthen efforts to abandon nuclear weapons and highlighting the slow progress toward abolition.
In the city’s annual Peace Declaration, Hiroshima Mayor Kazumi Matsui urged world leaders to make the landmark U.N. treaty prohibiting nuclear weapons “a milestone along the path to a nuclear-weapon-free world,” but stopped short of calling on Tokyo to join the 2017 pact.
The mayor also touched on the rise of self-centered nationalism around the world, alluding to the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump and warning that with 14,000 nuclear warheads remaining worldwide, “the likelihood is growing that what we saw in Hiroshima after the explosion will return, by intent or accident, plunging people into agony.”
The ceremony came just weeks after Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un promised “to work towards the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”
Matsui called on the Japanese government to be a manifestation of the Constitution’s pacifism to give effect to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons by leading the international community toward dialogue and cooperation toward a world without nuclear weapons.
The historic U.N. treaty was adopted by 122 countries in July last year. But Japan, the only nation to have been attacked with atomic weapons, refused to join it, siding with the nuclear powers in light of its reliance on America’s nuclear umbrella.
As Matsui concluded his speech, dozens of doves were released over Peace Memorial Park in a symbolic gesture of peace.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who attended the ceremony, stressed that both nuclear and non-nuclear states need to work together toward achieving a nuclear-free world.
“Maintaining its three nonnuclear principles, our country is determined to make strenuous efforts to serve as a bridge between both parties and take the lead in such efforts on the global stage,” Abe said, pledging his commitment to working toward a nuke-free world.
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres noted in a speech delivered on his behalf by a U.N. representative that progress on moving disarmament forward has stalled, pointing to rising tensions between nuclear-armed states.
“World leaders must return to dialogue and diplomacy, to a common path towards the total elimination of nuclear weapons and a safer and more secure world for all,” he said. “What occurred in Hiroshima on 6 August 1945 cannot and must not ever happen again. The future of our children and of our children’s children depends upon it.”
A minute of silence to pay homage to the victims was observed at 8:15 a.m. — the time when the atomic bomb dubbed “Little Boy” exploded about 600 meters above Hiroshima on Aug. 6, 1945. The Allied forces would drop another one on Nagasaki three days later.
Representatives from 85 countries and the European Union attended the ceremony, with officials from Myanmar and Turkey appearing for the first time, according to the municipal government.
Among the nuclear states represented were the United States, Britain, France and Russia, along with de facto powers India, Pakistan and Israel. Hiroshima invited 157 countries to take part. City officials said around 50,000 people attended.
Families of hibakusha said that world leaders should make more efforts to abolish nuclear weapons.
“As the only country that suffered atomic bomb attacks, Japan should lead the way toward no-nuke world but it’s stance is too vague, which is frustrating for Hiroshima residents,” said Megumi Matsuo, 53, who came with her 56-year-old sister to mourn their mother, who recently died from cancer at age 78.
Matsuo’s mother was 5 when the bomb was dropped, and lived 2.5 km away from ground zero.
“Now that the weapons have been modernized, if one was dropped once again, the damages would be severer than 73 years ago,” she said. “I wonder why people use nuclear weapons to compete on the political stage. Why can’t we stop arguing, fighting in wars, killing each other and make effort to co-exist without weapons.”
American tourist Kelly Jean Norris, 38, who adjusted her itinerary to attend the ceremony, said she wanted to honor and remember the victims and pray for peace. She said she was concerned about recent developments in U.S. defense policy.
“It’s a very frightening time,” she said, referring to Trump administration policies that she said could strengthen the role of nuclear weapons.
Gist of Hiroshima peace declaration
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.
Hibakusha are ringing an alarm against the temptation to possess nuclear weapons.
Certain countries are proclaiming self-centered nationalism and Cold War-era tensions are rekindled.
If history is forgotten, humans could commit a terrible error and global leaders’ intelligent actions are needed in eliminating nuclear weapons.
Global leaders 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.