The city of Hiroshima marked the 69th anniversary of its atomic bombing Wednesday under completely different circumstances than in previous years. This year’s anniversary was the first since the Abe administration in July changed the government’s long-standing interpretation of Article 9 of the Constitution, paving the way for Japan’s possible participation in military conflicts overseas under the banner of collective self-defense.

The Hiroshima anniversary and that of the Nagasaki atomic bombing on Saturday serve as a reminder of the simple truth that efforts to abolish nuclear weapons cannot be separated from efforts to avoid war and pursue peace.

The Hiroshima Peace Declaration 2014, which Mayor Kazumi Matsui read Wednesday morning at an anniversary ceremony held in the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, refrained from directly referring to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s decision to allow Japan to exercise the right to collective self-defense — that is, to provide military assistance to a country with which Japan has close ties that is under attack even if Japan is not. The mayor faced criticism from survivors of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombings and civic organizations for the omission. Still, his peace declaration expressed concern that Abe’s move will run counter to efforts to build peace and eliminate nuclear weapons.

Toward the end of the declaration, Matsui said, “Japan is the only A-bombed nation. Precisely because our security situation is increasingly severe, our government should accept the full weight of the fact that we have avoided war for 69 years thanks to the noble pacifism of the Japanese Constitution. We must continue as a nation of peace in both word and deed, working with other countries toward a new security system.”

Abe should take this statement as serious criticism of his gutting of Article 9 — which renounces war and bans Japan from exercising the right of belligerency — and as a call for serious reflection on the important role Article 9 has played in preventing Japan from becoming involved in war.

The prime minister should realize that his move has undermined this provision, which has served as a guiding principle for postwar Japan, and caused citizens to harbor fears and anxiety that Japan may not be able to remain at peace.

Nagasaki Mayor Tomihisa Taue is expected to directly take up the issue of collective-self defense when he delivers the Nagasaki Peace Declaration 2014 on Saturday. In the declaration, he will call on the Abe administration to sincerely listen to the fears and anxiety people have come to have due to its security moves, including Japan’s possible participation in collective self-defense.

Mayor Matsui of Hiroshima characterized nuclear weapons as “absolute evil” — as Japan’s anti-nuclear thinkers and activists have been doing for decades. He pointed out that tens of thousands of innocent civilians, from infants to the elderly, lost their lives in a single day and that 140,000 people died because of the effects of the atomic bombing by the end of 1945. He also said in another part of the declaration that, “Military force just gives rise to new cycles of hatred. To eliminate the evil, we must transcend nationality, race, religion and other differences, value person-to-person relationships, and build a world that allows forward-looking dialogue.”

This statement can be primarily interpreted as a call for building a proper attitude among citizens and leaders that can serve as the basis of efforts to eliminate nuclear weapons.

But the statement can also be interpreted as an antithesis of Abe’s insistence on strengthening Japan’s military deterrence instead of making concrete diplomatic efforts to achieve reconciliation with countries such as China and South Korea, with which Japan has a troubled history and strained relations at present. The more Abe pushes for increasing military deterrence against countries that are viewed as posing a security threat to Japan, the more aggressively they will likely react, increasing regional tensions and possibly kicking off an arms race. It is also logical for citizens — including victims of the atomic bombings — to fear that Abe’s stress on military deterrence makes it more likely that Japan will be dragged into a war with possibly catastrophic consequences.

Matsui’s statement can also be interpreted as a call for Abe to drop his reluctance to begin dialogue with leaders of China and South Korea and to build strong personal relations with them in order to help resolve strained ties. The prime minister should sincerely listen to Matsui’s words and respond in deed.

Attending the Hiroshima ceremony, Abe said that Japan, as the only atomic-bombed country, has the responsibility to make steady efforts to build a world free of nuclear weapons. As Matsui requested, the government should make strenuous efforts to bridge the gap between nuclear powers and nonnuclear-weapons states to strengthen the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty regime with an eye on the NPT Review Conference that will be held next year.

Nagasaki Mayor Taue, looking beyond the city’s suffering from the atomic bombing, will also remind people of the pain of people in Fukushima who have suffered greatly from the March 2011 nuclear catastrophe at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima No. 1 power plant, and pledge Nagasaki’s support for them and the reconstruction efforts.

When talking about the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, it is important to follow the Nagasaki mayor’s example and also look at related aspects. One such aspect is Japan’s relations with China and Korea at the time of the 1945 bombings. The Japanese should not only forget that millions of Chinese and hundreds of thousands of Koreans died as a result of Japan’s aggression in the 1930s and ’40s, but that Chinese and Koreans who were working in the two cities as forced laborers were victims of the atomic bombings.

Only when the Japanese squarely look at the suffering that Japan’s military aggression and colonial rule brought to other Asians and reflect on its responsibilities will Japan’s call for abolition of nuclear weapons become truly persuasive.

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