Japan marks 73rd anniversary of atomic attack on Hiroshima

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and officials offer a minute of silent prayers for victims of the 1945 atomic bombing during a memorial ceremony at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, on Aug 6, 2018.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and officials offer a minute of silent prayers for victims of the 1945 atomic bombing during a memorial ceremony at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, on Aug 6, 2018.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

TOKYO (AFP, XINHUA) - A bell tolled on Monday (Aug 6) in Hiroshima as Japan marked 73 years since the world's first atomic bombing, with the city's mayor warning that rising nationalism worldwide threatened peace.

The skies over Hiroshima's Peace Memorial Park were clear, just as they were on August 6, 1945, when an American B-29 bomber dropped its deadly payload on the port city dotted with military installations, ultimately killing 140,000 people.

A moment of silence was observed at 8.15 am, when the “Little Boy” uranium-core atomic bomb exploded above Hiroshima.

Hiroshima Mayor Kazumi Matsui, standing at the park near ground zero for the annual ceremony, made his annual call for a world without nuclear weapons and warned of the threat of rising nationalism.

Without naming specific nations, he warned that "certain countries are explicitly expressing self-centred nationalism and modernising their nuclear arsenals".

They were "rekindling tensions that had eased with the end of the Cold War," he added.

He urged the abolition of nuclear weapons, in a year when President Donald Trump pledged to increase the US nuclear arsenal.

"If the human family forgets history or stops confronting it, we could again commit a terrible error. That is precisely why we must continue talking about Hiroshima," Matsui said.

“Efforts to eliminate nuclear weapons must continue.”

His call however highlighted Japan’s contradictory relationship with nuclear weapons. Japanese officials routinely argue that they oppose atomic weapons but the nation’s defence is dependent on the US nuclear umbrella.

New relations

This year’s ceremony comes amid a diplomatic push for the denuclearisation of North Korea that saw Trump and the North’s leader Kim Jong Un hold unprecedented talks.

Japan has largely maintained a hard line on Pyongyang, in particular pushing for movement on citizens abducted decades ago by North Korean agents.

But reports suggest Tokyo is considering a summit soon between Kim and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, with local media floating a possible meeting on the sidelines of an international forum in Russia’s Vladivostok next month.

“Ultimately, I myself will have to directly face chairman Kim Jong Un and engage in dialogue and resolve the nuclear, missile and, above all, the all-important abduction issue, and then build new Japan-North Korea relations,” Abe said in Hiroshima on Monday.

Abe, whose government has chosen not to participate in the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, said Japan had a responsibility to bridge the gap between nuclear and non-nuclear nations.

“In recent years, it has become evident that gaps exist among countries about ways to proceed with nuclear arms reduction,” Abe told the ceremony, without directly referring to the treaty.

“Our nation, while maintaining our (non-nuclear weapons) principles, will patiently work to serve as a bridge between the two sides and lead efforts by the international community” to reduce nuclear weapons, Abe said.

Survivors of the bombing known as hibakusha were also in attendance at Monday's annual ceremony. As of March, the number of hibakusha stood at 154,859. Their average age is now just over 82, reported Japan Times.

Some of the hibakusha have been working with the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) to help promote the treaty which was adopted by the United Nations last year.

To date, 59 nations have signed the TPNW, of which 14 countries have ratified the pact, according to ICAN. It will enter into force once 50 states have ratified it.

An 81-year-old atomic bomb survivor said that she really appreciates how many young people are offering sincere prayers.

Many also gathered along the banks of the Motoyasu River in front of the Atomic Bomb Dome, reported Japanese broadcaster NHK.

The river was filled with victims after the bombing.

A 68-year-old man told NHK: "My father was a hibakusha and he always spoke about the importance of peace and the renouncing of war. This place and this day help me to understand what he really wanted to say."

A 35-year-old man from Nagoya told NHK: "Young people like us should listen to the experiences of the survivors, keep their records, and should never forget. We want to keep their feelings with us and think about what we should do."

Japan suffered two nuclear attacks by the United States at the end of World War II - first in Hiroshima and then in Nagasaki three days later.

The bombings claimed the lives of 140,000 people in Hiroshima and 74,000 people in Nagasaki.

Barack Obama became the first sitting US president to visit Hiroshima in May 2016.

In a hard-hitting piece on the anniversary, China's official Xinhua news agency said Japan has a tendency to focus solely on "the inward tragedy that nuclear and chemical warfare has inflicted on it".

It reported that many experts on the matter hope that Japan will also take the time to remember that its own involvements in World War II had also brought immeasurable suffering to others.

Xinhua cited the Imperial Japanese Army’s notorious Unit 731, which was based in the Pingfang district of Harbin, the largest city then in northeast China.

The unit was set up around 1936 and conducted vivisection experiments on live human beings to test germ-releasing bombs and chemical bombs, among other criminal atrocities.

The unit became Japan’s top-secret biological and chemical warfare research base and operated as the nerve centre of Japanese biological warfare in China and Southeast Asia during World War II, according to Xinhua.

At least 3,000 people were used for human experimentation by Unit 731 along with a small percentage of Soviets, Mongolians, Koreans, and soldiers of the Allied Forces who had been taken captive.

Some of those killed in ways unimaginable were just children. More than 300,000 people across China were killed by Japan’s biological weapons during WWII.