Hiroshima marks 69th A-bomb day amid worries over Japan security role

HIROSHIMA — Hiroshima marked the 69th anniversary of the U.S. atomic bombing on Aug. 6 amid growing concern over the Japanese government’s move to expand the country’s defense capabilities, with survivors, peace activists and dignitaries braving heavy rain to attend an annual ceremony to remember the attack and those who perished.

In his Peace Declaration at the ceremony, Hiroshima Mayor Kazumi Matsui stopped short of directly addressing the issue of enabling Japan to exercise the right to collective self-defense. He said instead, “We must continue as a nation of peace in both word and deed,” as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe sat listening.

At a later meeting with local atomic-bomb survivors’ groups, Abe was asked to repeal his Cabinet’s decision last month to allow Japan’s Self-Defense Forces to come to the aid of allies under attack by reinterpreting the pacifist Constitution, a move which was made despite polls showing wide disapproval among Japanese people. The premier said he will “make further efforts to gain public understanding” on the issue.

With the first rain in 43 years falling on the ceremony at Peace Memorial Park, just a few hundred meters from the hypocenter of the bombing, Matsui said, “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.”

Referring to several accounts of atomic-bomb survivors who were children at the time, the mayor called nuclear arms an “absolute evil that robbed children of loving families and dreams for the future.”

“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,” he said.

Matsui also called on Abe’s government to bridge the gap between nuclear weapons states and the rest of the world ahead of next year’s review of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, the cornerstone of the international nuclear disarmament regime.

Matsui vowed that Mayors for Peace, an international antinuclear initiative with more than 6,200 members, which he heads, will work with nongovernment organizations and the United Nations to stress the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons and seek to outlaw them. The group aims for total abolition of such arms by 2020 through negotiations on a convention to ban them.

In his own speech, Abe pledged to “spare no efforts in working towards the total abolition of nuclear weapons and the realization of eternal world peace” ahead of the 70th anniversary of the bombings and the NPT review conference next year so that the horrors seen in the attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki are not repeated.

“As the only country in human history to have experienced the horror of nuclear devastation in war, Japan bears a responsibility to bring about ‘a world free of nuclear weapons’ without fail. We have a duty to continue to convey to the next generation, and indeed to the world, the inhumanity of nuclear weapons,” the premier said.

A moment of silent prayer was observed at 8:15 a.m., when on Aug. 6, 1945 the atomic bomb “Little Boy” detonated at an altitude of about 600 meters, killing an estimated 140,000 by the end of that year.

A second atomic bomb hit Nagasaki three days later on Aug. 9 and Japan surrendered to Allied Forces six days after that, bringing an end to World War II.

Attendees at the ceremony this year included U.S. Ambassador to Japan Caroline Kennedy and representatives from other nuclear powers Britain, France and Russia as well as participants from 64 other countries, the United Nations and the European Union, according to city officials. China did not send a representative to the event.

In a statement issued by the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo later, Kennedy said, “This is a day for somber reflection and a renewed commitment to building a more peaceful world.”

In a written message delivered at the ceremony by Angela Kane, U.N. high representative for disarmament affairs, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon said, “Let us press for immediate and concrete progress so that the hibakusha and the world can witness the final destruction of the last nuclear weapons,” using the Japanese word for radiation-affected survivors of the two bombings.

At the meeting between Abe and seven atomic-bomb survivors’ groups, Yukio Yoshioka, one of the group members, said, “The cenotaph in Peace Memorial Park reads, ‘Let all the souls here rest in peace, for we shall not repeat the evil.’ The Cabinet decision to allow the exercise of collective self-defense is a betrayal of that promise and is a step on the path to repeating past mistakes.”

Abe told a press conference after the meeting the exercise of collective self-defense would not lead Japan to engage in a war, but rather is meant to protect the lives of its citizens.

To the hibakusha in attendance at the memorial ceremony, Abe’s push for an expansion of Japan’s defense capabilities showed an alarming resemblance to the process leading to the past war that scarred them.

Tsutae Takai, a 78-year-old resident of Nagoya, who was caught in the bombing of Nagasaki said, “I’m completely against it (Japan’s exercise of the right to collective self-defense), of course. I was still little then (during World War II), but I remember seeing my uncle and cousins off as they headed for the battlefield. I know how that feels.” 

Takai said she attends either the Hiroshima or Nagasaki ceremony every year “to pray that the souls of those that passed may rest in peace.”

The number of hibakusha living in Japan and abroad stood at 192,719 as of late March, falling below 200,000 for the first time.

Their average age was 79.44.

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