TOKYO: Japan marked 75 years since the world’s first atomic bomb attack in Hiroshima, with the coronavirus pandemic forcing a scaling back of ceremonies to remember the victims.
Survivors, relatives and a handful of foreign dignitaries attended this year’s main event in Hiroshima to pray for those killed or wounded in the bombing and call for world peace. The general public was kept away with the ceremony broadcast online.
Participants, many of them dressed in black and wearing face masks, offered a silent prayer at exactly 8:15 am, the time the first nuclear weapon used in wartime was dropped over the city.
Hiroshima mayor Kazumi Matsui warned in an address that the world must come together to face global threats, like the coronavirus pandemic, and to warn against the nationalism that led to World War II. “We must never allow this painful past to repeat itself. Civil society must reject self-centred nationalism and unite against all threats,” he said.
Matsui said humanity must “unite against threats to humanity and avoid repeating our tragic past”, while making an annual call for a world without nuclear weapons.
The bomb attack on Hiroshima killed around 140,000 people, with others perishing in the weeks and months that followed suffering radiation sickness, devastating burns, and other injuries. Three days later, the United States dropped a second atomic bomb on Nagasaki, where 74,000 people were killed.
Many of the traditional events to mark the anniversary have been cancelled because of the pandemic. The landmark anniversary this year underscores the dwindling number of bomb survivors, known in Japan as “hibakusha”.
The historical assessment of the bombings remains the subject of some controversy. The United States has never apologised for the bombings.
Japan announced its surrender just days later on August 15, 1945, and some historians argue the bombings ultimately saved lives by avoiding a land invasion that might have been significantly more deadly.
In Japan, the attacks are widely regarded as war crimes because they targeted civilians indiscriminately and caused unprecedented destruction.
In 2016, Barack Obama became the first sitting US president to visit Hiroshima, where he offered no apology but embraced survivors and called for a world free of nuclear weapons.