TOKYO (AP) — Hiroshima on Saturday recalled the 77-year-old atomic bombing as officials, including the head of the United Nations, warned of nuclear weapons build-ups and as fears grew of another such attack amid Russia’s war on Ukraine.
“Nuclear weapons are nonsense. They do not guarantee security – only death and destruction,” said UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who joined the prayer at the Hiroshima Peace Park.
“Three-quarters of a century later, we have to ask ourselves what we learned from the mushroom cloud that swelled over this city in 1945,” he said.
The United States dropped the world’s first atomic bomb on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, destroying the city and killing 140,000 people. Three days later, it dropped a second bomb on Nagasaki, killing another 70,000. Japan surrendered on August 15, ending World War II and nearly half a century of Japanese aggression in Asia.
Fears of a third atomic bomb have been heightened by the threat of a nuclear attack by Russia since the war against Ukraine began in February.
“Crisis with severe nuclear undertones are spreading rapidly” in the Middle East and the Korean Peninsula, Guterres said. “We are one mistake, one misunderstanding, one miscalculation away from Armageddon.”
Hiroshima Mayor Kazumi Matsui accused Putin in his peace declaration of “using his own people as weapons of war and stealing the lives and livelihoods of innocent civilians in another country.”
Russia’s war on Ukraine is helping build support for nuclear deterrence, Matsui said, urging the world not to repeat the mistakes that destroyed his city nearly eight decades ago.
On Saturday, attendees, including government leaders and diplomats, observed a moment of silence with the sound of a peace bell at 8:15 a.m., the moment the US B-29 dropped the bomb on the city. About 400 pigeons, considered symbols of peace, were released.
Guterres met with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida after the ceremony and raised the alarm about the global withdrawal in nuclear disarmament, stressing the importance for Japan, the world’s only country to have suffered nuclear strikes, to assume leadership in the effort, Japan’s foreign ministry said.
Kishida accompanied Guterres into the peace museum, where they each folded an origami crane – a symbol of peace and the abolition of nuclear weapons.
Russia and its ally Belarus were not invited to the peace commemoration this year. Russian Ambassador to Japan Mikhail Galuzin offered flowers at a memorial in the park on Thursday and told reporters that his country would never use nuclear weapons.
The world continues to be threatened by nuclear weapons, Kishida said at the memorial.
“I must raise my voice to call on people around the world that the tragedy of the use of nuclear weapons must never be repeated,” he said. “Japan will walk its way to a world without nuclear weapons, no matter how narrow, steep or difficult that may be.”
Kishida, who will host a Group of Seven summit meeting in Hiroshima in May, said he hoped to share his pledge with other G7 leaders “before the peace monument” to unite them to protect peace and international order based on the universal values of freedom and democracy.
Matsui criticized nuclear-weapon states, including Russia, for not taking action despite their commitment to abide by obligations under the Non-Proliferation Treaty.
“Instead of treating a world without nuclear weapons as a distant dream, they should take concrete steps towards its realization,” he said.
Critics say Kishida’s call for a nuclear-free world is hollow because Japan remains under the US nuclear umbrella and continues to boycott the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.
Kishida said the treaty, which lacks the US and other nuclear powers, is unrealistic at the moment and that Japan needs to bridge the gap between non-nuclear and nuclear powers.
Many survivors of the bombing have permanent injuries and illnesses from the explosions and radiation exposure and are discriminated against in Japan.
The government began providing medical assistance to certified survivors in 1968, after more than 20 years of efforts from them.
In March, according to the Ministry of Health and Welfare, 118,935 survivors, whose average age is now over 84, were certified as eligible for government medical assistance. But many others, including those who say they were victims of the “black rain” that fell outside the initially designated areas, still have no support.
Elderly survivors, known in Japan as hibakusha, continue to push for a nuclear ban and hope to persuade younger generations to join the movement.
Guterres had a message for younger people: “Finish the work the hibakusha started. Get their message across. In their name, in their honor, in their memory – we must act.”