Hiroshima marked the 75th anniversary of its atomic bombing by the United States on Thursday, with its mayor urging the world to unite against grave threats to humanity -- be they nuclear weapons or the novel coronavirus pandemic -- by spurning nationalistic and isolationist policies.
At a time when tensions between some world powers have heightened over the origin of the virus and geopolitical rivalry in the face of the global economic slowdown, Hiroshima Mayor Kazumi Matsui said countries should put aside their differences and come together to overcome both man-made and natural challenges.
"Civil society must reject self-centered nationalism and unite against all threats," he said at the annual ceremony at Peace Memorial Park near Ground Zero, which was scaled down drastically due to a recent spike in infections in Japan.
After a moment of silence was observed at 8:15 a.m., the exact time of the bombing on Aug. 6, 1945, Matsui said the western Japanese city recovered as a result of people working closely not to repeat its tragic past.
"Hiroshima considers it our duty to build in civil society a consensus that the people of the world must unite to achieve nuclear weapons abolition and lasting world peace," he said.
In his speech, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said each country must step up efforts to "remove a sense of mistrust through mutual involvement and dialogue," amid the severe security environment and widening differences between nations' positions on nuclear disarmament.
Appearing at his 10th ceremony as mayor, Matsui also called for the government to sign and ratify a U.N. treaty to ban nuclear weapons to "enhance its role as mediator" between nuclear and non-nuclear-weapon states.
Japan has refused to participate in the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, which was adopted in 2017, along with the world's nuclear-weapon states as it sits under the U.S. nuclear umbrella.
Abe did not refer to the treaty in his speech but said it is Japan's duty, as the only country that has suffered atomic bombings in war, to continue working toward the abolishment of nuclear weapons.
In a video message, U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres, who had to cancel his initial plan to be part of the event due to the pandemic, said, "The only way to totally eliminate nuclear risk is to totally eliminate nuclear weapons."
The ceremony was held with a limited number of guests with seats spread apart to maintain social distancing. The city set up about 880 seats, less than one-tenth of the usual, and scrapped sections allocated for general admission.
In addition, the release of hundreds of doves, symbolizing peace, during the ceremony had to be canceled as the spread of the virus prevented the birds from having enough training to return home and the traditional event of floating paper lanterns on a river at night was also called off to help reduce the risk of infections.
However, 83 countries and the European Union sent representatives to the ceremony, roughly the same number as in recent years.
A uranium-core atomic bomb named "Little Boy" dropped by a U.S. bomber exploded above Hiroshima 75 years ago, killing an estimated 140,000 people by the end of 1945.
A second atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki on Aug. 9, and Japan surrendered six days later, marking the end of World War II.
The combined number of hibakusha, or survivors of the two atomic bombings, stood at 136,682 as of March, down about 9,200 from a year earlier, the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare said, adding their average age was 83.31.
The city government of Hiroshima has enrolled a further 4,943 people in the past year on the list of people who died from the atomic bombing, bringing the death toll to 324,129.
Before the ceremony, many people visited the park to offer prayers and flowers to those that suffered as a result of the bombing.
Kazuko Naganuma, 72, whose 95-year-old mother survived the bombing, prays with her husband every year on this day -- but this year, she especially felt the weight of time.
"My mother was in the house when it collapsed. She also lost her younger sister," Naganuma said. "I grew up in Hiroshima, so Aug. 6 is a day about thinking about the bombing. But when you look outside Hiroshima, I've noticed that even Japanese people now don't know so much about it."
The 75th anniversary came at a time when the global health crisis has prevented some countries from cooperating closely, with the confrontation between China and the United States, both major nuclear powers and the world's two largest economies, especially escalating.
U.S. President Donald Trump has blamed China for spreading the highly-contagious virus since it was first detected late last year in the country's central city of Wuhan and triggering the ensuing economic fallout.
China, on the other hand, has defended its handling of the pandemic and accused the United States of fueling a new Cold War, when their relations have already been complicated by a number of issues, including trade practices, cybersecurity and the situation in Hong Kong.
Full text of Hiroshima Peace Declaration on 75th A-bomb anniversary
The following is the full text of the Peace Declaration read Thursday by Hiroshima Mayor Kazumi Matsui at a ceremony to mark the 75th anniversary of the atomic bombing of the city.
On August 6, 1945, a single atomic bomb destroyed our city. Rumor at the time had it that "nothing will grow here for 75 years." And yet, Hiroshima recovered, becoming a symbol of peace visited by millions from around the world.
Humanity struggles now against a new threat: the novel coronavirus. However, with what we have learned from the tragedies of the past, we should be able to overcome this threat.
When the 1918 flu pandemic attacked a century ago, it took tens of millions of lives and terrorized the world because nations fighting World War I were unable to meet the threat together. A subsequent upsurge in nationalism led to World War II and the atomic bombings.
We must never allow this painful past to repeat itself. Civil society must reject self-centered nationalism and unite against all threats.
The day after the atomic bombing, a young boy of 13 saw, "...victims lying in rows on the bridge. Many were injured. Many had breathed their last. Most were burned, their skin hanging off. Many were begging, 'Water! Give me water!'" Long after the horrifying experience, the man asserts, "Fighting happens when people think only of themselves or their own countries."
Last November, when Pope Francis visited our city, he left us with a powerful message: "To remember, to journey together, to protect. These are three moral imperatives."
Sadako Ogata, as U.N. high commissioner for refugees, worked passionately to assist those in need. She spoke from experience when she said, "The important thing is to save the lives of those who are suffering. No country can live in peace alone. The world is connected."
These messages urge us to unite against threats to humanity and avoid repeating our tragic past.
Hiroshima is what it is today because our predecessors cared about each other; they stood together through their ordeal. Visitors from other countries leave the Peace Memorial Museum with comments like, "Now we see this tragedy as our own," and "This is a lesson for the future of humanity." Hiroshima considers it our duty to build in civil society a consensus that the people of the world must unite to achieve nuclear weapons abolition and lasting world peace.
Turning to the United Nations, the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which went into effect 50 years ago, and the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) adopted three years ago are both critical to eliminating nuclear weapons. They comprise a framework that we must pass on to future generations, yet their future is opaque. Now more than ever, world leaders must strengthen their determination to make this framework function effectively.
That is precisely why I urge them to visit Hiroshima and deepen their understanding of the atomic bombing. I further urge them to invest fully in the NPT Review Conference. They must negotiate in good faith toward nuclear disarmament, as stipulated by the NPT, and continue constructive dialogue toward a security system free from reliance on nuclear weapons.
To enhance its role as mediator between the nuclear-weapon and non-nuclear-weapon states, I ask the Japanese government to heed the appeal of the hibakusha that it sign and ratify, and become a party to the TPNW. As the only nation to suffer a nuclear attack, Japan must persuade the global public to unite with the spirit of Hiroshima. I further demand more generous assistance for the hibakusha, whose average age exceeds 83, and the many others whose daily lives are still plagued by suffering due to the harmful effects of radiation on their minds and bodies. And once more, I demand the political decision to expand the "black rain areas."
At this Peace Memorial Ceremony marking 75 years since the bombing, we offer heartfelt prayers for the peaceful repose of the souls of the atomic bomb victims. Together with Nagasaki and like-minded people around the world, we pledge to do everything in our power to abolish nuclear weapons and open a path to genuine and lasting world peace.