As tens of thousands gathered in Hiroshima on Thursday to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the U.S. dropping of the atomic bomb, people from Japan and across the globe urged world leaders to honor the lives of those killed and wounded by abolishing nuclear weapons once and for all.
A bell rang in Hiroshima's Peace Memorial Park where a massive crowd, with heads bowed, held a moment of silence at 8:15 AM to mark the exact instant the bomb was dropped. Roughly 150,000 people were killed in the bombing and aftermath. The U.S. military followed the attack on Hiroshima by dropping a second atomic bomb on the city of Nagasaki on August 9, 1945, which killed approximately 75,000 people.
"To coexist we must abolish the absolute evil and ultimate inhumanity that are nuclear weapons," declared Hiroshima Mayor Kazumi Matsui in a speech at the ceremony. "Now is the time to start taking action."
Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who has advocated a nuclear power restart over majority public opposition, also called for the nuclear disarmament at the ceremony, which was attended by representatives of over 100 countries. Meanwhile, protesters were reportedly blocked from attending the memorial by police.
In a meeting with survivors of the bombing following the ceremony, Abe was skewered for his efforts to undo pacifist components of the country's constitution and embrace military buildup. "These bills will bring the tragedy of war to our nation once again," said 86-year-old Yukio Yoshioka. "They must be withdrawn."
Moreover, some drew a direct line between the horrors of the atomic bombings and the more recent Fukushima nuclear meltdown.
"The horror of these bombings should be taken as a warning of the threats of nuclear weapons, but instead, the government is locking Japan into a nuclear future. Whether for military or civil purposes, nuclear energy is never peaceful. It carries the threat of nuclear weapons development, and as the 2011 Fukushima disaster demonstrated to the world, nuclear energy is neither safe, nor clean," said Junichi Sato, Greenpeace Japan Executive Director, in a statement released Thursday.
"The trauma felt by Japanese people after the Fukushima accident—and also by thousands of people affected by other nuclear disasters, such as Chernobyl—should never again be endured, which is why we firmly believe that peace—not war—is the best form of self defence," Sato added.
Many are also calling on the U.S.—the only country to ever drop a nuclear bomb on civilian populations—to embrace disarmament and reverse its ongoing nuclear buildup.
Anti-nuclear campaigners on Thursday began three days of rallies, marches, and direct actions at nuclear weapons complexes across the United States, from the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico to the Kansas City Plant in Missouri. The coordinated protests, led by atom bomb survivors, scientists, health providers, and faith communities, are demanding disarmament.
"This 70th anniversary should be a time to reflect on the absolute horror of a nuclear detonation," declared Ann Suellentrop, a member of the Kansas City chapter of Physicians for Social Responsibility. "Yet the new Kansas City Plant is churning out components to extend U.S. nuclear weapons 70 years into the future. The imperative to change that future is what motivates me to organize a peace fast at the gates of the Plant."
According to the latest findings of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, released in June, the U.S. has a total of 7,260 nuclear war heads—more than any of the nine known nuclear weapons states, which include Russia, the United Kingdom, France, China, India, Pakistan, Israel, and North Korea.
Meanwhile, the U.S. and Russia are pursuing "extensive and expensive long-term modernization programs under way for their remaining nuclear delivery systems, warheads and production," SIPRI notes. And all other nuclear states are "are either developing or deploying new nuclear weapon systems or have announced their intention to do so."
Many charge that the hypocrisy of the ongoing buildup of the P5+1 nations, which control almost all of the nuclear weapons on the planet, was on full display during negotiations with Iran, which does not have a nuclear weapons program, according to expert reports and intelligence assessments.
However, there are also signs of growing opposition to nuclear weapons. In May, 107 non-nuclear weapons states signed a humanitarian pledge to "stigmatize, prohibit, and eliminate nuclear weapons in light of their unacceptable humanitarian consequences and associated risks."
The statement adds: "the risk of nuclear weapons use with their unacceptable consequences can only be avoided when all nuclear weapons have been eliminated."