At 8:15 on the morning of August 6th, 1945, a U.S. military plane dropped an atomic bomb on the city of Hiroshima, Japan. The world's first nuclear attack - which was followed 3 days later by another on the city of Nagasaki -- killed over 100,000 civilians, and helped bring an end to the U.S.-Japanese war.
In the United States, as around the world, people gather to mark the 60th anniversary of the Hiroshima bombing and to ponder its meaning for today. In New York City, many people are taking part in "Universal Peace Day."
Reverend T.K. Nagagaki, a Buddhist priest, is sounding a gong at the exact time in New York when the Hiroshima bomb was detonated in 1945. This signals the start of a silent community walk from his temple on Manhattan's Upper West Side to a large interfaith service at the stately Riverside Church. "In Eastern tradition, silence has more power than the voice," he says. "So through silence we are really talking loud. Just the presence of the walk creates the feeling of peace."
Reverend Nakagaki says there's a connection between the cultivation of inner peace and the prevention of violence such as the Hiroshima bombing. "From the Buddhist point of view, nonviolence is very important, not only outside but also inside. Which means within our mind we need to create the peace that is free from hatred, greed, and self-centeredness. But at the same time, inside connects to the outside," Reverend Nakagaki says, noting that Buddhist scriptures say, "Your enemies will never make peace in the face of hatred. It is the absence of hatred that leads to peace."
SuZen, a key organizer of Universal Peace Day, hopes the event will "transform a day of remembrance into a rededication to life." She says the spirit of the occasion is about more than religion or politics. "It's really to focus on the terrible bombing of Hiroshima and the senseless deaths that are created by war," she says. "Our hope is that people will hear us. And perhaps if we have one day of peace where the whole world will stop and visualize peace, this is good; maybe they can decide we can do a second day and a third day."
Universal Peace Day planners say they did not want to dwell entirely on violence and war. The Reverend Doctor Robert Brashear, who leads the Christian prayer at the service, says that celebration and wholesome revelry are central to the commemoration. "Because when you are talking about peace, you are not just talking about the absence of war. You are talking about a sense of wholeness," he says. "You are talking about a sense of joy and life. You are talking about understanding that the life we have is a gift. Celebration is a part of that. What we have to do is to give people images of beauty. And if you can see that inside of ourselves, or perhaps even begin to feel what it's like when the feeling of warmth starts and begins to grow and fill us, then you can see what the purpose of this event is about."
One of the event's most well-known participants is folksinger and political activist, Pete Seeger, 86. He suggests that even those who don't participate in one of the many events marking the 60th anniversary of the Hiroshima bombing can take time to reflect on the event.
"I'd say wherever people are, no matter what you're doing, whether you are alone, or with your family, or in the middle of a baseball game, for there to be few moments of silence to realize that we are all in danger of wiping out the human race," he says. "During this minute of silence, you can look at the sky; you can look at the trees and the view around you. In general, life is worth preserving!"
Other events commemorating the anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima include a vigil and teach-in at the Los Alamos Nuclear Weapons Laboratory in New Mexico, where major research for the first bomb was conducted; a rally near the Lawrence-Livermore nuclear weapons lab in California; and a remembrance ceremony at the Y-12 Nuclear Facility in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, where fuel for that first bomb was made.