Japan is commemorating the victims of the atomic bomb that devastated Hiroshima 65 years ago. The attack by the United States in 1945 was instrumental in ending World War II. Since then on each on August 6, a somber echo of a temple bell reverberates through Hiroshima's Peace Memorial Park.
Japan is the only nation ever to have been attacked with atomic bombs. More than 140,000 people were killed instantly in Hiroshima or died in the days and weeks after the U.S. attack. Three days later, a U.S. plane dropped a second atomic bomb on Nagasaki, killing more than 70,000 people. Japan surrendered on August 14.
"Their dreams, hopes and bodies were all killed by the bomb,” said Sadae Kasaoka, a 77-year-old survivor of the Hiroshima blast. "When the remaining dead bodies were being burned, Kasaoka said “I felt like I could see their spirits. I want to live my life to make up for the part of theirs they couldn't. I feel that my role has become to live and tell everyone what a tragic and miserable situation it actually was."
Japan sees itself as a victim of the U.S. decision to drop an atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The United States has never apologized for the bombings, and U.S. domestic public opinion holds that it was a necessary step to end the war.
Stephen Leeper is the chairperson of the Hiroshima Peace Culture Foundation. He says no future use of atomic weapons should ever occur.
"By any definition, they were a war crime, so I am down on those bombings,” Leeper said. “However, I am not going to make an issue of that with any American or ambassador or government official or anybody else because that is not the point. The point is how do we keep it from happening again."
The ceremony this year stood out from past memorial events with the presence of the U.S. ambassador to Japan, John Roos. He is the first official U.S. representative ever to attend the peace ceremony in Hiroshima. The U.S. State Department simply said Mr. Roos was representing the United States "to express regret for all of the victims of World War II." Also at this year's ceremony was Ban Ki-moon, the first U.N. Secretary-General to attend.
Ban said he hoped his attendance would "send a strong message to the world and also give some opportunity of addressing the sufferings and concerns of many of hundreds of thousands of whose admiration and dream is to see the world free of nuclear weapons."
Leeper said he was thrilled the attention the 65th anniversary is receiving.
"Having Ambassador Roos here, and Ban Ki-moon, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon come here for the first time ever. This is the first Secretary-General ever to come to this ceremony,” he said. “This is a tremendous event for us, and we are very excited about it not because of the prestige it gives us, but because we think this is a change in how the world is thinking about nuclear weapons,” Leeper said.
Boost to Relations
Tokyo has often asked Washington to send an envoy to the annual ceremony. The ambassador's attendance at Hiroshima has caused some controversy in the United States. Japan had first attacked the United States with an aerial assault on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. As the war progressed, many in the United States felt the decisive use of nuclear weapons actually saved lives by preventing a bloody invasion of Japan.
U.S. President Harry Truman gave the order to drop the bombs. Since then, U.S. presidents have not ruled out the use of nuclear weapons, but only as a last resort. Now, President Barack Obama has called for a world free of the weapons.
"The United States will take concrete steps towards a world without nuclear weapons,” the president said. “To put an end to Cold War thinking, we will reduce the role of nuclear weapons in our national security strategy, and urge others to do the same. Make no mistake, as long as these weapons exist, the United States will maintain a safe, secure and effective arsenal to deter any adversary,” Mr. Obama said.
The visit by Ambassador Roos Friday also provides a much-needed boost to U.S.-Japan relations in the wake of a tense period between the two allies that stemmed from the previous Japanese government's wavering over an agreement to relocate a controversial U.S. Marine airbase in Okinawa.