TOKYO — Sixty-five years after the United States dropped “Little Boy” on Hiroshima, effectively ending World War II and ushering in an era of nuclear dread, the U.S. sent its first delegation to the annual ceremony to remember the over 100,000 Japanese who lost their lives in the bombing.
Britain and France also sent representatives for the first time.
While some Japanese hailed the presence of the US and other nuclear powers as a sign of commitment to eventual nuclear disarmament, for others it was too little, too late. Some Japanese still want an apology for the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, while others complained about the absence of President Obama.
Some of Hiroshima’s hibakusha – as atomic bomb survivors are known – criticized the US ambassador for failing to meet with them, apologize for the bombing, or even offer a floral tribute. Others however, saw his visit as a sign of progress.
On the streets of Tokyo, there were mixed feelings regarding the US delegation’s attendance. “It’s good they’ve come, but why has it taken 65 years?” asked an office worker who was watching the morning’s ceremony from Hiroshima on public broadcast NHK. “And really, Obama should be here after the speeches he’s made about nuclear weapons.”
US Ambassador to Japan John Roos was joined by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and delegates from over 70 countries as Prime Minister Naoto Kan implored the world to “accept the Japanese people’s hope that nuclear destruction never takes place again.”
In the traditional peace declaration, the mayor of Hiroshima, Tadatoshi Akiba, called on the central government to continue Japan’s policy of not producing nuclear weapons and to remove itself from the protection of the US nuclear umbrella.
In a press conference after the ceremony, Kan said that while “we share strong hopes for nuclear disarmament,” Japan had to face the “reality that nuclear arms and other weapons of mass destruction are spreading,” and that “nuclear deterrence continues to be a necessity for our country.” The US maintains military bases in Japan that are politically controversial.
The UN’s Ban also visited Nagasaki on his trip, the first by a secretary-general to the cities, declaring, “The only way to ensure that nuclear weapons will never again be used is to eliminate them all.”
At the ceremony, the names of a further 5,501 recently confirmed to have died from radiation aftereffects were added in two books to the memorial to the dead. The cenotaph now contains almost 100 books containing the names of 269,446 people.