Nagasaki Marks 75 Years Since Atomic Bombing

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe lays a wreath during a ceremony marking the 75th anniversary of the atomic bombing of Nagasaki, at the Nagasaki Peace Park on August 9, 2020. Philip FONG / AFP
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe lays a wreath during a ceremony marking the 75th anniversary of the atomic bombing of Nagasaki, at the Nagasaki Peace Park on August 9, 2020. Philip FONG / AFP

 

The Japanese city of Nagasaki on Sunday commemorated the 75th anniversary of its destruction by a US atomic bomb, with its mayor and the head of the United Nations warning against a nuclear arms race.

Nagasaki was flattened in an atomic inferno three days after Hiroshima — twin nuclear attacks that rang in the nuclear age and gave Japan the bleak distinction of being the only country to be struck by atomic weapons.

Survivors, their relatives and a handful of foreign dignitaries attended a remembrance ceremony in Nagasaki where they called for world peace.

Participants offered a silent prayer at 11:02 am (0202 GMT), the time the second and last nuclear weapon used in wartime was dropped over the city.

“The true horror of nuclear weapons has not yet been adequately conveyed to the world at large” despite decades of effort by survivors telling of their “hellish experience”, Nagasaki mayor Tomihisa Taue said in a speech afterwards.

“If, as with the novel coronavirus — which we did not fear until it began to spread among our immediate surroundings — humanity does not become aware of the threat of nuclear weapons until they are used again, we will find ourselves in an irrevocable predicament.”

 

Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe delivers a speech during a ceremony marking the 75th anniversary of the atomic bombing of Nagasaki, at the Nagasaki Peace Park on August 9, 2020. (Photo by JAPAN POOL VIA JIJI PRESS / JIJI PRESS / AFP) / Japan OUT

 

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, in a message read by his undersecretary Izumi Nakamitsu, warned that “the prospect of nuclear weapons being used intentionally, by accident or miscalculation, is dangerously high.”

“The historic progress in nuclear disarmament is in jeopardy… This alarming trend must be reversed,” he said.

‘Nuclear-free world’

The number of participants in this year’s ceremony was reduced to roughly one tenth the figure in previous years due to coronavirus fears, with proceedings broadcast live online in Japanese and English.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe refreshed his pledge that Japan would lead “the international community’s efforts towards the realisation of a nuclear-free world”.

Terumi Tanaka, 88, who was 13 and at his hillside home when the bomb hit Nagasaki, remembers the moment everything went white with a flash of light, and the aftermath.

“I saw many people with terrible burns and wounds evacuating … people who were already dead in a primary school-turned shelter,” Tanaka told AFP in a recent interview, saying his two aunts died.

Atomic bomb survivors “believe that the world must abandon nuclear arms because we never want younger generations to experience the same thing”, he said.

The remembrance comes as worries linger over the nuclear threat from North Korea and growing tensions between the US and China over issues including security and trade.

“I’m determined to keep appealing (to the world) that Nagasaki must be the last atomic bomb-hit city,” survivor Shigemi Fukahori, 89, said at the ceremony.

“I hope young people will receive this baton of peace and keep running.”

The US dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, killing around 140,000 people. The toll includes those who survived the explosion itself but died soon after from radiation exposure.

Three days later, the US dropped a plutonium bomb on the port city of Nagasaki, killing 74,000 people.

Japan announced its surrender in World War II on August 15, 1945.

The United States has never acceded to demands in Japan for an apology for the loss of innocent lives in the atomic bombings, which many Western historians believe were necessary to bring a quick end to the war and avoid a land invasion that could have been even more costly.

Others see the attacks as unnecessary and even experimental atrocities.

Last year, Pope Francis met with several survivors on visits to Hiroshima and Nagasaki, paying tribute to the “unspeakable horror” suffered by the victims.

In 2016, Barack Obama became the first sitting US president to visit Hiroshima. He offered no apology for the attack but embraced survivors and called for a world free of nuclear weapons.

High school students take part in a memorial for bomb victims at Nagasaki Hypocenter Park to mark the 75th anniversary of the atomic bombing of the city on August 9, 2020. (Photo by Philip FONG / AFP)
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe pays his respects during a ceremony marking the 75th anniversary of the atomic bombing of Nagasaki, at the Nagasaki Peace Park on August 9, 2020. – Nagasaki was flattened in an atomic inferno three days after Hiroshima in 1945, twin nuclear attacks that rang in the nuclear age and gave Japan the bleak distinction of being the only country to be struck by atomic weapons. (Photo by Philip FONG / AFP)
A choir group comprised of elementary schoolchildren performs at a ceremony marking the 75th anniversary of the atomic bombing of Nagasaki, at the Nagasaki Peace Park on August 9, 2020. (Photo by JAPAN POOL VIA JIJI PRESS / JIJI PRESS / AFP) / Japan OUT
Monks participate in a march for COVID-19 coronavirus victims as they gather to offer prayers for victims of the atomic bombings on the 75th anniversary of the bombing of Nagasaki, at the Nagasaki Peace Park on August 9, 2020. – Nagasaki was flattened in an atomic inferno three days after Hiroshima in 1945, twin nuclear attacks that rang in the nuclear age and gave Japan the bleak distinction of being the only country to be struck by atomic weapons. (Photo by Philip FONG / AFP)
Monks participate in a march for COVID-19 coronavirus victims as they gather to offer prayers for victims of the atomic bombings on the 75th anniversary of the bombing of Nagasaki, at the Nagasaki Peace Park on August 9, 2020. – Nagasaki was flattened in an atomic inferno three days after Hiroshima in 1945, twin nuclear attacks that rang in the nuclear age and gave Japan the bleak distinction of being the only country to be struck by atomic weapons. (Photo by Philip FONG / AFP)

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe lays a wreath during a ceremony marking the 75th anniversary of the atomic bombing of Nagasaki, at the Nagasaki Peace Park on August 9, 2020. Philip FONG / AFP

Pope Slams Nuclear Deterrent, ‘Unspeakable Horror’ Of Nagasaki

Pope Francis attends a ceremony at the Peace Memorial Park during his visit to the Japanese city of Hiroshima on November 24, 2019. CHARLY TRIBALLEAU / AFP

 

Pope Francis Sunday railed against atomic weapons, the nuclear deterrent, and the growing arms trade, as he paid tribute to the victims of the “unspeakable horror” of the Nagasaki bomb.

In a highly symbolic visit to the Japanese city devastated by the nuclear attack in August 1945, Francis said nuclear weapons were “not the answer” to a desire for security, peace, and stability.

“Indeed they seem always to thwart it,” he said.

At least 74,000 people died from the atomic bomb unleashed on the city in western Japan — just three days after the world’s first nuclear attack hit Hiroshima and killed at least 140,000.

“This place makes us deeply aware of the pain and horror that we human beings are capable of inflicting upon one another,” said the sombre pontiff on the first full day of his Japan trip.

Hundreds of people in white waterproofs sat in torrential rain to hear the pope’s speech, next to the emblematic photo of a young boy carrying his dead baby brother on his back in the aftermath of the attack.

He laid a wreath of white flowers and prayed silently, unprotected from the lashing downpour.

‘Die like a human’

Francis took aim at what he called the “perverse dichotomy” of nuclear deterrence, saying that peace is incompatible with the “fear of mutual destruction or the threat of total annihilation.”

This marked a break with past pontiffs — in a 1982 UN speech, Pope John Paul II had described nuclear deterrence as a necessary evil.

The 82-year-old Francis also hit out at the “money that is squandered and the fortune made” in the arms trade, describing it as an “affront crying out to Heaven” in a world where “millions of children are living in inhumane conditions.”

Later Sunday, Francis will visit Hiroshima and meet survivors of the atomic attack, known in Japanese as hibakusha, at the world-famous Peace Memorial in the city synonymous with the horror of nuclear war.

Two survivors of Nagasaki, 89-year-old Shigemi Fukahori and 85-year-old Sakue Shimohira, handed the wreath to the pope.

Fukahori, a Catholic, has prayed every day for those killed and their bereaved families.

“My heart is just full of overflowing feelings,” he said. “Just meeting him is enough. I’m so glad and speechless.”

Shimohira, who was 10 at the time of the attack, conveyed the terror of the bomb.

“My mother and older sister were killed, charred. Even if you survived, you couldn’t live like a human or die like a human… It’s the horror of nuclear weapons,” she said.

At a Mass at a baseball stadium in Nagasaki with worshippers now shielding their eyes from the sun, Francis said the city “bears in its soul a wound difficult to heal” and warned that “a third World War is being waged piecemeal.”

‘Fondness and affection’

The Argentine pontiff is fulfilling a long-held ambition to preach in Japan — a country he wanted to visit as a young missionary.

“Ever since I was young I have felt a fondness and affection for these lands,” said Francis when he arrived in Japan.

Like in Thailand, the first leg of his Asian tour, Catholicism is a minority religion in Japan.

Most people follow a mix of Shinto and Buddhism, with only an estimated 440,000 Catholics in the country.

Christians in Japan suffered centuries of repression, being tortured to recant their faith, and Francis paid tribute to the martyrs who died for their religion.

Alongside its nuclear history, Nagasaki is also a key city in Christian history where so-called “Hidden Christians” were discovered after keeping the faith alive in secret for 200 years while Japan was closed to the world.

The pope said in Nagasaki that as a “young Jesuit from the ‘ends of the earth'” he had found “powerful inspiration in the story of the early missionaries and the Japanese martyrs.”

Francis returns to Tokyo on Sunday night where he will on Monday meet victims of Japan’s “triple disaster” — the 2011 earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear meltdown.

He is also scheduled to deliver a Mass at a Tokyo baseball stadium, meet Japan’s new Emperor Naruhito and hold talks with Japanese government officials and local Catholic leaders.