Decades after the U.S. bombed the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki during World War II, politicians and activists commemorated the anniversary of the historic tragedy on Sunday.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Hiroshima Mayor Kazumi Matsui attended an annual ceremony at Hiroshima’s Peace Memorial Park to observe the 72nd anniversary of the nuclear attack on the city. Some sources estimate that the bombing of Hiroshima eventually killed 150,000 people, while the strike on Nagasaki killed an estimated 75,000, but the numbers have long been the subject of debate.
At Sunday’s event, Abe stressed the international community’s responsibility to end the use of nuclear weapons.
“For us to truly realize a ‘world without nuclear weapons,’ the participation of both nuclear weapon states and non-nuclear weapon states is necessary,” Abe said, according to The Japan Times.
Some 50,000 people from 80 nations and the European Union attended the ceremony, the outlet reported.
Hiroshima’s mayor praised the countries that have adopted the U.N.’s recent Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons for demonstrating “their unequivocal determination to achieve abolition,” according to a transcript of his speech.
However, Japan is currently under the U.S. nuclear umbrella ― a security arrangement in which participating countries consent to the potential use of nuclear weapons in their defense ― and thus is not part of the treaty.
In a joint statement with the delegations of United Kingdom and France last month, the U.S. called the treaty “incompatible with the policy of nuclear deterrence, which has been essential to keeping the peace in Europe and North Asia for over 70 years.” Abe himself has argued that such disarmament would benefit North Korea and China, The New York Times noted.
“This hell is not a thing of the past,” Matsui warned at the ceremony. “As long as nuclear weapons exist and policymakers threaten their use, their horror could leap into our present at any moment. You could find yourself suffering their cruelty.”
Afterward, Abe addressed reporters at a press conference. Though the event has typically centered on reflections about the past, a reporter did ask whether Japan would pre-emptively strike North Korea if an attack from that country seemed imminent. North Korea conducted its most recent intercontinental ballistic missile test late last month, and experts believe a nuclear ICBM is in the works.
Abe responded by asserting the importance of strengthening Japan’s overall defenses and said the Japanese government was “not planning any specific deliberations” about a pre-emptive attack. The comments stirred up controversy on Japanese social media, with many criticizing Abe’s stance at an event promoting peace, The New York Times reported.
While some U.S. cities held memorials to observe the anniversary of the Hiroshima bombing, U.S. President Donald Trump made no mention of the historic date. Last year, then-President Barack Obama became the first U.S. leader to visit Hiroshima.
“We come to mourn the dead, including over 100,000 Japanese men, women and children, thousands of Koreans and a dozen Americans held prisoner. Their souls speak to us,” Obama said at the peace memorial, according to Reuters.
Trump had criticized the visit, bringing up Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor.
“Does President Obama ever discuss the sneak attack on Pearl Harbor while he’s in Japan? Thousands of American lives lost,” he tweeted.
Abe and Obama held a ceremony in Hawaii in December 2016 to commemorate the lives lost during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.