Nagasaki paid tribute to its dead yesterday, 60 years to the day after the city was levelled by an atomic bomb in one of the last acts of World War II.
Politicians and survivors of the bomb that killed an estimated 80 000 people after it exploded above the city on August 9 1945 laid wreaths to the victims in a ceremony at the city’s peace memorial park, a few hundred metres from the centre of the explosion.
At 11.02am, the exact time the plutonium bomb — nicknamed Fat Man after Winston Churchill — turned their home into an inferno just three days after the attack on Hiroshima, about 6 000 people stood in silence.
The solemnity did not last long, as local leaders demanded that the United States and other nuclear states abandon their nuclear arsenals.
Itcho Ito, the mayor of Nagasaki, issued an angry plea to the exclusive club of nuclear states to end their dependence on the most devastating of weapons of mass destruction.
”We understand your anger and anxiety over the memories of the horror of the 9/11 terrorist attacks,” he said.
In a clear reference to the US, he continued: ”Yet is your security enhanced by your government’s policies of maintaining 10 000 nuclear weapons, of carrying out repeated sub-critical nuclear tests, and of pursuing the development of new ‘mini’ nuclear weapons?”
He called on Japan to end its dependence on the US nuclear umbrella for its security in the face of uneasy relations with China and North Korea, which this year declared itself a nuclear power.
The Japanese Prime Minister, Junichiro Koizumi, who on Saturday was heckled by a small group of leftwing demonstrators in Hiroshima for his support for the war in Iraq, kept his remarks similarly brief. ”This is an occasion to remember the victims, and pray for world peace,” he said, adding that Japan would honour its commitment never to join the nuclear club.
Diplomats from all seven nuclear states, including Britain, had been invited to attend the ceremony but only the Russian Federation accepted.
The day began with a reminder of Nagasaki’s historical associations with Christianity. As the sun rose over the city, hundreds of people attended a special mass at Urakami Cathedral, which at the time of the bombing was the largest in Asia. More than 8 000 of its 12 000 parishioners are estimated to have died in the bombing.
Nagasaki has lived in the shadow of Hiroshima, which was bombed three days earlier and where more than 240 000 people are thought to have died.
Nagasaki might have escaped destruction had it not been for the weather. Bock’s Car, the US plane that dropped the bomb, had headed for nearby Kokura on the morning of August 9, but did not release its payload because the city was shrouded in haze.
The crew flew on to Nagasaki only to find it was covered in thick cloud, and were on the verge of abandoning their mission when an opening appeared.
Fumie Sakamoto, a 74-year-old woman representing the survivors, recalled being thrown into the air at her home and coming to in her garden 10m away. ”As far as I could see, everything had been reduced to rubble,” she said. ”Together with some 260 000 A-bomb survivors … I swear in the presence of the souls of the victims of the atomic bombing to continue to tirelessly demand that Nagasaki be the last A-bomb site.”
Nagasaki was the first Japanese city to open its doors to foreign trade after the country ended centuries of seclusion from the outside world in 1859. The city, now home to 420 000 people, remained one of Japan’s most cosmopolitan cities; yesterday nine survivors from the US, Brazil and Korea attended the ceremony. –
Guardian Unlimited Ã‚