Nagasaki remembers atomic bomb victims 73 years on

The US nuclear strike on Nagasaki 73 years ago marked the second and the last time such weapons were used in WWII. At the commemoration ceremony, UN chief Antonio Guterres warned fears of nuclear war were still present.

Survivors and dignitaries honored the 74,000 victims of the atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki at the 73rd anniversary ceremony on Thursday. Around 5,800 people gathered to observe a minute's silence at 11:02 local time, the exact moment when US bombers dropped the "Fat Man" nuclear device on the Japanese port city in 1945.

The attack came three days after a nuclear strike on Hiroshima that killed 140,000. Less than a week after Nagasaki, Japan announced itssurrender, which officially ended World War II.

Speaking at the memorial service, UN General Secretary Antonio Guterres warned that "fears of nuclear war are still with us" decades after the Nagasaki bombing.

"States in possession of nuclear weapons are spending vast sums to modernize their arsenals," he said. "More than $1.7 trillion (€1.5 trillion) was spent in 2017 on arms and armies — the highest level since the end of the Cold War."

Asia | 27.05.2016

Addressing the attendees at the Nagasaki peace park, Guterres also said that disarmament efforts "have slowed and even come to a halt," adding that many countries "demonstrated their frustration by adopting the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons last year."

"Let us all commit to making Nagasaki the last place on earth to suffer nuclear devastation," he said.

Read more: How the Japanese view Obama's Hiroshima visit

Nagasaki Peace Park features a 10-meter (33-feet) Peace Statue

Tokyo's balancing act

Japan is not a signatory of the treaty, despite being the only country where nuclear weapons were used during wartime. Modern-day Japan is protected by the US nuclear umbrella, meaning that the US is obligated to respond on a nuclear strike against Japan. This puts Tokyo in a delicate position on the issue of nuclear disarmament.

Nagasaki Mayor Tomihisa Taue urged the Japanese government to sign the treaty and "fulfill its moral obligation to lead the world towards denuclearization."

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who also spoke at the ceremony, said Tokyo was seeking to close the gaps between nuclear and non-nuclear states to eventually achieve a nuclear-free world.

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The bombings in Hiroshima and Nagasaki killed not only Japanese, but also at least 22,000 forcefully conscripted Korean laborers, 12 captured US soldiers and seven Dutch POWs.

Atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki

The first bomb

On August 6th, 1945, the US bomber "Enola Gay" drops the first atomic bomb ever used in a war on the Japanese city of Hiroshima. The device bears the harmless-sounding name "Little Boy." About 20 percent of the city's 350,000 inhabitants are killed just seconds after the blast. A giant shock wave flattens the city center.

Atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki

The "Enola Gay"

The attack on Hiroshima is set to take place on August 1st, 1945, but it is postponed due to a typhoon. The "Enola Gay" takes off five days later with 13 crew members on board. They only find out they are about to drop an atomic bomb after the bomber is airborne.

Atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki

The second bomb

Three days after Hiroshima, the Americans drop a second bomb over the city of Nagasaki. The target is originally Kyoto, but the US Department of Defense objects and so Nagasaki is chosen. The bomb bears the name "Fat Man" and has the explosive power of 22,000 tons of TNT. An estimated 70,000 people die over the next four months.

Atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki

A strategic target

In 1945, the Mitsubishi Steel and Arms Works are located in Nagasaki. The company does not only run large shipyards at the port, but is also responsible for the construction of the torpedoes used in the attack against the US Pacific fleet based at Pearl Harbor. Only a few Japanese soldiers are stationed in Nagasaki. Poor visibility conditions render a direct assault on the shipyards impossible.

Atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki

The victims

Tens of thousands of people die months later from the consequences of the explosions. By the end of 1945, a further 60,000 people die in Hiroshima alone, as a result of radiation exposure, burns and other severe injuries. Five years later, casualty figures are estimated at 230,000.

Atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki

War crimes?

After the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki many Japanese fear a third US attack on the capital, Tokyo. Japan decides to capitulate, thus ending World War II. US President Harry Truman had ordered the bombings, convinced it was the only way to end the war swiftly. However, many historians regard the attacks as war crimes.

Atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki


Hiroshima's devastated city center is fully rebuilt, except for an island on the river Ota, which is preserved as a peace memorial park. Today, there are an array of memorial sites here: the Peace Museum, the Children's Peace Monument, the ruins of the Chamber of Industry and Commerce as well as a flame which will remain lit until all nuclear bombs on the planet are destroyed.

Atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki

A culture of remembrance

In Nagasaki, the Atomic Bomb Museum and the Peace Park have been remembering the victims and aftermath of the bombings since 1955. The remembrance of the victims plays an important part in Japanese culture and national identity. Hiroshima and Nagasaki have become global symbols for the horrors of nuclear war.

Atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki

A moment of silence

Every year a large memorial ceremony is held in Hiroshima. Survivors, relatives, citizens and politicians get together to hold a minute of silence. Many Japanese are committed to nuclear disarmament.

dj/rt (AP, dpa)

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