The bells rang in Hiroshima, Japan, to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the release of the world’s first atomic bomb.
But commemorative events have been downsized this year due to the pandemic.
On August 6, 1945, an American bomber dropped the uranium bomb over the city, killing around 140,000 people.
Three days later a second nuclear weapon was launched on Nagasaki. Two weeks later Japan surrendered, ending the Second World War.
On Thursday, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and the mayor of Hiroshima joined the bomb survivors and descendants in the city’s Peace Park.
The park is usually full of thousands of people for the anniversary, but this year the presence has been significantly reduced, with chairs spaced out and most of the participants wear masks.
A moment of silence was held at 08:15, the exact moment when the bomb was dropped on the city.
“On August 6, 1945, a single atomic bomb destroyed our city. It was rumored then that ‘nothing will grow here for 75 years,” said Mayor Kazumi Matsui.
“Yet Hiroshima has recovered, becoming a symbol of peace.”
In a video message, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called on all nations to renew efforts to abolish these weapons.
“Division, mistrust and lack of dialogue threaten to bring the world back into unbridled strategic nuclear competition,” he said.
“The only way to totally eliminate nuclear risk is to totally eliminate nuclear weapons.”
A train journey that saved a life
On the morning of August 6, 1945, Michiko slept too much.
“I ran to Yokogawa station and jumped on my usual train in a short time,” he wrote in his journal years later.
Michiko’s sprint saved her life. It meant he was safe in his workplace when his city – Hiroshima – was hit by the first nuclear bomb ever used in the war.
“If I had lost my usual train, I would have died somewhere between Yokogawa station and Hiroshima station.”
To find out more: the day Michiko almost lost her train
What happened in 1945?
Germany surrendered to allied forces in May 1945, but World War II continued in Asia as allies fought against imperial Japan.
The United States believed that dropping a nuclear bomb – after Tokyo rejected a previous peace ultimatum – would force a rapid surrender without risking US casualties on the ground.
On August 6, the United States launched the first bomb – codenamed Little Boy – on Hiroshima. The attack was the first time that a nuclear weapon was used during a war.
At least 70,000 people are believed to have been killed immediately in the huge explosion that destroyed the city. Tens of thousands more died of radiation poisoning injuries in the following days, weeks and months.
When no immediate surrender came from the Japanese, another bomb, dubbed “Fat Man”, was dropped three days later about 420 kilometers (261 miles) south over Nagasaki.
The registered death tolls are estimates, but about 140,000 of Hiroshima’s 350,000 people are thought to have been killed and at least 74,000 people have died in Nagasaki.
They are the only two nuclear bombs that have ever been deployed outside the tests.
Double bombing led to an abrupt end to the war in Asia, with Japan surrendering to the Allies on August 14, 1945.
But some critics claimed that Japan was already on the verge of surrender and that the bombs killed a disproportionate number of civilians.
The Japanese wartime experience led to a strong pacifist movement in the country. On Hiroshima’s annual anniversary, the government usually reaffirms its commitment to a nuclear-free world.
After the war, Hiroshima sought to reinvent itself as a City of Peace and continues to promote nuclear disarmament worldwide.
The bomb that changed the world
- The bomb was nicknamed “Little Boy” and was thought to have the explosive force of 20,000 tons of TNT
- With Paul Tibbets, a 30-year-old colonel from Illinois, he led the mission to drop the atomic bomb
- Enola Gay, the plane that dropped the bomb, was named in homage to Col Tibbets’ mother.
- The final target was decided less than an hour before the bomb was dropped. The good weather conditions on Hiroshima marked the fate of the city
- Upon detonation, the temperature at the point of explosion of the bomb was several million degrees
- The explosion generated a huge shock wave that destroyed the buildings
- Thousands of people on the ground were killed or injured instantly