“Humanity is playing with a loaded gun” as crises with the potential for nuclear disaster proliferate worldwide, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in Hiroshima yesterday, the 77th anniversary of the first atomic bomb attack.
At an annual memorial in the Japanese city, Guterres warned of the risk posed by crises in Ukraine, the Middle East and the Korean Peninsula as he described the horrors endured by people in Hiroshima.
“Tens of thousands of people were killed in this city in the blink of an eye. Women, children and men were incinerated in a hellish fire,” he said, adding that survivors were “cursed with a radioactive legacy” of cancer and other health problems.
“We must ask: What have we learned from the mushroom cloud that swelled above this city?” he asked.
About 140,000 people died when Hiroshima was bombed by the US on Aug. 6, 1945, a toll that includes those who perished after the blast from radiation exposure.
Today, “crises with grave nuclear undertones are spreading fast,” Guterres said, repeating warnings he made this week at a Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons conference in New York.
“Humanity is playing with a loaded gun,” he said.
Before dawn, survivors and their relatives began to gather at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park to pay tribute to the victims.
A silent prayer was held at 8:15am, the moment a US warplane dropped the bomb 77 years earlier.
The Russian ambassador to Japan was not invited to the ceremony, but visited Hiroshima on Thursday to lay flowers at the memorial site.
Since Moscow invaded Ukraine in February, Russian President Vladimir Putin has made thinly veiled threats hinting at a willingness to deploy tactical nuclear weapons.
In a speech yesterday, Hiroshima Mayor Kazumi Matsui cited Leo Tolstoy, the Russian author of War and Peace, saying: “Never build your happiness on the misfortune of others, for only in their happiness can you find your own.”
Three days after the Hiroshima bombing, Washington dropped a second atomic bomb on the Japanese port city of Nagasaki, killing about 74,000 people and leading to the end of World War II.
There are now fewer than 119,000 officially recognized survivors of the two nuclear attacks, Japanese government data showed in March.
The US remains the only country ever to have used nuclear weapons in conflict.
However, about 13,000 nuclear warheads are held in state arsenals worldwide, Guterres said.
Yesterday was the first time Guterres attended the Hiroshima memorial in person as UN head, with a visit last year canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
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