HIROSHIMA, Japan — The site of the world's worst atomic bomb attack echoed with choirs of schoolchildren and the solemn ringing of bells today as Hiroshima marked its biggest memorial yet and the first to be attended by the U.S. and other major nuclear powers.
Washington's decision to send U.S. Ambassador John Roos to the 65th anniversary of the bombing was seen by many as potentially paving the way for President Obama to visit Hiroshima — which would be unprecedented for a sitting U.S. leader.
Along with the U.S., Britain and France also made their first official appearances at the memorial, as well as U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. Altogether, 74 nations were represented.
Hiroshima was careful to ensure that the memorial — while honoring the 140,000 who died on or soon after the attack on Aug. 6, 1945 — emphasized a look-forward approach, focusing not on whether the bombing was justified, a point which many Japanese dispute, but on averting a future nuclear attack.
Roos said the memorial was a chance to show resolve toward nuclear disarmament.
"For the sake of future generations, we must continue to work together to realize a world without nuclear weapons," he said in a statement.
Ban, who presented flowers at the Eternal Flame in Hiroshima's Peace Memorial Park, said this year's memorial will send a strong signal to the world that nuclear weapons must be destroyed.
"Life is short, but memory is long," Ban said. "For many of you, that day endures... as vivid as the white light that seared the sky, as dark as the black rains that followed."
Washington's decision to attend the anniversary has been welcomed by Japan's government, but has generated complex feelings among some Japanese who see the bombing as unjustified and want the United States to apologize.