Hiroshima, Japan The mournful tolling of a bell marked the moment 56 years ago today when the city of Hiroshima was reduced to ashes by the world's first atomic bomb attack.
Tens of thousands of people at an annual ceremony observed 60 seconds of silent prayer at 8:15 a.m. the moment that the United States dropped the bomb on Aug. 6, 1945. City officials and police estimated the crowd between 30,000 and 50,000.
Those attending the ceremony at Hiroshima's Peace Memorial Park bowed their heads in prayer, recognizing the 140,000 who perished. The city's mayor said the event was also marked by disappointment that two world wars and countless other conflicts in the 20th century failed to bring an end to conflict.
"The end of the century of war has not automatically ushered in a century of peace and humanity," Mayor Tadatoshi Akiba told gatherers. "Our world is still darkened not only by the direct violence of civil wars, but also by innumerable other forms of violence."
Hundreds of white doves were released into the sky at the ceremony, which is televised nationally every year. A choir of children sang a song of peace.
Amid growing concern that tensions between India and Pakistan the world's newest nuclear powers and the illegal sales of nuclear weapons to rogue nations could lead to another atomic war, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi vowed to redouble efforts to achieve a worldwide ban on testing of atomic weapons.
"As the only country that has experienced a nuclear attack ... we have appealed to the global community to eradicate nuclear weapons and build a lasting peace, so that the devastation of nuclear warfare will never again be repeated," Koizumi said.
Thursday, ceremonies were to be held to mark the atomic bombing of Nagasaki, in which 70,000 people were killed. Japan surrendered on Aug. 15, 1945, ending World War II.
While the 1945 atomic bombings have largely become relegated to events of history in the minds of many people around the world, Japan still grapples with the aftermath of the raids on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Courts continue to hear lawsuits filed by survivors who say they have not received sufficient medical care for ailments caused by exposure to radiation. Some victims, however, endure their suffering in secret fearful of discrimination against those with bomb-related disabilities.
But as the generation that experienced nuclear warfare firsthand grows older, many across Japan worry that its terrors soon will be forgotten.
"One day, there won't be anybody left who can describe what it was really like," said the nationwide Asahi newspaper in an editorial today. "How are we to preserve our memory of the tragedy, to carry it into the future?"