Jim Hannah, of the PeaceWorks Board, gave this keynote address to about 70 participants in PeaceWorks’ Hiroshima/Nagasaki Remembrance at Loose Park in KC MO—with cicadas singing in the background—on Aug. 6.
“Lament and Sorrow. Hope for Tomorrow!” This theme for tonight’s
commemoration is adapted from a haunting, yet hopeful, song with these lines: “[Give thanks] for laments and psalms of sorrow that release our needed tears … that help us reach tomorrow and look beyond our fears.” Lament and Sorrow. Hope for Tomorrow!
I commend you for your presence tonight. You’ve chosen to face into the horrors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki rather than look away, as our nation has mostly done for 72 years. It’s not easy to think the unthinkable, to speak the unspeakable, especially in our Officially Optimistic Society. We so often prefer to “look on the bright side,” ignoring the shadow side of ourselves and of our nation. When we first dropped The Bomb, most of us were so happy that it helped end World War II that we didn’t think much about the omnicidal threat we unleashed.
And it’s no wonder. From the very outset of the atomic age, our military and political leaders have hidden from public view the true horrors of Aug. 6 and Aug. 9, confiscating photos and films, suppressing the press—whatever was needed to keep public opinion from turning against these shiny new weapons of mass destruction and mass intimidation. That practice still continues.
But tonight we openly lament the global fallout of the atom bomb these past seven decades:
We lament the estimated 120,000 souls annihilated instantly at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the tens of thousands who died later of injuries and radiation poisoning, and the countless others who even today suffer from illness and trauma.
We lament the more than 500 atmospheric nuclear tests which have poisoned our Good Earth and our very bodies in ways that will not be known for years to come, making each of us unwitting and unwilling subjects in a global lab experiment. [Got cancer?]
We lament the profligate waste of human resources that have been
squandered on the production, deployment, and maintenance of nuclear weapons, estimated at more than ten trillion dollars since the beginning of the nuclear age. Even today, with the Cold War supposedly over, the global outlay for nuclear weapons is some 12 million dollars an hour—with half that amount we could eliminate extreme poverty world-wide!
And we further lament the way nuclear weapons have set our moral compasses spinning. I remember my stepdad’s stories about patrolling the West Coast during World War II, watching for Japanese submarines. We were fearful of even a single submarine attack, especially one that might target civilian populations like San Francisco or Seattle.
Yet where once we worried about even a single submarine armed with a few torpedoes, we now have “become the enemy” (as Walter Wink says) with 14 nuclear-armed submarines, together carrying more than a thousand nuclear warheads, each warhead from five to 20 times more powerful than the bombs dropped on Japan. Do the math—that’s at least 5,000 Hiroshimas! And that’s just one of our three delivery systems—by land, by sea, and by
These submarines are on secret patrol, 24/7, capable of lying off any coast in the world—a so-called “deterrent,” holding the entire globe hostage to the threat of nuclear annihilation. For real? We think somehow we are deterring the use of nuclear weapons by clinging to the nearly 5,000 in our arsenal? And we think that somehow we’re keeping the “good faith” promise we made to the world nearly 50 years to reduce and eliminate nuclear weapons … by budgeting a trillion dollars in the next 30 years to “modernize” the very weapons we pledged to eliminate? And we think that we’re justified in using any means possible to stop other nations from joining our exclusive nuclear club, calling them “rogue nations”? Don’t you have to wonder at some point who the “rogue nations” really are?
Much of the world has resigned itself to the “necessary evil” of nuclear weapons, but many are waking up. These weapons are not necessary, just evil. They do not in any way fit the just war criteria of proportionality. How could nukes be proportional when they are not only indiscriminately genocidal, but actually suicidal and omnicidal?—capable of destroying ourselves and life as we know it on Planet Earth.
So, yes. We lament. And we “release our needed tears” because we must not go numb, giving in to despair, or cynicism. As Washington Irving wrote long ago, “There is a sacredness in tears. They are not the mark of weakness, but of power. … They are messengers of overwhelming grief, of deep contrition, and of unspeakable love.”
But we need to not only sorrow. We also need to “reach [toward] tomorrow and look beyond our fears.” This you are already doing, by your presence here tonight. You are the sign that all have NOT forgotten. You are the sign that hope is stronger than fear. You are the sign that the scourge of nuclear weapons will one day be delegitimized. And you are the voices that collectively will swell to an irresistible global chorus demanding “No more nukes!”
This chorus is already beginning. Have you heard it? Time and again in the last ten years I’ve learned of yet another group somewhere in the world that is saying NO to “nukes of hazard.” There are hundreds of such groups, with millions of members. Their work is often unseen … but there’s a tipping point a’coming!
A bit later tonight you’ll hear more about the recent United Nations Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, adopted by nearly two-thirds of the UN’s member nations. This treaty—and I quote—“categorically prohibits the possession, use, and threat of use of nuclear weapons.”
CAN I HEAR A YES!?! Nuclear weapons are already immoral; when
ratified by 50 nations, this treaty will make them illegal.
Could it happen? Public opinion and civil society have already effected international bans on chemical and biological weapons, land mines, and cluster bombs. One fine day nukes will be tossed on this growing heap of abandoned weapons of mass destruction, of mass deception.
Our challenge this evening is to add our voices to that growing host around the world insisting, “NO MORE NUKES!” Where to start? How about with your friends? As I’ve asked my friends—many of them quite well informed—none so far have even heard of the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. Yet this may be the most significant forward step in our lifetime to stop the existential menace of nuclear weapons. Let’s get the word out! Civil society—that’s you and me and groups like PeaceWorks—can do what governments have failed to do. Historian Howard Zinn calls this “A Force More Powerful”—a grassroots force that
time and again has prevailed against all odds, through nonviolent civil action.
And guess what? PEACE WORKS!
Like John Lennon, we need to “imagine” …
… imagine a day when we invest more in peacemaking than war-making
… imagine a day when war and its weapons are done away
… imagine a day of true security, when basic human needs are met for all
… imagine that day foreseen by prophets Jimmy Hendrix and Mahatma
Gandhi: “When the power of love overcomes the love of power, the world
will know peace.”
… and imagine that glad day when our grandchildren ask, “Grammy, why
did we ever have war?” Or, “Grandpa, what’s a nuclear weapon?”
Could it happen? Absolutely … through acts of imagination, through acts of resistance. We are a force more powerful!
Together and individually may we courageously and tirelessly live, and declare, the message of peace, salaam, shalom—toward fulfillment of the Hiroshima/Nagasaki pledge: Never Again!
Can you say it with me? Never Again!
One more time: Never again!