By Kristin Scheer
Ann Suellentrop, a vice chair of PeaceWorks KC, and 12 other US citizens will travel to Japan March 3 for a 2-week Pax Christi (Peace of Christ) visit. “It is a spiritual pilgrimage,” Ann says. One of the pilgrims’ objectives is to deliver a letter of apology to the people of Japan. The travelers will meet with hibakusha, survivors of the US bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, to hear their stories and learn about the tragedy that happened to them.
“We come on a Pilgrimage of Reconciliation to express … profound sorrow for the atomic bombings of your cities in 1945,” the draft letter of apology says. “We are children of one mother, our earth, and one Creator. We unite ourselves in solidarity with your hibakusha and lament their sufferings. … We pray for the courage to live as your heroic hibakusha have lived in resistance, rising from the ashes of death in a new spirit for the betterment of all our human family.”
Ann says the travelers will fo to Catholic mass and pray together mornings and evenings. They will meet with bishops and archbishops of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. They will learn about Japanese culture, visit with other peace activists there, and share gifts. Ann is wrapping the gifts of small jeweled sunflower car air fresheners — sunflowers represent Kansas and symbolize healing from nuclear weapons. “Sunflowers can actually uptake radioactivity,” Ann says.
Ann notes that the Urakami Cathedral in Nagasaki was used as the actual target for the US bombing of that city in 1945. Nagasaki was the largest center for Catholics in Asia for many years, with Catholics holding secret gatherings for centuries to survive when Catholicism was forbidden by the government.
The Oleander Initiative will lead the Hiroshima part of the pilgrims’ trip. The Hiroshima interactive map has faces of hibakusha to click on to hear their survival stories in Japanese, and some have English transcription. One with English transcription is at the bottom of the map, left of center. Tsuyako Harada says, “I was 17 when I became a victim of the atomic bomb. … I was student at a nursing school. … The dormitory collapsed by the blast of the bomb and I was trapped under the rubble. I lost consciousness. … (Then) I heard my roommate calling my name. She told me she found my leg hanging out from the rubble. … She pulled me out with all her might. … I saw many people with their hands or legs ripped off. … The hell on Aug. 6 does not end that day. The cruelty of nuclear weapon is that it continues to kill people for decades. … Hiroshima and Nagasaki has the right and responsibility to call for nuclear abolition. I am anxious of the world’s future because the fear of nuclear weapon is becoming bigger and bigger.” (from the Hachioji Hibakusha Association)
Ann has purchased a Go Pro tool to help her capture videos more smoothly while walking with her iPhone, as they travel. “But more important than what happens there is what happens after,” she says. “The trip is meant to inspire activists and action into the future.”
Ann laments that the crisis of war and environmental destruction seems to be outpacing the efforts to stop it. She reflects, “As a person of faith, I am being called to trust in God, that God will help put an end to it before it puts an end to us.”
Of nuclear weapon production in Kansas City, MO, Ann says, “The secrecy of the nuclear enterprise has had a deadly effect on the workers and downwinders. Workers at Bannister Federal Complex were poisoned without their knowledge or consent, exposed to highly toxic materials causing many severe illnesses, cancers, and early deaths. Many of these workers and their families have yet to be fairly compensated.” She adds that there is a lingering superfund site at the old Bendix location (Bannister Federal Complex), and we have yet to determine what toxins people are being exposed to at the new plant, managed by Honeywell.
Ann says the patriotism and sense of duty that people feel who work at the new plant (the National Security Campus in KC MO) is being exploited. “What is the use of defending ourselves if our own people are being poisoned in the process?” she asks. “Our government is making plans for an all-out nuclear war that will exterminate all life on earth by incinerating our cities. That would plunge us into a dark nuclear winter as the earth would be shrouded for years by a thick blanket of soot in the upper atmosphere. Millions would be killed in the initial blasts and billions would be left to starve in an environment as hostile as the Ice Age of 10,000 years ago.”
Although Bannister Federal Complex was torn down in recent years, Ann says research indicates that PCB (polychlorinated byphenyl) and VOC (volatile organic compound) deadly contamination remains in a large underground water aquifer. Pump-and-treat wells are required, says Ann, to keep the PCB and VOC toxins out of nearby rivers that lead to our drinking water.
Ann gives this overview: “The US empire is a war-making machine run on our tax dollars. It’s self-destructive as we lag behind other industrialized nations in health care, housing, education, child care, and other provisions to meet our needs.” Ann refers to this quote from Martin Luther King, Jr., about the potential destructiveness of modern weapons: “The choice today is no longer between violence and nonviolence. It is either nonviolence or nonexistence.”
The sites Ann will visit, typically with guided tours, include:
—Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum and Peace Park;
—World Friendship Center, a Japanese NGO, for a talk by Hibakusha Soh Horie;
—Honkawa School Museum, the closest school to the epicenter of the Hiroshima blast;
—Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum and Hypocenter/Peace Park;
—Oura Cathedral in Nagasaki, accompanied by Archbishop Emeritus Mitsuaki Takami; and
—Nagasaki Museum of History and Culture.
—Kristin Scheer, an ecologist, serves on the PeaceWorks KC Board of Directors. © 2024, Ann Suellentrop, Kristin Scheer, Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike 40 International License.