Good evening. Thank you for being here and this opportunity to speak. I’m deeply honored.
We’re gathered here today to mark the anniversary of the only nuclear bombings of people in history. You already know the horror and inhumanity of these savage attacks. What more can be said? What can be said about our present danger? Is there hope? These questions I’ll attempt to answer, and may repeat things you know, but redundancy can be helpful.
Let’s start with the Manhattan Project. Only this week did I learn about physicist Joseph Rotblat, a superhero for peace, after watching The Strangest Dream, a free documentary. Of many brilliant scientists working on the Manhattan Project, Rotblat was the only one to quit, after The Project head, General Groves, said “the real purpose in making the bomb was to subdue the Soviets.”
Not only was Rotblat a hero for quitting, but afterward he became a great peace leader. He was an original signatory of the Einstein-Russell Manifesto, and with Bertrand Russell, created the subsequent Pugwash conferences, working for peace with top scientists of the world.
We’ll return to Rotblat, but first, let’s discuss Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Evidence indicates these bombings were political. Six out of seven five-star admirals and generals of WWII said the bombings were either morally reprehensible, militarily unnecessary, or both. These are not pacifists. Eisenhower repeatedly urged the bomb not be used, saying “Japan was already defeated and dropping the bomb was completely unnecessary.” Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Admiral Leahy, said the nuclear attacks were a “barbarous” violation of “every Christian ethic I’ve ever heard and all of the known laws of war.”
Yet, what affects me most are stories from hibakusha, the survivors. I’ll mention just one, which is more powerful than cold statistics of thousands killed.
This is the testimony of Michiko Kodama, calling for abolition of what she calls, “weapons of the devil.”
Michiko said, “I was 7 years old, a second grader…inside the wooden school building. Suddenly (at 8:15 a.m.), I felt a blinding flash (and then) the ceiling…collapsed and sharp splinters…flew all around. They stuck into the walls, desks, and the floor…and also into my skin.
My father managed…to find me. (As he carried me home), I witnessed hell on earth. I saw a man with his skin burned heavily and peeling. A mother was carrying a baby, which (looked) like charcoal. She herself was heavily burned all over her body and was trying to flee…almost crawling on the ground. Others lost their sight, their eyeballs popped out, or ran around…holding their protruding intestines. (P)eople tried to cling on to us, saying, “Give me water, water, water…” Unable to give (help) we just left them there and hurried home.
My favorite cousin, who was like a big sister (had) her face, her entire back, and her right leg…severely burned…Her burns quickly festered and flies swarmed. Soon maggots bred and crawled all over her body. All I could do for my beloved cousin was pick these maggots out and wipe her oozing body. (After 3 days she died) in my arms. She was 14.”
After the bombings, many were revolted. Not least of which were Rotblat, Einstein, Russell, Schweitzer and others with beating hearts. This revulsion toward nuclear weapons was expressed well in a foundational document of the nuclear abolition movement, the Einstein-Russell Manifesto.
Here is an excerpt:
“Here, then, is the problem which we present to you, stark and dreadful and inescapable: Shall we put an end to the human race; or shall mankind renounce war?
There lies before us, if we choose, continual progress in happiness, knowledge, and wisdom. Shall we, instead, choose death, because we cannot forget our quarrels? We appeal as human beings to human beings: Remember your humanity, and forget the rest. If you can do so, the way lies open to a new Paradise; if you cannot, there lies before you the risk of universal death.”
After this publication, the subsequent Pugwash conferences became very successful, providing background work for the Partial Test Ban, Non-Proliferation, and Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaties, as well as the Biological and Chemical Weapons Conventions. Former Secretary of Defense McNamara said Pugwash laid groundwork for negotiations that ended Vietnam War. Gorbachev also admitted the organization influenced his thinking while a Soviet leader, helping end the Cold War.
We’ll skip many details of the Cold War, except to remember it was insane. Both sides built enough weapons, and far bigger Hydrogen bombs, to threaten the existence of our species, and other species. We must also remember over 2,000 nuclear tests were conducted, polluting the environment with radioactive waste. Not only did we poison our lands in Nevada and New Mexico, but we destroyed tropical islands and beautiful marine creatures surrounding them.
Thankfully, progress was made. The Cold War ended, nuclear stockpiles were reduced and testing halted. However, tensions between the U.S. and Russia were never fully ameliorated. After the Berlin Wall fell, U.S. leaders made a verbal agreement with Russia not to expand NATO eastward. This was broken. The U.S. pushed NATO bases closer and closer to Russian borders, with some bases holding nuclear warheads.
Imagine you’re Russian. How would you feel about being increasingly surrounded by military bases and nuclear bombs? Answer: how Americans felt during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Russians are living under constant threat, and with U.S. wars across Southwest Asia, Putin said in his Munich speech, “this results in the fact that no one feels safe. I want to emphasize this – no one feels safe!”
A similar scenario has occurred in North Korea. They too are encircled by U.S. military bases. The U.S. practices massive war games on the borders of North Korea, China and Russia, not to mention endless Middle East wars.
Most alarmingly, the U.S. is escalating tensions with nuclear armed nations, and a recent UN study found: “The threat of a nuclear weapon detonation event in 2017 is arguably at its highest in the 26 years since the collapse of the Soviet Union…The return of Cold War-like confrontational postures has hindered international cooperation and confidence-building” It’s as if many forgot what Mutually Assured Destruction means.
We hear about how crazy North Korean leaders are, but some of their actions are understandable. After their country was destroyed in the Korean War, they’ve since lived with constant military threat, and in that context, nuclear deterrence makes some sense. Also, what message did the U.S. send to North Korea when it overthrew Libya, a nation that abandoned its nuclear program? This reinforces the dark logic of nuclear deterrence, and undermines the rationale for eliminating nuclear programs.
As a nation, our moral authority on disarmament is hollow. The previous and current administrations have revived the Cold War, committing to a $1 trillion “modernization” of the nuclear arsenal. Great strides for nuclear abolition have been made, but in recent years, we took a giant step back.
The problem is the war profiteer complex, transcending the two parties, which “benefits” from endless war and manufactured tension, not to mention record arms deals to dictatorships like Saudi Arabia. We also have an unpredictable and unpopular president. Unfortunately, one thing can rapidly improve presidential popularity, war.
There is potential for war to expand further, with movement toward war with Iran, and North Korea. War with the latter promises to be especially horrific, with the possibility of thousands or millions of dead Koreans, not to mention the possibility that North Korea could actually deliver a nuclear bomb to an American city.
The gravest danger is the cumulative effect of these wars could reach critical mass, a boiling point where world war breaks out, with unthinkable nuclear exchange.
With that said, let us discuss a glimmer of hope. On July 7th, 122 countries approved a treaty to ban nuclear weapons. This treaty will likely be ratified next month, then becoming law.
No country with nuclear arms supports the treaty, but its power shouldn’t be underestimated. Nuclear nations may cling to their bombs, but they will increasingly become outlaw pariahs, similar to North Korea. The weapons will become delegitimized. It also promises to affect vitally important public opinion.
However, we mustn’t make the mistake of thinking the treaty is enough. I’ll quote Rotblat to make this point:
“I’ve argued we must eliminate nuclear weapons. While this would remove the immediate threat, it will not provide permanent security. Nuclear weapons cannot be disinvented…Even in a nuclear-weapon-free world, should any of the great powers become involved in a military confrontation, they (could) rebuild their arsenals…the danger of the ultimate catastrophe would still (exist).
The only way to prevent it is to abolish war altogether. We must learn to resolve…disputes by means other than military confrontation (and) will require developing a new loyalty…to mankind…We have to become world citizens…Prospects for…this new loyalty are now better (because) fantastic advances in…modern (communication) techniques…enable us to learn instantly (about events) in every part of the globe…Technology is driving us together (and) we are becoming like one family.”
Psychologist Eric Fromm was another 20th Century peace giant for nuclear abolition. He wrote about other great peace leaders, Russell, Schweitzer, and Einstein, and said what defined them was their faith in the power of reason and intense love for life, or biophilia. Fromm also warned our grave dangers are being facilitated by robotism and obedience. He wrote, “Human history began with an act of disobedience, and it is not unlikely that it will be terminated by an act of obedience.”
When people act like robots and obediently follow orders like machines, this is dangerous. Starting nuclear war requires not just a mad president pushing the button , but also obedient soldiers to follow the launch orders. It wasn’t only Truman that dropped the bombs.
We’re taught obedience is a virtue. Yet, what if following an order or law conflicts with your conscience? Fromm urges we resist becoming robots by obeying our conscience, and disobeying inhumane or unjust laws and orders.
A statement repeated by Russell and Rotblat was “Remember your humanity.” One definition ofHumanity is: “the qualities that make us human, such as the ability to love, have compassion, be creative, and not be a robot.” Thus, we must remember to love our whole human family and planet with empathy.
Ultimately, I don’t know for certain if we can avoid universal destruction, and I don’t have concrete answers for political action. What I know is we all have some power. We can all take small actions, which can ripple around our planetary pond. If there is hope, it is this: we can read, think, write and spark conversations with friends, families and strangers. We can disobey social norms, and discuss peace wherever we go. Raising consciousness and progressing public opinion is extremely important, especially by informing the world that nuclear weapons are becoming illegal.
We can donate or participate in the many peace organizations. We can support the Marshallese Nuclear Zero lawsuits, most simply by signing their petition at NuclearZero.org. We can participate in events like this, as well as protests, including civil disobedience.
For those of us that resist robotism, we have creativity. We can create ideas that never existed. All great social evolutions started with one creative idea, inspiring first a small group of people. As Margaret Meade said, this is the only thing that ever changed the world.
We must boldly face the hard, cold truth about nuclear madness. We must embody prayer in action, instead of praying quietly alone at home.
This very event and this very speech is such an active prayer for peace.
Above all we must resist despair, and I’ll conclude with Dr. King’s Nobel Prize acceptance speech:
King said, “I refuse to accept despair (or) the idea that man is mere flotsom and jetsom in the river of life, unable to influence the unfolding events which surround him. I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality.
I refuse to accept the cynical notion that nation after nation must spiral down a militaristic stairway into the hell of thermonuclear destruction. I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.”