This speech was originally given by PAFNYS Co-Director Kate Alexander at “Know Where You Stand and Stand There”, an event organized by the Long Island Alliance for Peaceful Alternatives, and Great Neck SANE/Peace Action, for the commemoration of the 71st anniversary of the U.S. nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
I want to acknowledge the difficulty of the world & political climate we find ourselves in today. Because it is so heavy. Because it is so difficult. Because, as is so true in the issue of abolishing nuclear weapons, this is not a political battle fought with moralistic language – it is a battle for our morals, happening in the political field.
And, just as so many holes were being made in the barriers that have kept privileges invisible and the suffering of the marginalized away from our consciousness – we have politicians brazenly working to reinforce those barriers, and millions of American choosing ignorance & hate and the security of an unchallenged world view, over informed empathy & compassion and love.
Tonight, we will make a few more holes in the barriers that have kept us separated from each other, the barriers which have shielded us from the consequences of our actions, and especially, the consequences of our militarism.
Because, the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki are easily among the most devastating consequences of our militarism in U.S. history.
And yet, somehow, having nuclear weapons in the U.S. is conscionable. And proposals to modernize our nuclear weapons are heralded as essential. .
And I think that is because, we do not sit with the discomfort of war.
We do not sit with the moral discomfort of nuclear war & its damage.
We throw around words like catastrophic, cataclysmic.
But that’s not how you describe what this really is. That’s not the language the communities affected by nuclear war use.
They use the language of loss & heartbreak.
Kunihiko Bonkohara : “My father was blown away by the blast and his body was pierced by shards of glass and wooden rubble… My father went to a nearby river to wash his body, and when he came back home the black rain began to fall… Years later, My father was diagnosed with stomach cancer and my mother with breast cancer, and they both passed away. Because I was in Brazil, I was not able to meet with them at the end.” –
Shoso Hirai: “Mr. Hirai was exposed to the atomic bomb at his friend’s house, 4 kilometers from the epicenter, while going to a munitions factory as a mobilized student. He entered into the city center the following day to look for his father who had gone to work and his younger brother who was also a mobilized student. He only found his father’s bones and his younger brother is still missing”
We must sit with these stories. We have to. It is our moral duty. Because we have to recognize war for what it is & eliminate the language of grand conquest. We have to use a different language.
We have to use this language of loss & grief. Because that is the way it is expressed by communities who have actually had to survive what war has done to them, what our nation has done to them, what we in silence – more afraid of protests and protestors than of maintaining weapons of war and endless war – what we have done to them.
We have to break down the barriers that keep us secure in our place in the world & welcome with open arms the informed perspectives of others, that challenge us, and demand better of us.
In this same way, allies for racial justice, allies for black lives matter, must listen and take leadership from the communities directly affected. They must listen to the needs of the families of Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Alton Sterling, Philando Castille, and Eric Garner. Sandra Bland. Korryn Gaines. As allies, we must listen to the cries and protests and anger and expertise from the community impacted by our domestic wars if we are ever going to end them.
And, we must listen to the cries and grief and anger of communities impacted by our foreign wars – by our nuclear weapons – if we are ever going to end them.
But first, before we can stand with these communities and for their demands, we have to listen to them:
Shigeko Sasamori: “Shigeko Sasamori san was 13 years old when the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. Hearing the sound of a plane, she looked up to see a B-29 flying overhead — seconds later she was knocked unconscious by the blast. When she came to, she was so badly burned that she was unrecognizable. Shigeko repeated her name and address over and over until she was finally found by her father.”
Heartbreak & grief.
If we recognize this as loss – loss that is caused by us – I think we would recognize and expect of ourselves better.
We would begin to exercise moral leadership for nuclear abolition.
Just because it is the right thing to do.
For the same reason little kids say “this isn’t fair”
Nuclear abolition is just, simply, unequivocally, and essentially just the right thing to do.
And it is simple, despite what the pundits tell you. Pundits who by the way, are not the experts in nuclear war, only in military strategy. They are not experts in long-term peace, they are experts in war. But, the only experts in nuclear war are those who lived through it: the Hibakusha.
So it is simple, because we have our experts, and the Hibakusha tell us simply: we must build a world without nuclear weapons. The suffering is to great to risk being repeated.
One nuclear weapon, detonating over a city, would instantly burn away 40-65 square miles. That is roughly the size of San Francisco and 2-3 times the size of Manhattan.
120-200,000 people immediately died in the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and hundreds of thousands more died in the following months and years from radiation poisoning.
And, the typical U.S. nuclear weapon is 70 times more powerful that the bomb that destroyed Hiroshima.
The U.S. still has over 6,970 nuclear weapons even though one of our current nuclear weapons is 70 times more powerful that the bomb that destroyed Hiroshima.
Knowing what we did to Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and what we did to the Japanese at home. All I can think is: what were we thinking? and how close are we to doing this again, but in the Middle East and to our Muslim friends?
If some objective, some mission or goal, requires that kind of destruction
maybe we should re-evaluate that goal?
Nuclear weapons do not root out terrorism.
Nuclear weapons do not discriminate between military and civilians.
Nuclear weapons have not prevented conflict between India and Pakistan.
Nuclear weapons have not prevented North Korea weapons tests.
Nuclear weapons have not prevented the U.S. from provoking Russia, or vice versa.
Nuclear weapons only destroy.
The destroy our environment.
The destroy our economy.
They destroy public health.
They destroy families.
And as the people creating them
The destroy our hearts & minds.
They destroy our standing in the world.
And they serve none of today’s threats in international peace & security. They are one of the greatest threats in international peace and security today.
And keeping them, maintaining them, wastes our resources.
And yet, the current administration is proposing spending $1 trillion over 30 years to modernize our nuclear weapons arsenal.
$1 trillion. or 348 billion in over ten years.
on a weapons system we are never supposed to use.
For that same amount of money, for 10 years, we could:
Provide 39.2M homes with renewable energy
Give 10.48M students four-year scholarships to a public university
Support 3.37M veterans receiving VA medical care
Give 9.93M low-income persons health care
Get 4.12 M children enrolled in the head start program
Pay the salaries of 464 thousands elementary school teachers
Education, health care, veterans medical care, renewable energy, or even criminal justice reform….or nuclear weapons.
It’s pretty clear where we should be spending our money.
On programs we need, not on weapons we should never use.
But, instead of thinking about what we could spend with that money, think for a minute about what we will lose because we have to find the money for this modernization program.
Education, health care, veterans medical care, renewable energy.
These are the programs that lose funding because we fund endless war, endlessly.
For students here, for those of you with children, and for the students whose peace activism we encourage at peace action – and for me – the question is simple: “how can we afford these weapons without bankrupting my future?”
But there’s more at stake here than money:
even though these are the investments that will shape our future.
What we’re also trading in for nuclear weapons, is our morality.
Because how can we listen to Shigeko’s story, and remind ourselves that she was so badly burned she could not move, and then tell her: we are building more nuclear weapons.
How can we listen to Shoso Hirai, whose brother is still missing, and tell him: we need these weapons because we might have to use them again.
How can we listen to Kunihiko Bonkohara, who lost both his parents, and tell him: these weapons will protect us.
President Obama made history this year when he became the first sitting U.S. President to visit Hiroshima.
There he said: “Why do we come to this place, to Hiroshima? We come to ponder a terrible force unleashed in a not so distant past. We come to mourn the dead, including over 100,000 in Japanese men, women and children; thousands of Koreans; a dozen Americans held prisoner. Their souls speak to us. They ask us to look inward, to take stock of who we are and what we might become. “
I couldn’t agree more, Mr. President.
So when our pundits – and our adminstration- tell us that nuclear weapons are necessary for security, we must shout back: You may be experts in military strategy, but you are NOT experts in nuclear war.
The HIBAKUSHA are experts in nuclear war.
The HIBAKUSHA know the costs of nuclear weapons.
Our CHILDREN will know the costs of nuclear weapons, when you defund their future.
And I have LISTENED to them.
And I have GRIEVED for them.
And I have LEARNED from them.
And today, we STAND with them,
We MUST rid the world of nuclear weapons.