Universal Peace Day: Activists Warn of Ongoing Nuclear Threat

NEW YORK -- Sixty-two years ago Monday, the U.S. bomber "Enola Gay" descended from the skies above the Japanese city of Hiroshima to drop an atomic bomb, ironically nicknamed "Little Boy", to devastating effect.

Three days later, on Aug. 9, 1945, the city of Nagasaki became victim to the same fate as "Fat Man" plummeted from the U.S. B29 Superfortress. The Radiation Effects Research Foundation admits the validity problems of statistics about Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but estimates that 90,000 to 140,000 acute deaths occurred after Hiroshima and 60,000 to 80,000 after Nagasaki ("acute" describes deaths two to four months after the bombing).

The difficulty of accurately determining the death toll from the two nuclear bombs is due to a number of factors, but mainly because many deaths occurred months and even years after the initial event due to radiation poisoning. Criticism of the actions of the United States and then President Harry S. Truman's decision to drop the bombs has also been said to hinder the reporting of the event.

What is evident is that Hiroshima and Nagasaki were two mammoth occurrences of death and destruction. They are also unique, as they comprise the only instances where nuclear weapons have been used in warfare. This fact caused the events to be surrounded by horror and controversy, as science and war seemed to have reached a new level, extending beyond anything that humankind had ever seen before.

SuZen, founder and co-director of the Universal Peace Initiative, a New York-based organization formerly known as Art for the People, believes the bombings "changed the whole world".

This opinion is shared by many, including Anne Gibbons of CODEPINK NYC, who describes the attacks on the Japanese cities as "a stain on history" that left her "horrified".

For these reasons many feel it is of extreme importance that the anniversaries of the bombings are commemorated and not slowly erased from the history books. Cities around the United States held events to mark the anniversaries. Manhattan made its own contribution to the cause by conducting a number of activities this past weekend and the coming week.

Bruce Gagnon, coordinator of the Global Network Against Weapons and Nuclear Power in Space, delivered a thought-provoking presentation at the Unitarian Church of All Souls, based in Manhattan. Gagnon spoke of the need to accelerate nuclear disarmament and stop the weaponization of space.

He conceded the difficulties of achieving these aims, suggesting that governments are becoming more corporate and pouring money into their militaries, but proposed potential responses. Emphasis was placed on the importance of local and grassroots initiatives and how communication between them could build success.

The Adult Education, Peace Task Force, and Nuclear Disarmament groups at the Unitarian Church of All Souls, and Peace Action New York State, and CODEPINK NYC sponsored the event.

Universal Peace Day on Sunday started with an afternoon peace concert at the Central Park Bandshell. Featured performers attending from both the U.S. and Japan included Kathleen Chalfant, Shinji Harada, Ray Korona Band, Laraaji, Robin Greenstein and Moogy Klingman.

The New York Buddhist Church then hosted a commemoration ceremony, lead by Reverend T.K. Nagagaki of the New York Buddhist Church and attended by Hiroshima survivor Koji Kobayashi, among others.

It included a screening of the film "The Lost Generation", and chiming of the bells at the exact moment of the bombing of Hiroshima (7:15pm local time). The memorial service also featured readings of messages from the present mayors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Tadatoshi Akiba and Tomihisa Taue.

Akiba's words, spoken by Tak Furumoto, were particularly moving as he described the horrific deaths and how survivors were plagued with misery as they "struggled day after day questioning the meaning of life".

A silent candlelit walk led the congregation on to the final location of Universal Peace Day at the Riverside Church where an interfaith service, hosted by Randi Rhodes of radio station Air-America, was conducted.

The events acted as commemorations for Hiroshima and Nagasaki but also sought to educate the attendees about the ongoing dangers of nuclear weapons.

Cheryl Wertz, the executive director of Peace Action New York State, suggests that though Hiroshima and Nagasaki are the only cases in history of nuclear weapons being used in warfare, there is nothing to say it will remain this way forever.

"It is a common misconception that the threat of nuclear war ended with the Cold War. That's simply not true, particularly with Iran," Wertz said.

SuZen also observes the poignancy of commemoration in 2007, post-Vietnam, post-9/11, mid-Iraq, referring to "the condition and insanity that the world is in now". Her thoughts were shared by Reverend Nakagaki: "The world is doing a lot of chaotic things," he said.

Sponsors of both events urged that steps be taken so that contemporary society does not forget the atrocities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the risks that nuclear warfare still pose to civilisation today.

Hiroshima's mayor, Tadatoshi Akiba, directed criticism at the United States, among other countries, this weekend at a Japanese ceremony held at the Peace Memorial Park, close to ground zero where the bomb was dropped.

"The Japanese government, which has the duty to work for the abolition of nuclear weapons through international law, should protect its pacifist constitution which it should be proud of, and clearly say 'No' to antiquated and wrong U.S. policies," he said.

Bruce Gagnon also spoke to the U.S. people, asking them to look away from their modern, consumer-driver society and take note of the life-threatening nuclear situation, and the U.S.'s role in it.

"There is something more important than material consumption," he said. "There is something more important than the name on your business card, and that is the future of our planet."

Copyright (c) 2007 IPS-Inter Press Service.

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