by Thea Paneth and Sofia Wolman
Community people came together in Cambridge for two events on Thursday, August 6, 2020 to mark the 75th anniversary of the U.S. Atomic Bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki (August 9), 1945. In addition to the Peace and Social Justice Committee of Friends Meeting at Cambridge, the Massachusetts Peace Action (MAPA, state affiliate of the nation’s largest grassroots peace organization) was another driving organizational force for the events, which were coordinated by eight local peace and justice activists. (Co-Sponsors: Mass. Peace Action; Campaign for Peace, Disarmament and Common Security; Peace and Social Justice Committee of Friends Meeting at Cambridge; Greater Boston Physicians for Social Responsibility; Refuse Fascism; International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War; Veterans for Peace.)
People of conscience started the day at 9am gathered for a Witness for Peace and Life at the local Raytheon BBN Technologies building in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The crowd expressed opposition to the corporation’s profiteering from and investment in weapons of war and mass destruction, and served a Cease and Desist to the CEO and President of Raytheon.
A new nuclear arms race is underway, and Raytheon is a main developer, designer and manufacturer of nuclear weapons and delivery systems. Secretary of Defense Esper (whose previous job was chief lobbyist for Raytheon) awarded Raytheon the contract for the development of a Long Range Standoff Missile, an air-launched nuclear and conventional weapons delivery system that many fear substantially raises risks of miscalculation and could trigger a nuclear war.
Holding signs, drawing messages like War Is Not the Answer!, Divest and Abolish!, Black Lives Matter!, and Peace! in chalk on the sidewalk, and garnering attention and honks of support by passersby along Concord Ave., the group of about 30 people assembled in the Raytheon parking lot to reflect and share messages about the meaning of this anniversary in a speak-out style program.
Thea Paneth, 61, of Arlington, spoke of the “cancer of militarism” that plagues our nation, permeating every aspect of our lives, enriching the powerful, swallowing up trillions of dollars that could be used to feed the hungry, house the homeless, and care for the sick. She said, as so many do, “that if used, nuclear weapons will destroy the planet and all of us, and that these weapons must be abolished.”
MAPA organizer Brian Garvey, a member of the Raytheon Anti-War Campaign, reminded those assembled that government policy is made by Raytheon, a fact exemplified by the Defense Secretary’s links to the company.
Individuals described their own time visiting Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and many made links to the COVID-19 pandemic, popular uprisings against police and state violence and racism, the daily catastrophes killing so many, and the urgent work of imagining and creating a world in which the needs of human and non-human lives on this planet are cared for and not destroyed.
The morning program was MC’d by John Bach of Friends Meeting at Cambridge. He reminded the crowd of something he had heard years ago, that when we talk about nuclear weapons, it is right to invoke the image from Hiroshima of a charred dog trotting through the streets, carrying in its mouth a human arm, flesh dripping.
The group then delivered a Cease and Desist letter, signed by more than 180 people, to a Raytheon representative. The letter asks that Raytheon end all work for destructive purposes, despite the high profits of Pentagon contracts, such as to arrange the production of: Tomahawk Cruise Missiles, RAM Guided Missile System, Paveway Bomb and Paveway IV Bomb, along with many other weapons. These weapons are currently used in warfare, including in the war that Saudi Arabia has been waging against Yemen for the past five years, creating the worst human-inflicted humanitarian crisis in recent history, with millions on the brink of starvation and tens of thousands dead and wounded.
At 6pm, another group gathered outside Friends Meeting at Cambridge for the annual reading of Thomas Merton’s Original Child Bomb, then made their way to Lower Longfellow Park, where the Stone of Hope Drumming Circle – led by musician and organizer Toussaint Liberator – opened. About 70 people, masked and socially distanced, gathered to Envision a World Free from Nuclear Weapons. Origami cranes, banners, and MAPA “Peace Voter” yard signs were displayed along the periphery; George Washington University undergraduate and Westborough resident Nick Smaldone MC’d the event.
Nick Rabb of Sunrise Boston called upon us to face daily and existential threats with courage and clarity, and Jean-Luc Pierite of the North American Indian Center of Boston spoke of the connections between the internment of local indigenous people and of Japanese people. Reminding the crowd that the life and lives of these lands we stand on are our hosts – with indigenous people still struggling for sovereignty against the logic of colonialism – Pierite shared about the vital work of the Massachusetts Indigenous Legislative Agenda.
Local rock duo Miele performed John Lennon’s peace anthem “Imagine” and an original piece. Harold Adams of the Committee of Friends and Relatives of Prisoners reviewed the geo-political and strategic decision to use the A-bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki despite Japan’s imminent surrender, tracing links between the the horrific human effects of World War II, the July 16, 1945 nuclear test, the Potsdam Conference that began the next day, and the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki days after the Conference concluded.
Ray Matsumiya of Cambridge’s Oleander Initiative, whose grandfather was a first responder in Hiroshima soon after the bombing, described the devastation. There is a common memory among hibakusha (A-bomb victims) of those long moments after the A-bombings: no matter man or woman, child or elder, people desperately needed water, and so often, dying, people cried out for their mother. He also detailed the resiliency of the city and people of Hiroshima as well – the power of a place with such a strong culture of peace, that was functioning days and weeks after the city was flattened and is rebuilt and flourishing.
Karlene Griffiths Sekou of Black Lives Matter Boston brought a message of global and local solidarity for shared and collective well-being and liberation from war in all its forms, and linked war to the violent forms of oppression and repression of Black people, indigenous people, people of color, and all those marginalized by systems of domination and hierarchy. Humans cannot exist alongside nuclear weapons; these technologies, Sekou explained, “are anti-human. They are anti-you. They are anti-me.”
Bach invited each participant to take an origami crane, an anti-nuclear symbol made world famous by A-bomb victim Sadako Sasaki, and put it on a car windshield, a dining room table, by the kitchen sink, to meditate on its meaning. Watertown peace activists will hold a vigil and launch candle boats from 7-9pm on August 9, one of thousands of commemorations taking place around the state and planet as part of the Global Peace Wave. The evening program was moderated by George Washington University undergraduate and Westborough resident Nicholas Smaldone.
The programs offered analysis, reflection, political and civic engagement, and personal connection on this historic anniversary. In the midst of global pandemic – as we experience and see the system’s violent assault on collective and connected well-being – these activities affirm that honoring the dignity of all life is a worthy and needed effort. As feels palpable and near-constant at this time, a sense of resistance, of refusing the status quo, carried through.
“Genocide takes many forms,” said one speaker, “imposed by the economic system of capitalism.” Another called those present to “imagine outside the systems of capitalism and mechanisms of perpetual war.” Garvey described as “blasphemy” the meaning of the word Raytheon – “Light of the gods” – given the company’s role as a “merchant of death.”
The crowd – many of whom have spent decades leaning in, paying attention to the horrifying realities of the nuclear age – flatly rejects the narrative propagandized in the U.S. that justifies the development, use, and existence of nuclear weapons. Instead, the unacceptable destruction and humanitarian consequences of these weapons overrides dangerous, hubristic, misguided, or fallacious claims to legitimacy. Consistent with the Global Peace Wave and the growing force of civil society (which achieved the adoption of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons by the UN July 7, 2017), the spirit of abolition – of a new path – was strong throughout the day. People are clear about the peril, precarity, and suffering of the dominant systems. Abolish nuclear weapons, Abolish prisons, Abolish policing. The seeds planted now will come to fruition among descendents.
In witness and protest, reflection and resistance: No more Hiroshimas! No more Nagasakis! No more war!
Video of the morning program can be viewed at https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLmd7Hgtj_DpqEUr8cxVOxztQfhkEJJKkr and the evening program at https://www.facebook.com/watch/live/?v=794529371355232.