From the Women: Hiroshima — Never Again!

Comments delivered at Brattle Square, Cambridge, August 6, 2013, by Claire Gosselin of Women’s International League for Peace & Freedom, Boston Branch:

We are here to remember the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. We keep in mind the survivors – the Hibakusha – who share their stories and commitment to Never again! What they have suffered should never be repeated. These men and women are the true heroes.

I speak as a member of the Women’s Int’l League for Peace & Freedom – Greater Boston Branch – aka WILPF. My colleague, Joan Ecklein, was a child and remembers the bombings, the sense of horror and the belief among people that surely governments would put aside these weapons now that they saw the terrible, inhumane destruction of life and land.

But as we stand here today, 68+ years into the nuclear age, we feel the pain of the Hibakusha, as the weapons are still with us.

We must continue through the generations to end this horror. For the Hibakusha, for all of us.
To achieve Never again! our nation must pursue nuclear abolition as an international process guided by legal agreements — a big challenge in our world.

Even the language in this area of work can be quite misleading — take the concept of nonproliferation.
Most people would think that nonproliferation means don’t make any more – period! But that is not what it means in the nuclear weapons context. Nonproliferation is used in relation to countries who did not already have nuclear weapons when the Nuclear NonProliferation Treaty was signed (1968-70).  Nonproliferation focuses on the danger that OTHERS – like Iran – may produce nuclear weapons. We hear about Iran “going nuclear” when they build nuclear reactors and enrich uranium.

What we don’t hear is that all countries who signed the Nuclear Non Proliferation treaty have a right to nuclear power. That’s part of the treaty — article IV. Many of us are not in favor of nuclear power reactors for good reason. The disaster of Fukushima — which has devastated lives and land in Japan and beyond — is not resolved and we don’t know when it will be. It has global consequences and the problem of nuclear power has to be taken up globally — not arbitrarily against other countries deemed to be adversaries.

Many people also do not know that the countries with nuclear weapons who signed the treaty are not required to have inspections of their nuclear complex in relation to treaty obligations. But the non nuclear weapons states signatories do need inspections. Would that seem fair to our country if roles were reversed?

While the number of nuclear weapons worldwide has decreased from the estimated 60,000 at their peak during the cold war, to approx 17,000 now, the NWS have been moving very slowly to eliminate them – an obligation of the treaty – Article VI . It is particularly troubling as the nuclear “haves”, including our country, continue to invest in enhancing the arsenal.

The current condition with nuclear haves — who tenaciously hold on to the weapons — and have nots — who are threatened by them (we hear “all options are on the table” )- is not stable. Even sitting in submarines or silos, nuclear weapons pose a threat to all of us and inherently spur the desire by the have-nots to acquire them.

We need to hold our government accountable to obligations. For the Hibakusha, for all of us.

On the positive side: Over the years some of the non-nuclear nation states have created Nuclear Weapons Free Zones — by treaties, which vary in their specifics. Also, since 1990 there have been efforts to create a Middle East Weapons of Mass Destruction Free Zone which would include nuclear weapons along with chemical and biological weapons. We think the Obama administration should encourage this without further delay – a conference was to have been held in 2012.

Now to speak to the significant role of women in the work to abolish nuclear weapons.

I am inspired by my foremothers who knew they had to act to challenge powerful forces. They put forward bold proposals, some that could not gain traction at the time, but which foreshadowed later movements.

In 1953 WILPF appealed for a “World Truce” calling for a 2 year pledge by nations not to produce or use armaments and during this pause to prepare for a Disarmament Conference.
This did not gain acceptance at the UN, but nearly 30 years later, the movement for a Nuclear Weapons Freeze revived the disarmament movement in the United States. The late Dr. Randall Forsberg of Cambridge, who many here held dear, was an inspiration and central to the Freeze.
After the atomic bombings, Ava Helen Pauling – spouse of better known Linus Pauling – convinced her husband that his research for physical and mental health would be meaningless if the world were destroyed by nuclear war.

She publicized the issue of radioactivity and its health effects through actions, petitions and symposiums, confronting the Atomic Energy Commission’s inaccurate science. Strontium-90 had been discovered in wheat and milk – and eventually baby teeth – and as a mother she was concerned about the health effects of nuclear weapons testing.

She also argued that the diversion of resources to weaponry sacrificed human needs — as we are today.

In her WILPF role, Ava advocated collaborative efforts among international peace groups and a strategy for true security through international law and justice. Through her influence, Linus researched additional dangers of nuclear fallout and made the connection between the human body and the environment on a genetic, molecular and cellular level.

The Women’s Strike for Peace emerged in the early 60’s from a small group of young mothers in Washington, DC, led by Dagmar Wilson and Bella Abzug. It struck a chord and spread quickly across the country. Former Women’s Strike for Peace, now WILPF colleague, Carol Urner of Portland, OR recalls how she and her “unorganization” cohorts would all dress up in their traditional middle class “Sunday best” , and take their children in strollers to deliver their message. They had a huge impact. On November 6, 1961, this “unorganization” brought thousands of women to the streets worldwide “to end the arms race, not the human race.” The Women’s Strike for Peace and the Paulings actively worked to end nuclear testing and were instrumental in eventually pressurng Pres Kennedy to sign the Limited Test Ban Treaty in 1963.

Women have played an important role throughout the nuclear age – inside and outside of organizations, as activists and concerned citizens. Among them:

The women of Greenham Common peace camp in the UK, the late Sister Dr. Rosalie Bertell, the late Elise Boulding, and contemporaries Winona LaDuke and Charmaine White Face who expose the danger of unsealed open-pit uranium mines through their work in the group Defenders of the Black Hills.

Dr. Helen Caldicott, who was active in the Boston area for many years, was a founder of Women’s Action for Nuclear Disarmament –WAND. Now Women’s Action for New Directions, WAND has also done excellent work since 1982.

Finally, I am inspired by the next generation of young women stepping forward – including Ray Acheson, the Director of Reaching Critical Will – WILPF’s International program for disarmament. (

We have learned a great deal from the reports and resources she and her colleagues produce and the UN proceedings they make available via the web.

They carry it forward and with our continued commitment across gender and generations, we will carry on the work to reach a world without nuclear weapons.

For the Hibakusha, for all of us – Never again!