UPDATE: Copy of Speech by Trevor McMorris Tate, President of United Nations of Greater Seattle
From Hiroshima to Hope: The Dual Legacy of “Little Boy” and “Fat Man”
– Prepared for delivery at Hiroshima-to-Hope event, 6 August 2011, Seattle, WA.
Good evening, everyone. I bring greetings from the Greater Seattle Chapter of the United Nations Association—USA. What an honor it is for me to be invited to speak on this propitious occasion. I thank the organizers of this annual peace gathering and you for taking the time to be here this evening.
Since that terrifying event of 6August 1945, in the Japanese city of Hiroshima, in which some 140,000 met a most dreadful and unseemly death, an event repeated three days later in Nagasaki, where 74,000 lay dead, the world has witnessed a massive buildup of nuclear weapons, ten times more powerful than the two that unleashed their fury in rising plumes of smoke and scorching fires on those terrifying two days in August, even as the American pilots who fired them from their Superfortress B-29s looked down in awe and wonder.
One unpromising legacy of that event derives from the “harnessing of the basic power of the universe,” as Pres. Truman remarked in the wake of the falling bombs, stylishly named “Little Man” and “Fat Boy.” The potential to harness the frightful power of the atom led countries and their leaders to grow more in confidence even as their insecurities grew. It was this paradox that became the progeny of the post-war nuclear build-up, the arms race, and the long Cold War, during which the whole of humankind stood hostage to the prospect of even more menacing plumes of smoke spread over even wider areas of the planet, unlit skies and cindery bodies. The east-west rivalry–built upon irreconcilable ideologies and geopolitical intrigues–played itself out in various parts of the planet. It led to a colossal misdirection of precious resources and human potential whose consequences remain with us today. Besides, it nearly sparked what we feared most– nuclear war–in that frightful autumn of 1962.
There have been many other fall-outs from Hiroshima and Nagasaki, to be sure: food insecurities have claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands in the Global South; structural inequalities have wreaked incalculable havoc on the weak and powerless; ethnic-national strife has claimed too many to count–from Bosnia to Rwanda; from the Jaffna Peninsula to Chechnya; swollen waters and the earth’s trembling have take their toll on already vulnerable populations from Bali to Sindh, New Orleans to Port-au-Prince; thousands perish still from famine in the Horn of Africa; numerous children go without adequate nutrition, child-care, and primary schooling; and a frightening number die in civil wars or are forced to become soldiers– their childhoods ripped from them forever; rape and its attendant violence have joined the long list of innumerable atrocities committed in war and perpetuated, alas, even by those sent to protect; countless girls, barely arrived at puberty, die from too-early marriages into which they have been forced; women and the girl child in the four corners of the globe continue to suffer a myriad unequal treatment; human rights violations persist; and the plague of racism and intolerance stalks the land. Pandemics–HIV/AIDS and others–warn of more human suffering to come. Each day the health of our increasingly- fragile planet worsens, threatening life on earth and straining our home’s carrying capacity. Economic recessions have shattered the hopes of millions everywhere, and the gap between rich and poor widen, even while the Captains of Industry prosper. The Cold war’s end may have opened new opportunities for democracy to sprout but still over half of the earth’s peoples have no meaningful role in the decisions that govern their lives. Soldiers still go off to war, as they have done each decade since 1945–on the Peninsula, in Vietnam, the Middle East and Central Asia, the Subcontinent, the Horn, the Balkans and the old Soviet Union, and closer home, in Central America and even my own Caribbean.
Yet, when all is said and done, the period since that fateful August of 1945 has not all been one of doom and gloom, human misery, injustice, calamity, and war. We have made tremendous strides in providing safe drinking water for millions, eradicated smallpox and made great progress on other diseases; such as measles; child mortality and malnutrition rates have dropped; emergency food aid has saved millions of lives, and farm programs have grown crop yields and lowered food insecurity in many a developing country; land mines that maim and kill thousands each year have been removed; deforestation, overfishing, and ozone pollution have been arrested; the laws to protect workers’ rights and safeguard the health of consumers are being more consistently enforced; fertility rates are being lowered, affording women in deepest Bangladesh room to improve their lives; painstaking efforts to promote literacy, especially for women, are seeing success; the efforts to safeguarded the rich but vulnerable storehouse of human artifacts, cultures and languages are showing fruit; expansion of air and sea travel has facilitated the movements of peoples from one part of the planet to the next, increasing mutual understandings and heightening our sense of our interconnections as common humanity. And thanks to the UN and a host of NGOs, millions of the voiceless across our planet, who have been silent for far too long, have found a voice. It was thousands of these voiceless who helped write the Earth Charter in 2000, “a declaration of fundamental ethical principles for building a just, sustainable and peaceful global society in the 21st century;” and in April of this year, other voiceless gathered in Cochabamba, Bolivia, at the World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth to found a “Peoples Agreement” a rights charter for the Planet– Pachamama, as the indigenous peoples of the Andes call it.
To add to this other, ever more promising, legacy of Hiroshima, we have explored the stars and marveled at the possibility that we might not be alone in the world, after all–even as the Hubble Telescope has brought back a treasure trove of scientific knowledge that has led to valuable breakthroughs in medicine, to the benefit of all humanity. We have invented the X-ray and mapped DNA and the human genome, invented the Internet, with all its endless possibilities. And on the world political front, the Berlin Wall, that solid symbol of the east-west rivalry, fell with a great noise, filling the air with white dust and cries of “free at last, free at last,” and shattering illusions and the deep psychological fissure that had formed over the decades since that frightful August–this time in 1961. China has, after many centuries of self-induced separation, re-entered the world–and what a re-entry it has been!–and on April 7, in Prague, the presidents of Russia and the United States agreed a deal to cut their massive nuclear stockpiles by a quarter–not nearly enough, surely, but in certain knowledge that they must lead by example.
My dear friends, as you can see, August 1945 has bequeathed to us dual and contradictory legacies. It is tempting to focus on the unpromising side of the ledger, but that would only lead to more despair. When future generations arrive–your and my children’s children and grand-children–they’ll not ask or judge us by how penitent we were for the things we did not attend to in the wake of Hiroshima and Nagasaki–or even for the inhumanity we meted out to our fellows. No. Instead, they’ll want to know what we did to put it right. They’ll want to know how much we strove “to seek, to find, and not to yield.” And so, I put it to you that the best way that you and I can remember the dead of two cities, who perished in that August heat, is to rededicate here and now, on this spot, and in this place, our lives and fortunes to the service and well-being of the human family.
With all due respects to the Enlightenment, in this time of globalization, when the world has grown small and our futures more intertwined, to attend to our narrow self interests will not do. My dear friends, the age beckons us to a higher state of mindfulness. It asks, how will you and I engage meaningfully with those constructive and unifying process occurring all over our fast-shrinking world, in little villages and hamlets, its agents ordinary women and men like us? What shall we do singly and together to improve the lot of our fellows everywhere? Are we ready to stand shoulder to shoulder, in small and large groups, join hands and heart to fashion an altogether better, more promising future for the generations yet unborn? I urge you to see with new eyes into the future. For all that and all that, the things we do, however small, to make life a little better for others, is progress towards building a better world, a world of enduring fellowship and ready embrace of all peoples.
So, let us pledge here and now to do what we can to nurture genuinely affectionate and supportive relationships with all those who may cross our paths. After all, the sure way to prevent another grim August is to build bonds of reconciliation and understanding amongst one another. Peace is only possible with unity, justice, and prosperity for all. In a world torn by religious, ethnic, racial and other strife, our task must be to become harbingers of cooperation and mutual trust. We must set aside our deeply-bred prejudices and embrace and celebrate our fellows near and far. If we do this, we might yet be able to “save succeeding generations from the scourge of war” which, so many times since Hiroshima and Nagasaki, has “brought untold sorrow” to our world. We can get through this August and the many Augusts to come, and we can start again to construct a future unlike the past.
All my relations!
From Hiroshima to Hope, Seattle’s annual peace event honoring the victims of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and all victims of war and violence, takes place from 6:00 pm. to 9:30 p.m. on Saturday, August 6 at Green Lake, just south of the Seattle Public Theater. This year’s commemoration marks the 66th anniversary of the bombings, and the 26th anniversary of the From Hiroshima to Hope commemoration event in Seattle.
The Seattle event, which concludes with the floating of the lanterns on the lake at dusk, has grown to be one of the largest commemoration held anywhere outside of Japan. More than 1,000 attendees are expected again this year.
This year’s keynote speaker is Trevor McMorris Tate, Faculty, International Studies Program at Bellevue College and President of the United Nations Association of Greater Seattle. Pre-event activities begin at 6:00 p.m. and include lantern calligraphy, folding of peace cranes and a Meditation Space sponsored by the Buddhist Peace Fellowship. The family program begins at 7 p.m. with a blessing by Pat John, with Ahousat First Nations. In addition to Tate’s keynote, the program includes musical performances by Seattle Kokon Taiko, a Japanese-American taiko drum performance group and Peter Hill on the shakuhachi, the traditional Japanese bamboo flute. The Toro Nagashi lantern floating ceremony concludes the program at dusk, with music by Marcia Takamura, koto, and Peter Hill, shakuhachi.
From Hiroshima to Hope has been organized by local peace, faith and community organizations every August 6th since 1985. The many sponsors include Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience, Peace Action of Washington, the United Nations Association, WA Chapter, Washington Physicians for Social Responsibility, and the Abe Keller Peace Education Fund.
The From Hiroshima to Hope commemorative event offers the hope to resolve our conflicts without violence and to join hands together in friendship to walk the pathway to peace. The Seattle Public Theater (formerly Bathhouse Theater) is located at 7312 West Green Lake Drive North, served by Metro bus routes #16, #48, #358. For more event information, please call 206-453-4471.