Speech at the World Peace Forum, Vancouver, British Columbia, June 28, 2006
It’s a great honor to be part of this panel and to have the opportunity to share these words with so many people I respect and admire.
I find it telling that I am one of the most active young people I know of in the United States currently working for nuclear disarmament; yet, until perhaps two and-a-half years ago, I knew virtually nothing about nuclear weapons. That’s not because I was apathetic. Nor is it because I wasn’t engaged. I was very engaged, in fact, from a relatively young age, in a variety of environmental and social concerns affecting the health and well-being of all living things on the planet.
But I was – am – also a product of post-Cold War United States society, which has instilled in people the twin notions that the threat of United States involvement in a nuclear war is a thing of the past, and to the extent that nukes are still a problem, the locus of that problem certainly is not in the US. I, as virtually everyone else of my generation, unquestioningly accepted this appalling conventional wisdom, to such an insidious degree that I wasn’t even aware I was accepting it.
I’ve taken recently to saying to my US colleagues that we shouldn’t view our task only as being to stop the proliferation of nuclear weapons, nuclear reactors, or nuclear waste, but also to stop the proliferation of nuclear minds. Nuclear minds regard nuclear weapons entirely as abstract and are thereby emotionally divorced from their toxic and deadly effects, as I was. The United States is not only the world’s primary source of nuclear weapons proliferation; I would venture to say that it is also the world’s primary source of proliferation of nuclear minds.
Disarmament of nuclear minds means making not only the potential consequences of nuclear weapons, but also their gruesome ongoing consequences, imaginable and concrete. Though the dominant discourse around nuclear weaponry tends to make them seem highly technical and exclusively the domain of experts and policy-makers, the importance of nuclear disarmament is really not at all difficult to grasp, either conceptually or – more importantly – in our bodies. This is particularly so given the powerful windows into understanding them that are tragically available to us.
By far the greatest success I’ve had in reaching the young people I work with has been in telling the stories, to the best of my ability, of the Hibakasha, downwinders of nuclear testing, the subjects of the United States Human Radiation Experiments, the indigenous peoples who suffer under the system of “nuclear colonialism” within the claimed boundaries of the US and other countries, and the many other direct victims of the Nuclear Age. Their stories convey the true character of nuclear weapons in the most intimate way possible.
Every time we allow nuclear weaponry to be framed primarily in terms of scientific jargon or abstract policies, I think we lose ground. Every time we frame nuclear weapons from the perspective of the victims of the Nuclear Age, we align ourselves with the best interests of life on the entire planet. As I have said before in this connection, if we in the United States – as elsewhere in the world — do not collectively begin to understand the Nuclear Age from the perspective of the victims of the Nuclear Age, we will all leave this earth as victims of the Nuclear Age.
The notion of disarming US nuclear minds dovetails nicely with the main project I’d like to tell you about today, which I’m involved with through the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation’s Youth Empowerment Initiative. That project is a national network of young people titled, appropriately enough, “Think Outside the Bomb.”
The Think Outside the Bomb network formed at a week-long conference in Santa Barbara, CA, in August 2005, which was attended by roughly 50 young people from across the US, as well as representatives from Kazakhstan and the Marshall Islands. The conference attendees have coordinated a wide variety of projects since that time, including a second, one-day “Think Outside the Bomb” conference in Washington, DC, last November, which was attended by close to 200 people.
This fall, as the next major step in the network’s progression, we will be conducting three additional conferences. These will take place in Santa Barbara, CA, from October 20-22; in New York City from November 4-5; and in Atlanta, Georgia, at some point in either October or November. The goal of these conferences is not only to feature hundreds of young people in attendance, but for each of these young people to leave these conferences as their own individual units of nuclear disarmament within the greater worldwide movement for nuclear abolition.
So I come to you bearing good news. A coordinated national movement for nuclear disarmament is beginning to emerge among young people in the United Sates, and the Think Outside the Bomb project is one of the ways this is powerfully manifesting. There is, of course, an incredible amount of work still to be done in building this movement. I invite you to visit our table in the back of the room for more information on Think Outside the Bomb and on the other programs of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation and its Youth Empowerment Initiative, or to approach me individually after this panel.
I look forward to sharing many more experiences with all of you as we realize a nuclear-free world, sooner rather than later, in the years to come. And I thank you for listening.
Will Parrish is Youth Empowerment Director at the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation.