I want to begin my remarks today by thanking Chris Pizzinat and the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation for inviting me to offer some reflections on the 58th anniversary of the day the United States government dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan. In the shadow of this horrific event, I want to dedicate my remarks this afternoon to someone many of us know and love, Frank Kelly. For anyone who knows Frank, today is a day of somber and yet, at the same time, hopeful reflection. Frank is someone who, in spite of man’s inhumanity to man, has great hope for the human family. So here is to you Frank, in gratitude for a life lived in the power of hope.
I have often wondered at the irony (or is it the hubris?) of the date, August 6th, the day chosen by the United States to drop the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan. On the Christian calendar, August 6th is the feast of the Transfiguration. As the story goes, the Transfiguration is an event in the life of Jesus when he went with some of his disciples onto a mountaintop. There a bright cloud overshadowed them and a voice called from the cloud, “This is my son, my beloved, on whom my favor rests; listen to him.” The disciples fell on their faces in fear, and Jesus came to them and said, “Stand up, do not be afraid.”
August 6th presents us with two images: the mushroom cloud and the cloud of transfiguration. From each cloud speaks two very different messages. One is the voice of death and destruction. The other is the voice of love and empowerment. I draw upon my Christian path not to be partisan about religion, but because it is the path I know best. I offer the story of the Transfiguration as a touchstone for what is true and good about all of our diverse spiritual paths and traditions. I personally believe that all religious traditions, whether they be of church, temple, or mosque, have at their heart a single minded recognition that we are all made in the image of the one we call love. The challenge in our several religious traditions is to hold on to this message of love in the face of the voices of fear all around us. Sadly, those voices of fear are all to often from within our own religious traditions. Throughout the centuries, these voices of fear have lead to religious, political, and social enmity among diverse peoples and tribes. In spite of this history, and because of this history, we must be ever more bold in reclaiming our common message of love and inclusion. It is this message of love that has the capacity to capture the imagination and inspire the human heart.
Let me begin by saying that in hindsight, we don’t gain anything by taking cheap shots at those who made decisions for the United States government to drop atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. But I do believe we are each held accountable to the lessons and actions we derive from the past in order to inform the values and decisions we make today. So what is our nuclear context today?
Helen Caldicott, in her most recent book, The New Nuclear Danger, recites some sobering statistics: “The US currently has 2,000 intercontinental land-based hydrogen bombs, 3,456 nuclear weapons on submarines roaming the seas 15 minutes from their targets, and 1,750 nuclear weapons on intercontinental planes ready for delivery. Of these 7,206 weapons, roughly 2,500 remain on hair trigger alert. Russia has a similar number of strategic weapons with approximately 2,000 on hair trigger alert. In total, there is enough explosive power in the combined nuclear arsenals of the world to “overkill” every person on earth roughly 32 times…” “…(T)o overkill every person on earth roughly 32 times(!)” The greater insanity is that our government has plans to fight and win a nuclear war and, if necessary, to strike first in order to win. Then layer onto this dark and sobering strategic reality the enormous financial and human resources diverted from global concerns for education, disease prevention, the environment, and where in the world are we? In the last 58 years, have we learned nothing from Hiroshima and Nagasaki?
The Christian ethicist, Bill Rankin, in his book, Countdown to Disaster [p.91], written in the midst of the Cold War and reflecting on the Christian calling to peacemaking and nuclear disarmament, calls us all to sharpen our efforts for peace. Regardless of you faith tradition, I hope you will substitute your own faith perspective. Bill writes, “Christian peacemaking rests upon the ethical principal that life is good, that the creation is good, that each individual is precious to God, that all of us are part of one human family, and that room always must be made between persons for love, forgiveness, and reconciliation. From the perspective built upon these principles, peacemaking entails both the building up of the human community and the tearing down of militarism, understood as the precipitous resort to war as a means to solve international problems. In an apocalyptic time, salient commitments to peacemaking are both altruistic and self-interested, both idealistic and supremely realistic. Moreover, we have this on excellent authority, ‘the peacemakers are the blessed ones; they shall be called the children of God [Mat. 5:9].’”
Which voice speaks to us today on this anniversary? Is it the voice of death and destruction, or is it the voice of love and empowerment? In my judgment, the message of nuclear power and might is a completely failed message, enshrined and encapsulated in fear. What will we do about this? We are each and together entrusted with our own voice and our own message. What are we doing with our voice and what message do we proclaim? From which voice do we draw our power and from which voice do we proclaim our message? Do we draw our inspiration from the message of fear of and power over the other, enshrined in the mushroom cloud of death, or do we stand at the center of hope and love as we proclaim our life-giving message of love and justice for all? Sadly, each of us has failed to stay centered in this life giving voice. Let us not be naïve about our failures, and let us not be naïve about the challenges we all face in hearing the voice calling each of us to live in the power of love. Let us not be naïve about the political and economic voices of darkness trying to snuff out the voice of love and empowerment.
You and I are here because we know where we want to stand and what we want to proclaim. Our message has global political, economic and religious implications for the future of humankind. Today, in the shadow of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, let us redouble our efforts to reclaim our vision of love and justice as the very center of our individual and corporate voice and let us be united in our message for one another as we seek to inspire local, national and global leaders, nations and peoples to live in and share this universal message of love and justice for all. Thank you.