Hiroshima in hindsight

The evening of Aug. 5 had just begun to cool as members of the Coalition for Peace Action gathered in Hinds Plaza. Princetonians enjoyed picnics from home or a nearby café while waiting for the Commemoration of Hiroshima to commence. Baskets of neon origami and an arrangement of paper-crafted sunflowers that read, “Nuclear Abolition Now!” brought color to surrounding black and white photographs of Hiroshima victims and devastation.

Despite the melancholic anniversary for which the event was hosted, any passerby could see that the eclectic crowd was not there to give into mourning. The atmosphere was upbeat and hopeful. The Solidarity Singers, a local music group whose matching t-shirts, stickered guitars and activist pins were reminiscent of the Doves during Vietnam, tuned their instruments and warmed up their vocal chords joyfully in unison.

CFPA executive director Reverend Robert Moore, or “Bob” as he comfortably goes by, affirmed the coalition’s goal that day: “You can’t ever tell what kind of impact is made by what we witness. Tonight in some ways is to renew our own commitment and make the right choice.” He went on to explain how there is a choice to support nuclear warfare. The world still has over 17,000 nuclear bombs, far more powerful than the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima, and enough Ohio-class submarines to kill every continent twice over. In a baseball hat with a rainbow peace-sign emblem on the front, Moore continued, “I was originally a Hawk in Vietnam. My dad was in the navy. But I soon realized the falsehoods and deceptions of war. Tonight is to remember those who passed and also to hope for the future. We’ve got to choose life!”

By 7 p.m. seats were filled and Reverend Moore got up to start the evening’s ceremony. As someone who is undoubtedly a natural behind a podium, Reverend Moore spoke with great optimism and depth. Following his committed words was a hauntingly beautiful composition performed by Glenn Swann on the shakuhachi, a Japanese flute. Swann wore traditional Japanese garb and had a faded tattoo on his shaven head. He appeared to be reading from sheet music in Japanese text that from its yellowed tone looked like it had been played recurrently. Most individuals were swept up in the sound, calm with eyes closed.

At 7:15 p.m. there was a minute of silence that corresponded with the exact time the bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, Aug. 6 at 8:15 a.m. Swann ensued the silence with an uplifting tune and Mariko Banas read haikus by Yasuhiko Shigemoto. Shigemoto had experienced the Hiroshima blast as a 15-year-old schoolboy. Seventeen syllables of poetic anguish seemed to leave a profound impact on those listening.

The keynote speaker was Dr. Zia Mian, a research physicist in the Program of Science and Global Security at Princeton University and expert on nuclear weapons in South Asia. Mian, who just this year received the Linus Pauling Legacy award – a feat that requires dedication to both science and peace – began by saying, “I am going to be brief; the issue is solemn enough.”

Mian described the dilemma and, to a degree, the paradox of nuclear warfare that began with President Harry S. Truman’s very first sentence about the United States’ attack on Hiroshima. The first the American people and most of the world had heard of an atomic bomb was when Truman disclosed, “A short time ago an American airplane dropped one bomb on Hiroshima and destroyed its usefulness to the enemy. That bomb has more power than 20,000 tons of TNT.” Truman neglected to mention that it had killed 100,000 civilians around the base. According to Mian, the atomic bomb created “a reign of ruin the like of which had never been seen on earth.” The bomb’s power was broadcasted but the need to hide the truth had immediately become imbedded in the dawn of the nuclear age. This, Mian said, was the dilemma.

Mian’s final point was directed towards one of the evening’s themes: hope. Prefacing with the difference age plays into perspective, Mian stated that the majority of those who continue to support nuclear warfare and the attack on Hiroshima are Americans over 60 whereas the next generation has “historical distance” to see. “We haven’t solved our problems yet;” Mian concluded, “there’s another way. I am hopeful about the future.”

 

The crowd gathers and sings along with the pro-peace Solidarity Singers.

The crowd gathers and sings along with the pro-peace Solidarity Singers.

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About Erica Chayes Wida

Erica Chayes Wida is a writer, mom, and complete zealot when it comes to poetry, paella and globe collections. After graduating with a degree in Anthropology from UCLA, Erica moved to Italy where the seasons and old architecture inspired her journey back to the East Coast. Since then, she and her husband have created a nest egg locally and, over time, developed a rather grand love affair with the town of Princeton. Erica is senior editor at The Princeton Sun and enjoys fulfilling her Princeton affections on a daily basis. | View all posts by Erica Chayes Wida