I had the good fortune and honor of spending the weekend commemorating the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki with fellow nuclear abolitionists, people of a deep, abiding faith in the ability of humanity to one day rid our world of the scourge of nuclear weapons, and build one that is just, peaceful and sustainable.
Rodney Herold videotaped much of that weekend at Ground Zero Center for Nonviolent Action, and put together a remarkable video that documents the nonviolent direct action that took place on Monday, August 9th, the anniversary of the atomic bombing of Nagasaki, at the Trident nuclear submarine base at Bangor, Washington. Rodney did much more than simply document the event; he created a powerful statement of hope and the need to build bridges of understanding.
A few years ago the Rev. Joe Hale posed the question, “Is it ever possible to make peace by destroying bridges?” He was speaking in reference to Israel’s indiscriminate destruction of Lebanon, but he could have been speaking of any number of foreign policy decisions made by the U.S. government since September 11, 2001.
The events of that fateful day in 2001 sewed the seeds of fear, anger and hatred, and fueled decisions in the highest levels of government that have made our nation and the world a much more dangerous place. However, things could have taken a much different course, and we still have the opportunity to change course before it is too late.
To change course we must start building bridges rather than destroying them. To do so will require that our nation stop threatening other nations with regime change, fulfill our obligations under the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty and stop holding the threat of nuclear weapons over other countries, and start using civilian diplomacy rather than military action as a tool of foreign policy. It will also require major shifts in our patterns of energy consumption that have created such a huge reliance on oil. Our priorities must change dramatically.
But none of this can happen without changing ourselves and how we define and address the evils in our world. Not long after 9/11 and before completing the mission in Afghanistan, President Bush laid out the next stage in his war on terror and announced his plans to confront the infamous “axis of evil”, rogue states that threaten the world with weapons of mass destruction. Many years before, Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., spoke of a completely different axis of evil, one of racism, poverty/materialism, and war that mire people in misery, divide people against one another, and threaten the world with extinction.
President Obama has taken President Bush's lead in trying to rid the world of evil primarily through military action, and foreign aid/poverty assistance linked to what we determine to be "good" government and "good" economic practices. Dr. King, however, believed in addressing racial and cultural tensions, committing unconditionally to free the world of the scourge of poverty, and utilizing nonviolent intervention in international conflicts.
What ultimately sets the two strategies apart are their motivations. The current one is based on fear and hatred and the need for power and desire for resources; the other on faith and compassion and the quest for justice, which are values shared by the world’s great religions. And beyond the motivations, we have seen the consequences of coercion and violence. We, as people of a common humanity, are called to seek a different approach in which we build bridges instead of destroying them.
As Dr. King once so eloquently stated, “Love is the key that unlocks the door which leads to ultimate reality. We can no longer afford to worship the god of hate or to bow before the altar of retaliation. History is cluttered with the wreckage of nations and individuals who pursued this self-defeating path of hate.” (from Where Do We Go From Here. Chaos or Community? C1968).
Dr. King’s prophetic voice calls us to follow the well-worn path of love and nonviolence, building bridges along the way, connecting with ALL of humanity. I invite you to watch Rodney's video. I hope it will provide you with a glimpse into the hearts and minds of dedicated nuclear resisters, and the network of people who support them. They are people of hope, people who work to build bridges rather than destroy them.
One final note about the video is the poignant music, "Able, Baker, Charlie and Dog", by musician and songwriter Joe Crookston. The song is a very personal story about Joe's grandfather who was part of a U.S. Navy construction battalion in World War II that built the runways on Tinian Island from which the bombers carrying the atomic bombs took off for Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Joe's song is far more than background music; it is an integral element, providing yet another person's contribution to our deeper, human understanding of the atomic bombings and the nature of war itself. The song is the perfect accompaniment for Rodney's video.
This post is a revised version of an article originally written for Every Church a Peace Church.
Note: In 2006, the Natural Resources Defense Council declared that the 2,364 nuclear warheads at Bangor are approximately 24 percent of the entire U.S. arsenal. The Bangor base houses more nuclear warheads than China, France, Israel, India, North Korea and Pakistan combined. For thirty-three years Ground Zero Center for Nonviolent Action has engaged in education, training in nonviolence, community building, resistance against Trident and action toward a world without nuclear weapons.