by Noreen Koga
The drive to Tacoma was cool and clear that Saturday morning in late June 2014. Not knowing what to expect I was drawn immediately to the event announcement listed in the Fellowship newsletter. The mention of the word “nuclear” always catches my attention. With my Mother’s family from Yamaguchi Prefecture (next door to Hiroshima) and the mention of how my Mother’s cousin had perished that fateful morning on August 6, 1946, I’ve always felt a deep connection with anything “nuclear.” Remembering my Grandparents visit to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum in 1974 and viewing the booklet from the museum displaying the human atrocities, I recalled feeling the shock and awe as I saw the photos. Although the book was all written in Japanese, the photos spoke for themselves. “Unfathomable and unbelievable” was all Grandma could say in her broken Japanese. She tells of how she cried at the sight of the images and how my teenage ears tried to understand all she had felt, living in America, as her nation of birth disintegrated into ashes.
As I entered the Tacoma chapel where the program convened, laminated black and white photos of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bomb victims hung on the walls, reminiscent of what I saw in Grandma’s museum booklet years ago. I knew at that point that I was meant to come to this workshop.
Dr. David Hall was first to speak. His involvement with the Ground Zero Center for Nonviolent Action and the Physicians for Social Responsibility brought to mind Dr. Helen Caldicott’s work, which I greatly admire and respect. Dr. Hall spoke of the American Eagle as a symbol of our Nation and how it’s also used as a symbol for nuclear armament which is “beautiful yet capable of horrible things.” He compared the Hiroshima bomb, referred to as the “peanut bomb,” to today’s Trident missiles, which are 7 times greater and can strike anywhere in the world within 30 minutes. They are located at Bangor Naval Base in Kitsap County, which is about 12 miles away from Tacoma (20 miles from Seattle), thus virtually in our backyard. Dr. Hall stated that decision makers are “immune to mass death and destruction and it’s up to us as citizens to say no more.”
Dr. David Price was the next presenter. As a Cultural Anthropologist, he spoke about the growing pervasiveness of war and militarism as becoming the “new normal” of our American society. As Emile Durkheim had noted, “social facts become part of the background of a culture” and this is what seems to be happening with our American culture. He provided an overview of what some of his peers in the cultural anthropology field are doing in the areas of nuclear atomic energy and social activism. Among these were Hugh Gusterson, who spent time with the scientific community at the Lawrence Livermore Lab, and Joseph Masco, who focused on the Los Alamos Facility in New Mexico during and after the Manhattan Project and documented its effect on all involved. Dr. Price cited the work of Holly M. Barker who has chronicled the lives of the inhabitants of the Marshall Islands in their plight for nuclear advocacy. He also cited the work of Barbara Rose Johnston, who in her book Half Lives & Half Truths reviews the impact of the cold war nuclear culture and its aftermath and continuance. And he too stressed the importance of “breaking the silence.”
Diane Tilstra spoke about our immense military budget for 2015 that was passed in May and noted that 40 cents for every dollar goes into the military defense spending. She mentioned the significance of paying attention to Congress and to support the Washington State politicians who voted against the 2015 budget, Jim McDermott and Adam Smith. Ms. Tilstra stressed the importance of activism in her life and encouraged us to keep that voice going as well. She spoke of her experiences and concerns for the younger generations and their apathy towards the larger problems that they feel they did not create. She suggested that if you can bring the situation down to their level and understanding, then you will have their attention. An example of this is the topic of student loan forgiveness that many young people can relate to.
The day ended well with mini-group discussions and a wrap up. Everyone agreed that there are many ways to activism and every bit counts.
As the afternoon sun warmed the car, I drove back to Seattle with my eyes wide open. I felt a buzz in my head along with a continual hum of “12 miles to Bangor.” There are lots to do in our present time, for this is just the beginning.