Buddhists, Catholics and other proponents of peace and nuclear disarmament are massing this week to observe the 60th anniversary of the world’s first nuclear attacks when the United States bombed Hiroshima, Japan, in an effort to hasten the end of World War II.
All told, the various groups leading the events- Pax Christi New Mexico, Upaya Zen Center and the Los Alamos Study Group- hope the weekend events planned for Saturday will be the largest disarmament gathering in Los Alamos, the birthplace of the atomic bomb.
“What the 60th anniversary is about is what we as a society think about mass destruction,” said Greg Mello, executive director of the Los Alamos Study Group. “It isn’t just nuclear weapons, it is about our toleran ce for mass killing and whether it is something we might conduct under certain circumstances or whether it is something we wish to reject under all circumstances in order to build worldwide consensus against mass killing and genocide.”
Beginning today with a press conference featuring two survivors of the American nuclear attacks against Japan, the groups have gatherings, seminars, music, prayers and vigils planned through Tuesday, the 60th anniversary of the bombing of Nagasaki, Japan. About 240,000 people died as a result of both bombings.
On Friday, the Catholic peace organization Pax Christi New Mexico plans a Mass for the Feast of Transfiguration at 7:30 p.m. in Santa Fe at the Santa Maria de la Paz Church, 11 College Ave. Jesuit peace activist Father John Dear will deliver the homily.
Also on Friday, the Upaya Zen Center begins a five-day retreat focused on repenting for the bombing by performing 108 prostrations, bowing and chanting in concert in the traditional Japanese style. The prostrations are scheduled to begin at 5:15 p.m., corresponding to the time the bomb was dropped on Hiroshima.
Also at 5:15 p.m. Friday, SITE Santa Fe will broadcast a live audio feed from Hiroshima on KSFR-FM and KUNM-FM of the ringing of the Hiroshima Peace Bell.
Saturday is Santa Fe’s seventh annual Peace Day, scheduled to take place at the Railyard from 11 a.m. until 10 p.m. The event will feature numerous dance and music performances throughout the day.
Symbol of repentance
Pax Christi plans to gather Saturday by Ashley Pond in Los Alamos to carry out a vigil of repentance and peace through the town beginning about 8 a.m.
“Our group began talking last fall about what we were going to do for the 60th anniversary, and we decided we were going to use a biblical symbol,” Dear said. He said the group chose the story of Jonah and his effort to get the people of Nineveh to repent their sins, in part because Nineveh is the only example in the Bible in which an entire city joined together in repentance.
“Los Alamos is engaged in far greater evil (for supporting nuclear weapons) than Nineveh or Sodom and Gomorrah, so if anybody needs to repent, it is us,” Dear said.
As in the story of Jonah and Nineveh, Pax Christi members plan to don sack cloths- converted grain and potato sacks- and pour ashes over themselves as they repent for what they perceive as the sins of those involved in building and maintaining the country’s nuclear weapons.
“It is an ancient symbol of repenting your sin; it is a spiritual action begging God to forgive us for what we have done,” Dear said.
The ashes also serve to evoke the image of the ashes of the victims killed during the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, so “it brings in the reality of nuclear weapons,” Dear said.
The group plans to reconvene at the Los Alamos Post Office, where visiting survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki will present a letter from the current mayors of those two cities to the Los Alamos County Council requesting their assistance in worldwide disarmament efforts.
The Los Alamos Study Group will pass out thousands of sunflowers grown in Corrales that have come to symbolize the movement away from nuclear weapons.
“We are not demonstrating for peace,” Mello said. “This is a disarmament rally. Because Los Alamos National Laboratory and Sandia National Laboratories are in their view working for peace, so we are all for peace, but the truth of the matter is that is not good enough. We stand for different policies.”
Mello said the 60th anniversary is an important moment to bring awareness to the issues surrounding nuclear weapons policies.
“Nuclear weapons issues are very much active right now,” Mello said. He said the United States is reviewing its stockpile, and the Bush administration and Congress have proposed several different visions for the future of the nation’s nuclear weapon stockpile- now numbering more than 10,000 warheads.
“As a result, the issues are really wide open in a way they haven’t been,” he said. “It is important for citizens to express what it is exactly that they want, and it is important for citizens to work to make those specific aspirations a reality.”