Bob Dylan and America’s 70-Year Nuclear Nightmare
A few years ago, Bob Dylan gave a powerful interview to Rolling Stone. The editor asked about his recent music, but also about our political predicament and how we got into this global mess. Dylan seemed a bit cantankerous-forgive me, Bob!-and kept hemming and hawing.
“What gets in your blood?” the editor asked.
“The whole culture,” Dylan answered.
What do you mean? What are you saying? the editor asked. He kept pushing Dylan to explain where rock and roll came from.
Finally, when push came to shove, Bob Dylan gave the definitive answer.
“The atom bomb fueled the entire world that came after it,” Dylan said.
“[The U.S. atomic bombing of Hiroshima],” he continued, “showed that indiscriminate killing and indiscriminate homicide on a mass level was possible, whereas if you look at warfare up until that point, you had to see somebody to shoot them or maim them, you had to look at them. You don’t have to do that anymore.”
“The atom bomb fueled all aspects of society [after that],” he said. “I know it gave rise to the music we were playing. If you look at all these early performers, they were atom-bomb-fueled. Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, Buddy Holly, Elvis, Gene Vincent, Eddie Cochran…”
So in your recent music, the editor asked, you’re still dealing with the cultural effects of the bomb?
“I think so,” Dylan responded. [RS/May 3-17, 2007]
In other words, everything changed with Hiroshima. That’s what Bob Dylan reminds us.
It takes a great artist to state the obvious, to show us the truth about ourselves.
We vaporized hundreds of thousands of people at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, he says, then we ignored it or denied what we did, so we went numb and then people like Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard, Chuck Berry and Elvis starting screaming and then everyone started screaming, and now we’re all screaming and numb and insane. We never dealt with what we did, and so we remain numb or we scream or we’re violent and give in to our collective insanity.
Everything has happened because of what we did at Hiroshima.
The Need to Abolish Nuclear Weapons
I thought Bob Dylan’s statement was profound. We’ve always had war, and all kinds of related evils, but with Hiroshima, we crossed the line with this new demonic power and insane preparation to destroy the entire planet. We said to God, “What it took you 15 billion years to make, we can destroy in 15 minutes.” And we have never dealt with this.
We as a people have never talked about how we vaporized hundreds of thousands of human beings in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. So we are numb, or we scream, or we’re mindless with our collectively insanity, and we go on planning to vaporize more people. Given that fundamental reality, it seems quite normal that we are mean, racist, and crazy, that we shoot one another, let people starve, and run off to join the U.S. military.
The 70th anniversary of the U.S. atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki invites us to reflect anew on our global predicament and what we can do to create a new disarmed world of peace. Most people on the planet have never lived in a world without nuclear weapons. We’re all used to them now. They’re in our DNA. They’re part of life, part of the landscape, part of reality. There’s nothing we can do about it, we’re told.
We brutally killed 200,000 people at Hiroshima and Nagasaki and then eagerly started the nuclear arms race. At one point, we had 70,000 nuclear weapons; today we have some 16,000 nuclear weapons on alert to vaporize millions. Since Hiroshima, the world has spent over seven trillion dollars building nuclear weapons. Two years ago, the U.S. Congress voted and quietly approved a bill to spend $1 trillion over the next 30 years to upgrade our nuclear arsenal. So we’re building state of the art nuclear uranium plants in Kansas City and Oak Ridge, upgrading our Trident subs and Livermore Labs, and at Los Alamos, the birthplace of the bomb, we’re dead set on building the best ever state of the art plutonium bomb factory.
Everything today finds its roots in Hiroshima, which means the whole world of suffering and violence is connected to Los Alamos—from Auschwitz to Vietnam to Iraq to Afghanistan to Haiti to ISIS to Al Qeada to Ferguson, to Sandy Hook and to Charleston, South Carolina. It’s all connected.
Remember what Mahatma Gandhi said 70 years ago shortly after the U.S. atomic bombing of Hiroshima: We have seen the physical effects of the atomic bomb on the Japanese people, but it is too early to see the spiritual effects on the people who made and used the bomb, the Americans.
That’s what we are living through today–the dire spiritual consequences of vaporizing hundreds of thousands of people at Hiroshima and Nagasaki; as well as building tens of thousands of nuclear weapons since then, and continuing time and time again to threaten to use them.
Here in New Mexico where I live, Los Alamos is a given. We’re told it provides jobs, that it protects the nation, that it is a source of pride. I live way off the grid, on a mesa that looks out over many miles. In the distance I can see Los Alamos. For the last twelve years, I’ve organized peace vigils there to mark the annual Hiroshima anniversary and call for the abolition of nuclear weapons. Los Alamos is a beautiful city, high above the most stunning red and orange cliffs and canyons, and the richest county in the U.S., but don’t be fooled: its sole purpose is to prepare to vaporize millions of people.
The Need to Close Los Alamos, the Birthplace of the Bomb
Los Alamos sits above the second poorest county in the U.S. and is located in one of the poorest states in the country. The land was originally stolen from the indigenous peoples. Its radioactive waste was routinely dumped into the canyons below, poisoning the water, the land, animals and the indigenous people. The Los Alamos Labs spend two billion tax dollars annually for the sole purpose of preparing to kill millions of people. That’s why I call Los Alamos—”the world’s greatest terrorist training camp.”
We look away from this evil because we are taught to. The Labs pay a huge amount for its PR firm which brainwashes the people of New Mexico into thinking that the labs help New Mexico. Likewise, the U.S. government brainwashes us all to believe the theory of nuclear deterrence to justify billions of dollars–a trillion dollars!–for weapons of mass destruction, for preparations for global genocide.
It’s all one big lie. These weapons are the ultimate evil. They do not make us safe, they do not protect the earth, they do not promote the common good or insure our health or create global peace. They only serve the one percent, so they need to be abolished. Now.
What we need are people who are not afraid to wake up, to be aware, to be mindful, to be nonviolent, to be alert to what has happened and what continues to happen. We don’t need to scream like Jerry Lee Lewis or Little Richard, or to remain in mindlessness or despair or psychic numbing or become violent or give in to collective insanity. We need to practice peace, mindfulness and nonviolence, and to pursue together a new world without nuclear weapons.
On August 6th, hundreds of us will drive up the mountain of Los Alamos to vigil for peace and sit in quiet meditation in an effort to grieve over our collective insanity, show universal love and compassion for all humanity, call for nuclear disarmament, and build up the global grassroots movement of nonviolence. We need to take up Gandhi and King’s vision of nonviolence, and plumb the depths of nonviolence as the only antidote to our global predicament.
Nonviolence means seeing every living human being as a sister or brother and pursuing active love for everyone as well as non-cooperating with the culture of violence. It is a way of life, a spiritual practice, but also a methodology of social change. It renounces violence and works aggressively for justice and the coming of a new world of peace. And it has a bottom line truth: there is no cause, however noble, for which we will ever again support the taking of a single human life. No cause whatsoever. We refuse to kill, or to support the killing of anyone. Sorry, but the days of killing and nuclear weapons are coming to an end.
So at Los Alamos, actually, we are preparing for a new world without nuclear weapons. We will claim our fundamental dignity as peaceful human beings, and in the process, show the world what people look like who have the dignity not to be possessed by nuclear weapons. When we sit in at Los Alamos, we stand up for nuclear disarmament, which means we dare explore the spiritual depths of inner disarmament. We’re trying to become people worthy of a world free of nuclear weapons. That’s what the spiritual life of nonviolence calls us to. Every one of us has to pursue this new life of nonviolence, including the inner journey of disarmament.
As we go to Los Alamos, we remember that social change only comes about historically through bottom up grassroots movements, such as the Abolitionists, the Suffragists, the Civil Rights movement and the anti-Vietnam war movement. What we need now is a whole new kind of global grassroots movement of nonviolence that works for the abolition of war itself, as well as poverty, nuclear weapons, environmental destruction, and every form of violence, for the coming of a new culture of peace and nonviolence.
This grassroots movement, this new world of nonviolence, is totally achievable if everyone joins in and does their part. We need literally billions of people to join this global movement of nonviolence, and to keep at the practice of peace. That means we all need to talk about nuclear weapons and the need to abolish them; to study and teach nonviolence; to connect the dots between the issues of violence (from poverty and racism to war and environmental destruction); and to support the global grassroots movement of nonviolence.
So as we gather in Los Alamos at the park where the atomic bomb was built long ago, as we process in silence up Trinity Drive toward the entrance of the Labs with our peace signs, as we sit down on the sidewalk in sackcloth and ashes, using the oldest form of political protest from the Hebrew Bible, we publicly “repent of the mortal sin of nuclear weapons and beg the God of peace for gift of nuclear disarmament.” Later, we will gather back at the park for reflections from Rev. Jim Lawson, the great Civil Rights leader, and Roshi Joan Halifax, the great Buddhist leader. On such a day, in such a moment, we dare to name what happened 70 years ago, and commit ourselves to a new world of nonviolence.
This weekend, hundreds of us will gather in Santa Fe for the “Campaign Nonviolence National Conference.” Last year, we organized 250 demonstrations across the US in all fifty states in September; and we’re going to do it again this year, the week of Sept. 20th. We already have 150 demonstrations planned, in all 50 states. We are calling people to take to the streets and march against every variation of violence—from U.S. warmaking, to poverty at home and abroad, to racism, police brutality and mass incarceration, to nuclear weapons and environmental destruction—and for Dr. King’s vision of a new culture of nonviolence.
Rev. Jim Lawson will give the opening keynote speech on Friday night. Martin Luther King, Jr. called him “the leading theorist and strategist of nonviolence in the world.” On Saturday, we will hear from the leading voices of nonviolence in the nation–such as the great historian of nonviolence, Professor Erica Chenoweth; Ken Butigan, director of Campaign Nonviolence; Kathy Kelly of Voices for Creative Nonviolence; Medea Benjamin, founder of CODEPINK; Rev. Lennox Yearwood of the HipHop Caucus; Jay Coghlan of Nuclear Watch New Mexico; Marian Naranjo of Honor Our Pueblo Existence from the Santa Clara Pueblo, NM; Beata Tsosie-Pena from Tewa Women United in New Mexico; Dr. James Boyle, formerly of the Los Alamos National Labs; and Sister Joan Brown, an environmental activist and teacher. All the events will be broadcast live on line at www.campaignnonviolence.org. Please join in by watching the speakers!
On Sunday, we will go back to Los Alamos and do it all again, to commemorate Nagasaki. This time, we will close with a celebration of peace from the break-dancing teenage boys of Espanola, and hoop dancing girls of the Santa Clara Pueblo. They will send us forth to build the movement.
If we dare remember Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and understand its impact as Bob Dylan does, if we speak out for the abolition of nuclear weapons and organize a new global grassroots movement of nonviolence, perhaps we can create a new climate for disarmament and justice, and insure that people are never vaporized again. To do that, we must prove worthy of a new world of peace, and become people of loving nonviolence.