Forty-two people gathered at Ashley Pond in Los Alamos, New Mexico, on Sunday afternoon to commemorate this week’s 68th anniversary of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan, and to protest continuing nuclear weapon development at Los Alamos National Laboratory.
The peaceful protest was sponsored by Pax Christi Santa Fe, part of Pax Christi USA, a national organization that promotes peace. The protesters sat in silent prayer and meditation for half an hour and listened to speakers, including Nobel Peace Prize nominee and Santa Fe resident Rev. John Dear.
“The people of Los Alamos are good, but the work done [at the lab] is evil,” Dear said. “To me, this is like going to Dachau. … We can’t afford these weapons. Every religion calls on people to be peaceful, loving and nonviolent. We have to say no to this evil work.”
Dear added that he is also against nuclear energy, too, deeming it “too risky” after the disasters at the Chernobyl and Fukushima power plants. “We need nonviolent energy, jobs and cities where children can grow up to be nonviolent,” he said. “We can’t do that and continue to build nuclear weapons.”
Part of Sunday’s protest involved donning sackcloth and sitting in ashes. “In the book of Jonah, Jonah goes to the city of Nineveh and asks the people to repent by putting on sackcloth. Everyone did it, including the king,” said Bud Ryan, a member of Pax Christi Santa Fe. “We do it to repent for our brothers and sisters in Japan.” Ryan said that wearing sackcloth to commemorate the atomic bombings was first introduced by Catholic peace activist Dorothy Day.
Last summer, six people were arrested during demonstrations on Aug. 6 (the anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima) on charges of obstructing traffic, refusing to obey law enforcement and trespassing. On Aug. 6, 2010, eight members of a youth activist group called “Think Outside the Bomb” were arrested after refusing to leave the entrance to LANL’s Chemistry and Metallurgy Research building.
Sunday’s peaceful protest and prayer day was the 10th such annual event in Los Alamos.
Usually, the protesters also proceed through town, but due to lightning this year, they did not.
Ryan said that while Pax Christi members have participated in protests that led to arrests, arrests have never happened on the group’s peaceful protest and prayer day.
“It’s been very quiet; there are probably 40 folks on the south side of the pond,” said Sgt. Jeff Regenold of the Los Alamos Police Department. “They have a few signs up and it’s been kind of rainy.”
“I think it’s very important for us as a society to remember what happened on Aug. 6 and Aug. 9,” Ryan said. “We bombed cities and killed 120,000 people in Hiroshima and 70,000 in Nagasaki, and that’s just who died right away.” Estimates of the death toll in Hiroshima and Nagasaki are difficult to calculate and are approximate.
According to information from the “Avalon Project: Documents in Law, History and Diplomacy” at Yale Law School, about 135,000 people in Hiroshima and 64,000 people in Nagasaki died as a result of the atomic bombings.
“We need to make sure this doesn’t happen to any other city ever again,” Ryan said.