Hiroshima: I am Sorry

6 July 2016

Mel Duncan
Founding Director, Nonviolent Peaceforce

I remember standing by the mangle iron talking with my mother. She was crying as she ironed clothes. She was “blue” as she called it, a condition that we would now describe as “depression.” She lamented the conditions of the world. The Cold War raged. She feared nuclear war. She openly pondered whether it was right to bring children into this world. I was ten years old. Things were bad for my mom and the world and I felt responsible.

I remember going to my primary school and scoffing at the air raid drills when we would “duck and cover” under our desks.

Today we are gathered to explore a transformation from brutal and horrific violence to compassionate and holistic nonviolence: what Hibakusha Setsuko Thurlow envisions as “nothing less than a cultural transformation away from our obsession with violence and war.” Yet the world must never forget nor deny what happened here.

I am a citizen of the United States of America. My country produced and dropped atomic bombs that incinerated thousands of people and poisoned generations more. There is never a valid justification for killing hundreds of thousands of civilians. It is a crime against humanity. We do not kill one another to save lives.

I am sorry.

I am sorry not only for my country dropping the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki on those August days 71 years ago but I am also sorry for also for the way that possession of nuclear weapons has since shaped my country’s relationships in the world. All too often, we have projected military might, playing the role of the bully instead of acting as a sister and brother in the family of nations.

And I am sorry for my country currently spending $1 trillion to upgrade our nuclear arsenal. That expenditure robs from the hungry from the sick, from the homeless and from children without proper education or opportunity throughout the world.

While my country has been involved in some significant advances including the New START and the Iran nuclear weapons agreements, these measures are not enough. I note that the Obama administration has reduced our nuclear stockpile less than any other post-Cold War presidency.

I stand with the Hibakusha and my friends at Peace Boat in demanding a nuclear free world.

At the beginning of the 20th century less that 1,000 men and women identified themselves as chemists and physicists. The next 30 years experienced a growing point where scientists from Europe, America, Japan started making amazing discoveries about the nature of matter and energy. They networked and shared information. As Luis Pasteur told his students, they made their discoveries seem inevitable.

These men and a few women changed not only the structure of human affairs but the existential nature of human consciousness.

Richard Rhodes in his Pulitzer Prize winning book, The Making of the Atomic Bomb, observed the humans have continued on our course of using violence to address our conflicts and that these: Lesser wars will continue until the world community is sufficiently impressed with their destructive futility to forge new instruments of protection and new forms of citizenship.

Like the scientists of the early 20th century, we are gazing at another growing point. More peacebuilders, unarmed civilian protectors, conflict transformers and nonviolent civil resistors are at work today throughout the planet than at any other time in history. We are experimenting, exploring and learning. Unarmed civilian protectors are implementing creative nonviolent strategies in some of the most violent places in the world today, strategies that the founders of Nonviolent Peaceforce never imagined.

The old is dying, bringing on reactions of violence and chaos as we have seen again and again in Baghdad, Dacca, Istanbul, Malakal and Orlando. But the mystery begins when the old ways fall apart. This chaos invites us to listen and explore at a much deeper level, just as the physicists and chemists delved into the mystery 100 years ago. We are birthing nonviolent ways to deal with conflict that will soon render the tired and brutal militaristic ways obsolete. We have everything we need in the here and now. We are gaining new insights as to how the world works. Our discoveries are indeed inevitable. Article 9 charts the direction for nation states to renounce war and deal with conflicts nonviolently. Article 9 should not only be preserved, it should serve as the model for all nations.

With curiosity, courage, creativity and conviction, we will forge these discoveries and bring them together in a compelling concert that does away with war. The process will be painful and costly. It will require discipline and sacrifice. Some of us will pay with our lives. Yet, as the French geologist and theologian Teilhard de Chardin predicted, when we have learned to harness the power of love we will have rediscovered fire!