This blog features reflections on current affairs through the lens of my Quaker faith and practice and offers not only analysis but a perspective on hope, renewal, and reconciliation - a “lift”, as I call it - during these stressful, chaotic times.
I hope that you will use the Comments feature to participate with me and with each other. I believe it will be enriching to us all.
From 1991-1993, when I was the ED of the Maine Council of Churches, I accompanied Dr. Peter Wilk, the director of Physicians for Social Responsibility in Maine, to three trips to Washington, D.C., to try to persuade Sen. Susan Collins, a swing-vote member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, to oppose a proposed mini-nuke, the so-called “bunker buster.” My job was to represent the moral objection to further nuclear weapon development. After we were simply rebuffed the first trip, during the second trip my idea of how I was to speak was to look Sen. Collins in the eye and say that few individual people in history have an opportunity to make such a momentous decision with the profound implications of the difference between life and death. She offered no reply, but I sensed she heard me. On the third trip Peter and I were accompanied by a nuclear physicist, who, after thanking her for her support for survivors of the 9/11 attack that had killed his brother, reminded her that even a mini nuclear bomb was hundreds of times more powerful and devastating than the 9/11 attack on the Twin Towers. She delegated her staff person, a recent military vet still sporting his military haircut, to follow up on our data. He listened intently to the power point presentation that cited the implications of a nuclear weapon used in the field of battle, and, scratching his head, realized we were right. Susan Collins voted against the mini-nuke shortly thereafter.
I tell this story not for its unfortunately temporary success (the military still wants the “bunker buster”), but because I was personally brought face to face that day yet again with the reality of the data and potential impact of a nuclear bomb. And it has made me all the stronger an opponent of nuclear weaponry.
I already had a history of being anti-nuke from my childhood. I remember reading John Hersey’s 1946 novel Hiroshima* in my high school years, and it established my deep fear of an atomic bomb that seemed like a constant possibility at the time. I recently read the background on how Hersey was able to go to Hiroshima only days after the bombing to get the story by cleverly circumventing the prohibition on reporting. The U.S. wanted to be able, apparently, to deny the vast destruction and suffering it created. However, Hersey’s account of the aftermath of the bombing, seen through the lives of five survivors and what they felt and saw, made the report accessible to readers about the horrors the bomb created. The reality could be denied, but Hersey had at least faithfully presented a direct account for all to read.
This past Thursday I attended a virtual hour long Pace e Bene commemoration on the 75th anniversary of bombing of Hiroshima,** and I found myself again uneasily between the horrors of time past and the equally horrifying threat of nuclear warfare today. But I was also encouraged by the perseverance of dozens of organizations in the U.S. who continue to oppose nuclear weapon development and avoid another nuclear arms race. The important takeaway from the program was that we need to continue to try to reckon with, and not deny or rationalize, our nation’s use of the bomb on a civilian population killing thousands and thousands of people in Hiroshima and Nagasaki and wounding and contaminating countless others. We cannot pretend to deny the danger it presents. Our acknowledgement, in fact, is necessary if there is to be significant resistance to the expansion of the nuclear arsenal as now proposed.*** I believe if we as a nation can refuse to deny our compliance with the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombing, we can better assume our responsibility to see that nuclear weapons will never be used again. Like my part in at least temporarily preventing a nuclear weapon development, the public in the 1980s successfully demanded a nuclear freeze that resulted in important nuclear disarmament and treaty formation. So we can do this again.
I know, I know, we aren’t looking to address yet another existential crisis right now. But neither can we deny the dire reality of the possibility of atomic warfare, especially given the president of the United States has unfettered, unilateral power to call for a nuclear strike without any consultation, and given the emotional instability of our president, this needs to be a major concern to be added to our prayer chain.
I’ve dug myself in a hole here in terms of trying to end with uplift. So I will need to go where I have been going for a number of weeks now, to remind us to hold on to intrinsic hope, hope not dependent on particular outcomes, but hope based on our sense of ultimate goodness and righteousness in each of our souls and in the Grand Mystery of all we cannot know about right and wrong.
And, as I have noted before, one of the most curious things about this most unsettled time, is that below (or above!?) the pandemic era there bubbles a revolution of values and practices that have the potential of radical, positive, (dare I say, loving) transformation beyond our current imagination. I am quite aware of this transformative reality as well, and I find it exhilarating, exciting, and, yes, intrinsically hopeful.
Blessings, dear friends,
*If interested in reading the Hersey novel it was reprinted in the August 24,1946 New Yorker. I read as much as I could this evening and found it as terrifying now as it did then. But it again reminded me of the horrors of nuclear war, and I think we need the reminder that we simply cannot deny the continuing threat it poses. https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/1946/08/31/hiroshima
**Hour long Pace e Bene program on the 75th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima, August 6, 2020: