Monday, August 10, 2009

"Never Again!"

This was a good day. I am pictured here walking through Little Tokyo with my new friend Dr. Simon Simonian, who just recently started attending Santa Monica Friends Meeting. We are carrying umbrellas to ward off nuclear fallout and bombs (about which I will say more later).

Simon discovered Quakerism in 1943 when his family moved from Armenia to Lebanon. Survivors of the genocide, Simon's family enrolled him in a Quaker school in Beirut and he became a lifelong Friend. Along with pursuing a distinguished career as a physician/epidemiologist, Simon has also been a committed peace activist for nearly fifty years. In the late 50's he took part in demonstrations in England calling for an end to above-ground nuclear testing. This resulted in the first nuclear test ban treaty

On Sunday, Simon and I commemorated the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki by taking part in a vigil at the Higashi Hongangi Buddhist Temple in downtown LA. Around 120 people showed up at this beautiful, ornate Buddhist shrine where the Rev. Nobuko Myoshi greeted us and shared a Buddhist perspective on war.

"In war there is not bad and good, right or wrong," she explained. "There is only right. Everyone thinks they are right and the other side is wrong. That is the problem.

She went on to call for forgiveness and compassion as an antidote to war.

We also heard reflections from two other Japanese Americans: Chuiji Yamada, a young student from St Andrews University, and Dr. Jimmy Hara, who represented Physicians for Social Responsibility and serves as the program director for the LA Schweitzer Fellows Program. Dr Hara was born in an internment camp.

After this time of reflection, we walked quietly through Little Tokyo to City Hall, passing out leaflets to passersby. Pictured here is Philip Freeman, Ann, and Allen White (a Quaker from Orange County) holding a banner for the World March for Peace.

At City Hall, we heard speeches by Steve Rhode (president of Interfaith Communities United for Justice and Peace), Rabbi Freehling (LA County Human Relations Committee), Marcy Winograd (Activist and Congressional candidate), Dr. Reza Aslan (Muslim author and scholar), and Arin Ghost (UNA Pacific Chapter Youth Chair and Outreach Coordinator for Citizens for Global Solutions).

The speeches were excellent and the audience receptive. Some were the usual suspects who showed up faithfully at these events. Some were students and first timers. It occur ed to me that even if we didn't have huge crowds, we didn't need them as much as we did in the 1980s when we had a president in office (namely Reagan) who was a hawk. Our current president wants a nuclear free world as much as we do; we need to pressure him to do what he has promised.

Our speakers reminded us that organized groups like ours have more power over politicians than we may think. The Nuclear Freeze movement of the 1980s pushed Reagan and Gorbachev into signing a treaty that reduced the world's nuclear weapons by one half.

But half-way measure are not enough. Nuclear technology has become so accessible, Reza Aslan reminded us, that any Ph. D. student in physics could build a bomb. The nuclear non-proliferation treaty needs to be scrapped in favor of a total nuclear disarmament treaty, he claimed. "It's either no nation has a nuclear weapon, or all nations will have them."

All the speakers urged us to put pressure on our elected officials. "We have a president in the White House who says that he wants a nuclear free world," said Rohde, "but it is we who must hold him accountable to keep his promise. We must speak truth to power no matter who is in the White House." Rohde also reminded us that we need to make sure that those who authorized torture such as water boarding should also be held accountable for their criminal actions.

When Dr. Hara of Physicians for Social Responsibility spoke, I was reminded that I went with this group to the nuclear test site in Kazahkstan in the early 1990s. We were involved in an international effort calling for an end to nuclear weapons.

Marcy Winograd told us that when she was a high school teacher, she created a display showing the effects of the bomb on children and young people. "Many high school students were apathetic about the atomic bomb and even thought it was a good idea," she said, "until they saw these photos."

The final speaker was Arin Ghosh, a freshman at UC Riverside, who is an amazingly dedicated peace activist. This summer he went to Taiwan to take part in a conference sponsored by Citizens for Global Solutions. He spent the past week in New York City where he took part in a UN panel focusing on interfaith concerns. A member of the Vedanta Society, Arin represented the Hindu faith.

A devoted follower of Gandhi, Arin spoke with eloquence and passion about the need to abolish nuclear weapons.

He compared nuclear weapons to an addiction, like cigarette smoking. "It isn't enough just to have a patch and chewing gum," he said. "You have to address the causes of addiction and change attitudes."

Everyone was very impressed with Arin's speech and I am glad we had such a powerful spokesperson for the up and coming generation. We left this vigil hopeful for the future, knowing that we can pass the torch into such capable hands.

Arin is pictured below with Marcy Winograd and is pictured above with Dr. Hara (holding a poster that Arin brought from the UN).

Arin was one of the youth speakers at our Pre-Parliament of the World's Religions event in April. After this vigil, I had a chance to hand out flyers about our upcoming Gandhi event at USC, sponsored by the Southern California Committee for a Parliament of the World's Religions ( The young people I met were very interested and one exclaimed: "I'm going to Australia!"

I ended my day by going as Simon's guest to a performance of the Jewish symphony at the Ford Theater. There we heard a wonderful selection of Eastern European Jewish music called "L'Haim."

Thank you for this day, O Lord, this healing day! And thank you for all the marvelous peace people that I encountered today!

Text of talk by Arin Ghosh:
It was 64 years ago on those two perilous days in August of 1945 that within an instant, the dreams and aspirations of generations of people would vaporize at the sight of a bright flash. In a blink, over 100,000 would perish from the map. Their houses devastated and burning, they had lost everything, everything but the fact that their faces, names and souls would live on forever. Everything but the fact that their identities would be immortalized in that instant and etched into the minds of those in the world who lived past those two fateful days of August. Everything would change from that moment forth.

A world that was so often tainted by wars in its history would now have to live for the next half century onwards in a near state of annihilation. A constant fear existed during the days of Mutually Assured Destruction.

Those days have not ended. Today the fear quotient that was once occupied with language like ICBMs and Nuclear Submarines has been seconded to language like terrorism. If terrorism is the forefront issue even then the nuclear equitation does not lag behind. Can we imagine the damage a rouge nuclear weapon could do to a nation? The Equation right now is a simple one: Terrorism + Nuclear Weapons = Disaster, just like 1 + 1 = 2. But what happens when we erase one of the parts of the equation, what if we take away the nuclear weapons aspect, what if we take one of the variables out. The answer is clear; the prospective potency of these terrorists becomes drastically reduced. Terrorism is a scourge but we have the chance to disarm the terrorist’s most potent threat and weapon if we disarm nuclear weapons that can fall into their evil hands. In disarming we can take care of at least one part of humanity’s oldest foe, fear itself.

We must be wise about how it is that we go about disarming nuclear arsenals worldwide. In order to disarm one key tenant must be realized: Nuclear Weapons are an addiction like cigarettes. Nuclear Weapons powers seek to employ as many nuclear weapons as they can much like a chain smoker will seek more and more cigarettes. Now we must apply the same principles that end cigarette addiction to Nuclear Disarmament.

But principles are just words their implementation is key. For smoking, in principle if chewing some gum and only that could cure smoking, smoking would be much reduced today. Similarly, in principle for the nuclear issue treaties seek to reduce the number, potency, mobility, and range of Nuclear Weapons, if words would solve our problems well then life would be a lot easier.
What takes us from principles to practicality is a vested interest and a will coupled with actions. The United States has made a concerted effort and this administration thus far must be lauded for their efforts to create, in the long run and in ideal, a nuclear free world. President Obama’s continual will to “strengthen” the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty while also seeking to “aggressively” pursue the Senate to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty are signs of commitment, but now we have to start seeing the results, we need to see those laws passed and we need to see in the end the bottom line, to see those nuclear weapons being disarmed and out of the hands of our prospective enemies and terrorists.

Now, I’m going tell you right now, I may talk a lot about cigarettes, but I don’t smoke and I don’t like them. So now let me allude to a scenario, of course with cigarettes, to illustrate an obstacle with Nuclear Disarmament. Picture yourself trying to get your friend to stop smoking, you can give them the gum, the patches and what not, the instructions, motivation, and they can say they’re taking the gum to you. But in the end only verification, proof of you seeing that they’re not buying that pack of cigarettes that they normally would have or you not having to hear that smoke alarm go off any more, you hearing and seeing proof that they have in fact given up smoking, only then can you say their final cigarette has been burnt and stomped out. The same is with nuclear weapons. We can make the treaties and work with each country to put them on the railroad tracks to disarmament but we can only be sure the job is done when we see those ICBM’s being scrapped, when we see a nuclear countries nuclear defense budget shrink, when we hear of nuclear bomber bases closures; we must see, hear, and live around the changing conditions of nuclear weapons from active, to scrapped, and we as civil society, as the people, the real grassroots must not be made 2nd tier proponents but must be the most powerful voice because in the end government is meant to serve us, the people, and the people are making it more and more clear and are saying “ No to Nuclear Weapons !”

That’s why I’m proud to represent a group that has tens and tens of thousands of grassroots supporters nationwide promoting a nuclear free world. Citizens for Global Solutions is playing its role, as small as it may seem, in the capital to expedite a world in which the 24 X 7 Nuclear Alert that is today’s fear can be escaped from once and for all. Just this month thousands of our members are part taking in a Virtual Vigil called to commemorate Hiroshima and Nagasaki by submitting photos of themselves with a lit candle in observance of the loss of physical life of those in these two cities. There is more then meets the eye to this Virtual Vigil. While the candle may remember those lost, perhaps there is another side to the flame we do not see. Perhaps it is the candles that, each time lit, not only honor and remember but also illuminate the soul and life of someone lost on those two days in early August 1945. To attach a face to that neighbor of humanity we lost that day, or to attach a face to that best friend we never met and that we lost in an instant.

It was President Kennedy that once said “The Chinese use two brush strokes to write the word ‘crisis.’ One brush stroke stands for danger; the other for opportunity. The danger of a nuclear holocaust is an ever looming and growing threat, more recently North Korea amongst other states indicate an ever emergent danger should it continue nuclear deployment, but there is an opportunity in all of this.

My fellow Americans, my fellow citizens of the world, we have the opportunity
between the confines of our very two hands to begin our quest a new to rid our world of these weapons of armageddon. When Oppenheimer first saw the mushroom cloud explosion of the nuclear bomb at Los Alamos he exclaimed a phrase from the Bhagvad Gita, “Now I am become death, destroyer of both worlds”; the world cannot afford to hear this quote again for that bright flash that took the souls away from Nagasaki and Hiroshima still looms around us, like a ghost stalking us in the wind. But this time, let us say no together to this Ghost, Let us be united in our fight against nuclear weapons, knowing as President Kennedy said, that “here on earth God’s work must truly be our own.”

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