Linda Richards’ speech at the Hiroshima-Nagasaki commemoration

Hiroshima Day, August 6, 2016 at Riverfront Park, Corvallis


I am so grateful to the organizers and all of you for allowing me to share this space with you.  

As a historian of science at Oregon State I research the intersection between human rights, radiation exposure and nuclear history, but my life’s goal is to see global nuclear disarmament before I die. I hope all of you here will help me, because sometimes it seems we are moving farther and farther away from what we need to do to get there.

But I know in my heart it is what we must do to survive climate change and create a world we all want to live in, where resources are used for human needs and sustainability, not preparing for war and destroying the planet in the process.

Unbeknownst to many Americans we are standing at the precipice of a $1 trillion dollar modernizing plan for nuclear weapons with new air, sea and land delivery systems. We are in a new nuclear arms race and these weapons are still on hair trigger alert.  It is important to inform each other as this news is not being well televised. This year the leadership of Senators Wyden and Merkley to cut some of this nuclear weapons budget might make a real difference, and I want to encourage all of you here to write letters to the editor and to them and to do what you can to support disarmament.

Another thing many Americans are not aware of is the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear weapons based on their catastrophic humanitarian threat. A new nuclear weapons ban has international momentum. When I saw the ban introduced to the NonProliferation Treaty Prep Com in 2012 in Vienna there were only a handful of countries that endorsed it. Now there are over 127 countries and 440 non-governmental organizations working at the UN to ban nuclear weapons.

The need for the ban is due to the lack of progress by nuclear weapons states to reduce their arsenals to absolute zero, as previously agreed in the Nonproliferation Treaty of 1968. To learn more about what you do to support a nuclear weapons ban see the website and sign up for their newsletter.

Learning more and sharing peace literacy and nonviolence is imperative to create a more just world. This year at OSU there will be a year of peace literacy events including Paul Chappell, a veteran who teaches ways to wage peace, who will be speaking on campus November 16.

We all must learn more, and we must help our neighbors and politicians see as clearly as Martin Luther King Jr. Dr. King saw a continuum of violence, as he explained in his Nobel Peace Prize lecture of 1964. For him, nuclear weapons were intimately connected to injustice and poverty. Resources going to nuclear weapons and war creates poverty and injustice, compounded by deficits in education and peace literacy as resources are diverted from what humans need to thrive.

And then there is the question of leadership. What does it mean to lead with nuclear arms?  

Vice President Jo Biden implored this summer that it is time for “profound introspection and dialogue” about violence in America in the wake of the Orlando shootings, disproportionate police killings of African Americans and the murders of Dallas police officers. Where does our countries own leadership with nuclear weapons fit in the conversation about violence? What does it mean when the country that you love can destroy the world, several times over?

Two weeks ago I visited one of our three new National Parks, the Hanford B-Reactor. In 2014 the US created the Manhattan Project National Historic Park. The park is composed of the B-Reactor and two additional sites so far, Los Alamos, New Mexico, and Oak Ridge Tennessee. The B-Reactor is about five hours northeast of us, near Richland Washington.

The B-Reactor created the plutonium used for the Nagasaki bomb.

Because of creating plutonium, Hanford is one of the most contaminated places in the world, with a 150 billion dollar intergenerational cleanup effort.  I call it a nukescape. I cannot possibly list all of the human rights violations that have been involved with nuclear weapons, extending from the bombings to the uranium miners, atomic soldiers, human radiation experiments and those contaminated and neglected by the nonsensical quest for nuclear security, but I mourn for all these wrongs done in my name here today.

My precious friend Hideko Tamura Snider on this day seventy-one years ago lost her mother, her best friend, her best friend’s mother, her cousin Hideyuki, other relatives and the entire city she knew and loved. Hideko is one of only 120 surviving American Hiroshima victims. She is in despair over these new Manhattan Project parks.  

She wonders what this enshrinement of the places that created the bombs used to destroy Hiroshima and Nagasaki means about our country. It seems we have an obsession with erasing our own nation’s history of violence from the many genocides of indigenous people as I stand and speak on Kalapuya land to genocidal weapons. We must without distortion face history to repair our relationships with each other and the earth.  

Hideko spoke here at OSU this past fall. She gave an amazing message of resilience. In so many words, she explained she had survived an atomic bomb, losing her loved ones and her whole world. Dig deep within yourselves, she said, not only can we work together to ban nuclear weapons, but we can survive the things that seem like we cannot survive them. She will be sharing her survivor story on Tuesday evening in Portland on Nagasaki day at Waterfront Park.  

Tonight I am very honored to share with you her poem One Sunny Day, but before I do I want to set the stage. The night before the Hiroshima bombing, Hideko had just returned from the country.  She was only ten years old. During the war many Japanese children were sent out of the cities away from their families to rural areas to be safer during the war. She was so happy to be back at home the morning of August 6.

OSD poem 1


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