On August 6 and August 9, 1945, America dropped an atomic bomb on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Both cities were destroyed, with an estimated 200,000 civilians killed either immediately or afterwards, leaving a lasting genetic imprint on those exposed to its residual radiation.
We meet here today to consider the memory of this tragic act of violence and in doing so we are for the first time accompanied by Japanese people who were survivors of this tragic event. In the words of Walter Benjamin:
"The true picture of the past flits by. The past can be seized only as an image which flashes up at the instant when it can be recognized and is never seen again...every image of the past that is not recognized by the present as one of its own concerns, threatens to disappear irretrievably."
56 years have passed since the events at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The dropping of atomic bombs on these cities has become a graphic example of how wars exact their own price long after the atrocities are committed. The seeds of this atomic destruction continue to live in our midst; having given birth to the nuclear age and an arms race bankrupting nations and poisoning the very environment in which we live. In our effort to beat this sword into a plowshare, we have spread radioactive contamination, exposed miners, workers and unsuspecting citizens to its radiation, and created radioactive wastes whose toxic legacy lives long after those of us standing here are gone.
As the presence of nuclear weapons remain on the face of the earth; as the operation of nuclear plants and the promotion of nuclear power continues in our midst; as the products and pollutants of an industrial revolution are woven into the fabric of our lives; as we face the global contamination of our environment, global warming, and the globalization of our economy; what message do we send to ourselves and the rest of the world when the United States of America proposes to gut the 1972 international Anti-Ballistic-Missile Treaty in order to construct a Star Wars nuclear missile defense system; promising to squander our national treasure on an ever expanding military industrial complex eager to supply a new arms race.
What message do we send when our country abandons the long proposed international treaty to ban weapons of biological germ warfare along with the Kyoto Treaty on global warming.
What message do we send when Congress is asked to Fast Track the Free Trade of the Americas Agreement, which like NAFTA reduces worker safety and environmental protections, as we watch industry after industry relocating to countries where workers are exploited and environmental protections are non-existent.
What message do we send with Congress's effort to renew the Price Anderson Act so the nuclear industry can tell us its reactors are safe, while limiting their liability from any accidents they may cause.
What message do we send with the US Department of Energy's decision to consider operating the Fast Flux Test Facility at Hanford after spending years of taking public testimony and preparing an environmental impact statement that concluded it should be permanently shut down.
And what message do we send with the US Department of Energy's effort to allow radioactively contaminated metals to be recycled into commercial products sold on the open market.
Albert Schweitzer said, "Man has lost the capacity to foresee and forestall. He will end by destroying the earth." Hopefully Albert Schweitzer is wrong but it will only be because we deliberately chose to apply the tools and techniques that are at our disposal, to forestall such an end. And what are these tools and techniques? For me they are symbolized by three profound examples which have helped to guide my life. One of these examples comes from the Dalai Lama who said that in order to have peace in the world we must first practice inner disarmament within. Another example comes from Mahatma Gandhi who said that "We must be the change we wish to see in the world." And the final example comes from the Catholic worker activist, Dorothy Day who said: "Our job is not to look for results, but to be faithful to the truth."
Each of these quotes is personified by a human being who has woven the meaning of their words into the substance of their life. The Dalai Lama asks us to focus within, for if we are to disarm the weapons of this world then we must disarm the violence we confront in our own hearts and minds. Mahatma Gandhi tells us that if your goal is to bring peace into the world, you must live by the peace that you would have this world become. Dorothy Day confronts the ultimate challenge, for if we are to be faithful to the truth, we must live by it regardless of the results.
In remembering Hiroshima, Nagasaki and all the other victims of the nuclear age, I believe we are challenged to promote peace on earth with compassion for all. In order to do this we must confront racism and promote social justice. We must protect the life support systems of this planet for which there can be no compromise. We must become shepherds and stewards of life, reaching deep within our hearts to chart a course of well being, not only our children's children's children, but for all other life forms as well. And finally we must never lose sight of love.
Many of you know I have spent most of my life working as an anti-nuclear activist. In that long journey in pursuit of accountability, I have witnessed what it means to live in a corporate democracy. It is unlike anything the founders of our country could have imagined. They would have asked us to choose between candidates, selecting someone who would serve the best interests of the people. From my perspective, and I suspect from yours as well, that best interest is not served by permanently arming the earth for war, plundering her resources, and exploiting other people on this planet. Yet the choices you and I are asked to make are for the most part limited and filtered by elections awash in big money. We are left to choose between those who attract the most money to participate in government. Elections are for the most part orchestrated acts of gross manipulation with commercialized candidates and a race to each new level of spending.
You might ask yourselves what does this have to do with a memorial service commemorating victims of the nuclear age. I submit to you just like the personal choices we must make in the pursuit of peace within ourselves, it has everything to do with it. Ask yourself this question: "In a democracy subservient to corporate interests, how can we overcome the influence on our government by the military industrial complex?"
When you examine this closely, you find our very sovereignty is on the line. We desperately need to enact election reform in Oregon and in the United States of America. We cannot wait for the ruling political parties to do what is right! We must take this matter into our own hands and in Oregon we are given that opportunity through our initiative powers as citizen legislators.
Gandhi said that one of the things that will destroy us is "politics without principles" and he also said "Democracy, disciplined and enlightened is the finest thing in the world." We will not survive if democracy is a merely a creature of big money and a playground for corporate manipulation? We must rise above and throw off the chains of this economic oppression. As Ralph Nader so eloquently points out, all religions have warned us of the price we pay when the course of our lives is dictated solely by pursuit of money and greed. With our initiative for campaign finance reform we seek to
I ask you forgiveness if you believe I have strayed from my purpose in being here. I would like to think that if all those victims of the nuclear age had a chance to be here as well, they too would have sought to preserve what is best in ourselves and in our government.