Left Justified: Bombs away (and I do mean take them away)

Whenever Rockford Peace & Justice Action Committee hosts their annual commemoration of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, we always get a few world war II vets that say, “The Japs had it coming.”

They wave the bloody shirt of Pearl Harbor as justification for disintegrating more than 300,000 civilians and wiping two cities off the map (at least for a few months—both cities are now prospering and wish to put WW II behind them).

As a peace activist, I wish we’d never gotten into any war, and yet, as a veteran of the Vietnam War, I imagine the joy many soldiers felt when Japan finally surrendered and the war ended. It ended when two atomic bombs were dropped on two Japanese cities, and the Japanese government realized they could not stop the American onslaught.

The bombings’ 62nd anniversary is Monday, Aug. 6, and Rockford Peace & Justice Actions Committee will commemorate it at a free and open-to-the-public program. The event will be held at the JustGoods Meeting Room, 201 Seventh St., starting at 7 p.m.

As the Japanese peace movement proclaims: “this day is a shared lamentation for 300,000 souls of A-bomb victims and those who remain behind. We inherit the commitment to abolish nuclear weapons and bring about genuine world peace. This new commitment, building on the desires of all war victims, creates a harmony that is enveloping our planet. The keynote of this harmony is the hibakusha (those who suffered from the effects of atomic radiation) who warn, ‘No one else should ever suffer as we did.’”

Here in Rockford, we will commemorate the day with music, poems and prayers for no more war. There will also be time set aside to remember peace activist and local environmentalist Betty Johnson. A free-will offering will be taken in memory of Betty. Plans are to expand the peace programs, but if enough funds are received, we’ll try to find a small piece of prairie to preserve in her memory.

Betty Johnson traveled to Hiroshima in the early 1980s, visiting many peace organizations, and returning with ceremonial lanterns used by residents of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Through her church, Ms. Johnson organized the youth to construct lanterns that were then used in local commemorations. As Betty once said: “They commemorate the bombings not to foster vengeance, but to pray that it never happens to anyone else in the world.”

Other co-sponsors of the commemoration are Rockford Urban Ministries and the Social Justice Committee of the Unitarian Universalist Church. Musician David Stocker will share his special talents, and you are welcome.

When I visited Hiroshima in the late 1980s, I was amazed to find charred remnants of roof tiles strewn over the landscape. I was in the older section of the Peace Park, amid the trees and statuary sent by peace movements from around the world. I looked down on the ground and saw, in areas exposed by running water, the rubble from the atomic bombing. Mostly broken pottery and pieces that were once tiles on the roofs, I picked some up and brought them home.

I’ll display those found mementos from Hiroshima, as well as books, letters and hopes for peace from a country that was once our enemy, but is now our friend. Let’s bury the vestiges of war and call on all countries to renounce the manufacture and use of nuclear weapons, starting with our own government.

Stanley Campbell is executive director of Rockford Urban Ministries and spokesman for Rockford Peace & Justice.

from the Aug 1-7, 2007, issue

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