75 years after Hiroshima and Nagasaki: Peace Cranes Events Review

You-Ri Yamanaka in The Mistake

The Mistake, The Priest’s Tale, The Doctor’s Tale

Review by Annie Mae Milburn

This month marks 75 years since the US dropped two atomic bombs on Japan on the 6th and 9th of August 1945. To mark the respective anniversaries of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, two recent plays by Michael Mears have beautifully brought to life survivor accounts from each city, exploring the real depth of human suffering caused by the bombings. Recorded at Sands Films studio in London, the plays are now available to view online for free with the option to give a donation to support the performers, venue and the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament.

Performed on August 6th, The Priest’s Tale explores the story of a German Jesuit priest living in Hiroshima and his experience of the bombing and its subsequent repercussions. An adaptation of one of the survivor accounts in John Hersey’s book Hiroshima, Michael Mears gives an excellent and heartfelt portrayal of Father Wilhelm, accompanied with live violin music by Chihiro Ono.

Following this on August 9th was a production of The Doctor’s Tale, adapted from the book Nagasaki 1945 by Tatsuichiro Akizuki. Performed by Leo Ashizawa with support from Michael Mears and again music from Chihiro Ono, the play follows Akizuki’s experience working in a small hospital when the bomb hit Nagasaki and trying to carry out his duty of care during the aftermath with a small team and extremely limited supplies. 

The simple staging of these two plays emphasizes the narrative itself, allowing the audience to truly focus on the characters at hand and engage with the weight of their trauma. Chihiro Ono’s violin interludes add a beautiful musical backdrop, interspersing the story and periodically allowing the viewer a moment of melancholy pause to sit with and digest the complexity and struggle of the narrative. Mears succeeds in bringing to life the experience of everyday citizens in the face of such unimaginable horror, forcing us to reckon with the awful human cost of the bombings.

Alongside the unspeakable tragedy that forms the basis of both performances, however, is a hopeful note in how the characters and their communities organise themselves after the bomb hits to try and help in any way that they can. Dealing not only with the immediate aftermath of the bombings but also Japan’s subsequent surrender, ending the war, and the burgeoning mystery of radiation sickness, the performances are effective at conveying the full gravity of the attacks and their enduring consequences. 

As part of the Edinburgh Peace & Justice Centre’s Peace Cranes project, The Mistake is a new play chronicling several people – ‘the survivor, the scientist and the soldier’ – and their experience with the bombing of Hiroshima. Directed by Jatinda Vermer and performed by Michael Mears and You-Ri Yamanaka, the play uses testimonies and eye witness accounts to entwine the stories of these three characters and their different roles in the tragedy. 

Unfortunately delayed due to COVID-19, The Mistake is now planned to open in August 2021 at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. However, on August 22nd as part of Just Festival’s 2020 programme, an online event provided a sneak preview of the play through a video collage of rehearsal film and images. The video was followed by a post-show Q&A session featuring Michael Mears, You-Ri Yamanaka and Peace Cranes exhibition curator Iliyana Nedkova. Watch the entire event on the Just Festival YouTube channel here. 

Moving away from the single survivor story format of The Priest’s Tale and The Doctor’s Tale, The Mistake embraces multiple character perspectives to give a broader flavour of the different experiences and political undertones surrounding the terrible events in Hiroshima. 

The video montage provided an introduction to each of the characters: Shigeko Nomura, a Japanese woman living in Hiroshima during the war, Leo Szilard, a physicist integral to the discovery of nuclear chain reaction and the subsequent commencement of the Manhattan Project, and the American pilot tasked with dropping the bomb, Paul Tibbets. 

The addition of the Q&A session allowed Mears to go into detail about his thought processes and research behind the script, setting up an excellent background for the play. Some may be unfamiliar with less well-known actors involved in the making and deployment of the bomb, such as Leo Szilard, so the event also provided a deeper discussion of the historical context surrounding Hiroshima. 

Whilst Mears himself has not visited Hiroshima, Yamanaka discussed her first trip to the city earlier this year and how it affected her. She provided poignant insight by describing her thoughts as she disembarked the train and walked around the city, marveling at the extent of what has been rebuilt in only 75 years. 

The session ends on a thoughtful note as Nedkova queries how contemporary art and theatre might be able to contribute to uncovering more about the cultural legacy of Hiroshima and the bombing. This prompts a thoughtful discussion about the relative merits of theatre versus television and film, and whether or not reaching as many people as possible is really the ultimate true measure of success. 

As the future of in-person theatre remains somewhat uncertain for the time being, these three events have creatively shown how projects can adapt and evolve with the help of technology. Here’s hoping that The Mistake will be able to reach its intended audiences at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and beyond next year. 

Click here to Watch The Priest’s Tale on Vimeo. 

Click here to watch The Doctor’s Tale on Vimeo, anytime.

Click here to watch The Mistake event on Just Festival’s YouTube channel.

Annie Mae Milburn is a graduate on a work placement with the P&J and is currently Editor of Peace & Justice News.





Share Button

Hearing First Hand From A Hiroshima Survivor

“They still wonder why they lived when so many others died. Each of them counts many small items of chance or volition—a step taken in time, a decision to go indoors, catching one streetcar instead of the next that spared him. And now each knows that in the act of survival he lived a dozen lives and saw more death than he ever thought he would see. At the time, none of them knew anything.”  – from Hiroshima by John Hersey

John Hersey’s vivid account of six Hiroshima survivors in the immediate aftermath of the blast was, for many, a window into the humanitarian cost of the end of the war. Having read Hersey’s account along with countless other scientific reports, political analyses and survivor reports, I naively thought myself numbed to the horrors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Recently at the Youth Peace Academy in Glasgow, I had the honour of hearing Mr Masashi Ieshima, a Hiroshima Hibakusha (survivor), share his experience. Mr Masashi was only three years old at the time of the bombing and yet has fragmented memories of the aftermath. He described how his family managed to escape but many of their loved ones did not. For survivors, the ramifications of Hiroshima would haunt them throughout their lives.  All the academic books in the world could not have prepared me for hearing about the suffering and horrors first hand from a survivor – it was a truly moving experience.

Mr Masashi is the Vice-chairman if the Tokyo Federation of A-bomb Sufferer’s Organisations. Despite now being in his seventies and having recently been diagnosed with what he believes is radiation-related cancer Mr Masashi continues to travel all over the world to share his story and campaign for a nuclear-free future. After sharing his story, he urged those attending to continue the struggle to outlaw nuclear weapons through peaceful means. Mr Masashi’s story and dedication to the cause has inspired me to evaluate my own contribution and ask what more I can do to bring the world a step closer to a nuclear-free future. It is a question which we all must ask ourselves and even the smallest contribution can help to make sure we never see another Hiroshima or Nagasaki.

Niamh McGurk is a student at the University of St Andrews and a summer intern at the Edinburgh Peace & Justice Centre where she is promoting the 140,000 Origami Cranes project to raise awareness of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (the Ban Treaty). Edinburgh Peace & Justice Centre is one of 468 partner organisations that collectively make up the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) who were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2017 for our work to promote the Ban Treaty. 

http://peaceandjustice.org.uk/peace-organisations/origami-cranes-project/

Share Button

Peace & Justice Joins Call on Boris Johnson to Ban Nuclear Weapons

We’ve joined with 29 other civil society organisations in a letter to Boris Johnson calling on the UK to Sign the nuclear ban treaty. If chemical weapons are banned so must nuclear weapons be. The possession and use of nuclear weapons, like chemical weapons, will be explicitly banned under international law. Thus far the UK, the US and other states that possess nuclear weapons, are  actively opposing the process to ban nuclear weapons.  

The letter has been delivered to the Foreign Secretary In advance of the Non-Proliferation Treaty Preparatory Committee which meets in Geneva from April 23rd, challenging the government to take its disarmament responsibilities seriously and in particular to participate in the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW). Fifty eight countries have now signed the treaty. When it is ratified by 50 countries the Ban Treaty will be the law.

The full text of the letter (with signatories) is below.

The Rt Hon. Boris Johnson MP

 

Dear Secretary of State,

We are writing to urge the UK to use the imminent Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Preparatory Committee meeting to recognise and act upon the UK’s international obligation to work for a world free of nuclear weapons.

As you will be aware, disarmament is a fundamental pillar of the NPT regime. However, the widespread feeling that the NPT’s Nuclear Weapons States (NWS) are neglecting their disarmament obligations recently led the UN’s High Representative for Disarmament Affairs to link the lack of visible progress on disarmament to the declining health of the NPT regime. Izumi Nakamitsu stated in a recent meeting at Parliament that only demonstrable progress towards nuclear weapons states’ implementing their obligation under Article 6 to negotiate in good faith towards disarmament can “ensure the long-term viability of the Treaty.”1

Little progress has been demonstrated to the international community on the steps towards disarmament agreed in the NPT’s 2000 and 2010 Action Plans. At the same time, the NWS have been taking steps to modernise their arsenals – tolerating the risks of global devastation through accident, mistake or cyber-attack – with Russia and the US also adopting more aggressive nuclear postures. For example, both states have rejected ICBM de-alerting, and have placed emphasis on ‘lower yield’ nuclear weaponsand their ‘usability’ in recent policy announcements. These represent not only a dangerous development but also a set of policies that are clearly opposed to NPT commitments. We were therefore deeply disappointed to see the UK government “welcome” the recent US Nuclear Posture Review,and we ask what steps the government will take to ensure that our close ally steps back from policies that will undermine the NPT regime.

There is clearly an urgent need for states to build common ground on disarmament. Steps should be taken by the UK to build bridges with Non-Nuclear Weapons States (NNWS), which must include signalling unmistakable progress towards the UK’s obligation to disarm. They must also include acceptance of, and engagement with, the new realities in the international non-proliferation and disarmament architecture.

As a country whose National Security Strategy and Strategic Defence and Security Review links the UK’s future security and prosperity to the health of the rules-based international system, the UK needs to ensure it acts to strengthen, not undermine, this system. Irrespective of the UK’s position, the rules-based international system now unquestionably includes the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW). In that context we would point out that the TPNW, as is made clear in its Preamble, is firmly anchored within international humanitarian law. Consequently, the UK should announce its intention to start constructively engaging with the TPNW, including through a commitment to attend future Meetings of States Parties as an observer.

Such a participatory policy could minimise misconceptions about the TPNW and the continued importance of the NPT to states. Many UK allies will now be pursuing additional and mutually reinforcing work under the TPNW, towards common goals on non-proliferation and disarmament that are described within the NPT and other treaties.

Participation would also provide an opportunity for the UK to contribute towards these goals by offering expertise to discussions and processes on subjects such as verification, and measures to assist individuals and remediate environments affected by nuclear weapons – given our history of nuclear testing, which continues to carry a legacy of harm.

Such an approach would send an important signal to NNWS that the UK is taking seriously their legitimate concerns about the catastrophic humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons and the urgent need for disarmament, which led to the negotiation of the TPNW. Within the UK, the Scottish Government and Parliament share the views of the UN member states that adopted the TPNW. The Scottish Government and Parliament’s constructive participation in the UK’s engagement with these allies should be welcomed by the UK Government.

An additional opportunity to cooperate with states on efforts to bring about nuclear disarmament, the UN High Level International Conference on Nuclear Disarmament, takes place in May 2018. We urge the UK to attend this meeting at ministerial level or above and to use the opportunity to develop relations with NNWS and make progress on the UK’s disarmament obligations.

If the UK is to live up to its aspirations of a Global Britain, the UK cannot cherry-pick those forums for multilateralism that the government is most comfortable dealing with and ignore others. By adopting a policy of engagement and supporting the system as a whole, the UK can strengthen international cooperation at a time when the risks posed by nuclear weapons are considerable and arguably growing. We urge the UK to take all opportunities to work constructively towards the common goal of a world without nuclear weapons.

Yours sincerely,

Philip Austin, Coordinator, Northern Friends Peace Board

Chris Butler, Yorkshire Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament

Francis Brienen, Deputy General Secretary (Mission), United Reformed Church

Arthur Chapman, Chair, and Brian Larkin, Coordinator Edinburgh Peace & Justice Centre

Tim Devereux, Chair, Movement for the Abolition of War

Ben Donaldson, Head of Campaigns, United Nations Association – UK

Dr Gari Donn, Convenor, UNA Scotland and Executive Director, UN House Scotland

Janet Fenton, Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom – Scotland

Pat Gaffney, General Secretary, Pax Christi UK

Cllr Ernie Galsworthy, Chair and Cllr David Blackburn, English Forum Chair, Nuclear Free Local Authorities, UK and Ireland

Robert Harrap, General Director, Soka Gakkai International – UK

Dr Stephen Herman, Director, Multifaith Committee on Shared Security, Religions for Peace (UK) Andy Hinton, Aberdeen and District Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament

Steve Hucklesby, Policy Adviser (International Affairs), The Methodist Church

Dr Rebecca E. Johnson, Executive Director, Acronym Institute for Disarmament Diplomacy

Brian Jones, Vice Chair, Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament Cymru

Bill Kidd MSP, Convenor, Scottish Parliament CPG Nuclear Disarmament

Gina Langton, 80,000 Voices

Fiona MacGregor, Hastings Against War

David Mackenzie, Trident Ploughshares in Scotland

Dr Judith McDonald, Coordinator, Medact Scotland

Anne Milne, Edinburgh Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament

Elizabeth Minor, Advisor, Article 36

Dr Sophie Neuburg, Executive Director, Medact

Paul Parker, Recording Clerk of Quakers in Britain

Oliver Robertson, Fellowship of Reconciliation

Paula Shaw, Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, UK

Martin Tiller, Co-Chair, Christian Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament

Dave Webb, Chair, Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament

Dr Philip Webber, Scientists for Global Responsibility

Arthur West, Scottish Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament

1 UNA UK, ‘UN disarmament chief urges states to build common ground on nuclear disarmament,’ 5 February 2018https://www.una.org.uk/news/un-disarmament-chief-urges-states-build-common-ground-nuclear-disarmament?page=3

2 These weapons are in fact similar in size to those used in Hiroshima and Nagasaki

3 USA: Nuclear Weapons: Written question – HL6250, https://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-question/Lords/2018-03-12/HL6250

Share Button

John Dear to speak at P&J AGM on Nonviolent Resistance in the Age of Trump

The Peace & Justice Centre is delighted to announce that John Dear will be our special guest speaker for our AGM on 13 July.

Long time activist, and movement organizer Fr. John Dear is the author of 35 books, including “Living Peace,” and “The Nonviolent Life.” He has been arrested more than 75 times. John was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by Desmond Tutu and is Outreach Coordinator of Campaign Nonviolence which coordinates hundreds of actions for peace and the environment each year.

A Catholic priest, he has served as the director of the Fellowship of Reconciliation, the largest interfaith peace organization in the United States, and after September 11, 2001, as one of the Red Cross coordinators of chaplains at the Family Assistance Center in New York City, and counseled thousands of relatives and rescue workers. He has worked in homeless shelters and soup kitchens, traveled in warzones and been arrested over 75 times in acts of civil disobedience against war, including for a disarmament action – known as a Plowshares action.

John writes: “On Dec. 7, 1993, my friends Philip Berrigan, Lynn Fredriksson, Bruce Friedrich and I walked onto the Seymour Johnson Air Force Base in Goldsboro, N.C. at 4am, passed through thousands of soldiers in the middle of full-scale national war games, came upon an F-15E nuclear capable fighter bomber and hammered upon it to fulfill Isaiah’s Advent prophecy that someday, “they shall beat their swords into plowshares and study war no more.” John served nine months in prison with the renowned Catholic peace and disarmament activist Philip Berrigan for that action and was a very close friend of Jesuit Father Daniel Berrigan.

John was a Jesuit priest for decades but was dismissed from the order for, according to the order, being “obstinately disobedient”.

In 2016 John took part in a Vatican conference called “Nonviolence and Just Peace: Contributing to the Catholic Understanding of and Commitment to Nonviolence” that included 80 participants from around the world who represented broad experiences in peacebuilding and active nonviolence in the face of violence and war.

The participants called on Pope Francis to consider writing an encyclical letter, or some other “major teaching document,” reorienting the church’s teachings on violence. This led to the MESSAGE OF POPE
FRANCIS 
for the 50th World Day of Peace 
1 January 2017: Nonviolence: a Style of Politics for Peace. 

Marie Denis, Co-President of Pax Christi International said Pope Francis makes “very clear” that active non-violence is not mere passivity or withdrawing from engagement in a very violent world. Rather, she says, It is a way of life and a spirituality, but also “a powerful set of tools to help us respond” to threats of extreme violence and danger. She says the Pope takes an important step in the direction of non-violence as a message for the Catholic community worldwide, showing that our way of engaging the world has to reflect the life and teachings of Jesus.

6pm. Informal gathering with light meal at the Peace and Justice Centre – an opportunity for networking and fellowship.

6:45pm John Dear’s talk at the Quaker Meeting House, 7 Victoria Terrace.

8:30pm. P&J AGM.

Please register to our Facebook or Eventbrite event and share to spread the word!

 

John will be co-leading a Reclaiming Gospel Nonviolence Conference 14—16 July 2017 at St. Mary’s Monastery, Kinnoull, Perth, PH2 7BP. For more info on the conference see HERE. 

Share Button

Hiroshima Survivors Visit Peace and Justice Centre

On 29 March Yamada Reiko, Vice Chair and Yamada Midori of Tokyo Federation of A-Bomb Sufferers visited the Peace and Justice Centre and shared their stories of surviving the bombing of Hiroshima. We presented each of them with a tartan origami crane and told them about our 140,000 Origami Cranes project which aims to make that number of cranes to visualise and remember the people who were killed by the Hiroshima bomb in 1945 alone.

Hibakuxha visit p&JThey told us their stories, bringing to us a much deeper understanding of the suffering caused by the use of nuclear weapons. Their witness affected us profoundly so that we were re-inspired to our commitment to continue to raise awareness and to campaign for these terrible weapons to be forever banned.

Reiko was herself 11 years of age and in the yard of her school in Hiroshima when the bomb was dropped on 6th of August 1945. Her account of the day and the aftermath of were deeply moving. She told of how every family in her neighbourhood had victims of the bomb. “A good friend of mine was waiting for their mother to return home, when a moving black lump crawled into the house; they first thought it was a big black dog but soon realized it was their mother. She collapsed and died, leaving her 5 children behind…. From the third day dead bodies were brought to the playground of my school. They were cremated one after another. The town was filled with black smoke and the smell of burning bodies…. We planted sweet potato seeds in the schoolyard. On the day of harvest, as we cut the ground, human bones came out with potatoes and we screamed to see them. They were served for lunch but we could not eat them.”

Yamada Midori is a second generation Hibakusha, born in 1949, after the bombing.

She suffered breast cancer at age 34. Her father was mayor of her small town and went everyday for a week to find missing people and was exposed to radiation. She shared with us a copy of her beautiful and sad book telling the story of her brother Jiro-chan who was 13 years old at the time of the bombing. He was in middle school in Hiroshima and on 6 August he and his classmates were mobilized to work on house demolition, making firebreaks on a street very close to ground zero. When the bomb fell he was trapped under the fallen building but crawled out. Just then the debris burst into flames and all his classmates were consumed by the flames and died. After that Jiro-chan did not speak of that day until, after the Fukushima nuclear plant disaster. Before Japan was the victim of the US bomb, this time Japan was responsible. Then, aged 80 he began to speak saying “As one who experience the tragedy I should have informed many people of the atrocity of the atomic bombings. It should be my mission as a survivor…the way to remember and console the souls of my friends who perished.” Midori’s little gem of a book, made for children, says “He opened his heart and now he talks as if he offers prayers to his deceased friends.”

Following their visit to the P&J Centre Midori and Reiko headed down to the Scottish Parliament to meet with First Minister Nicola Sturgeon. The following day they visited Faslane Peace Camp and saw the Faslane Naval Base where Trident nuclear weapons are based.

For more information on and to contribute to the 140,000 Cranes project please visit: http://peaceandjustice.org.uk/peace-organisations/140000-origami-cranes-project/

Photos by David Mackenzie (group) and Brian Larkin (Midori).

 

Share Button

Dan Berrigan – Peacemaker – Dies, age 94

Catonsville Nine burn draft files

The great “radical priest” Daniel Berrigan has died. With his brother Philip and a group of Catholic pacifists known as the Catonsville Nine he famously burned draft files, protesting the Vietnam War, in 1968 and with the Plowshares Eight, he hammered on the nosecone of a nuclear missile, inspiring a wave of similar symbolic disarmament actions around the world. After being convicted for the Catonsville action Dan went underground, popping up at anti war demonstrations, eluding the FBI and, when caught, he spent two years in Federal prison.

Dan Berrigan with Howard Zinn in Hanoi. Photo: howardzinn.org

With the historian Howard Zinn he travelled to North Vietnam and obtained the release of three American pilots, telling the story in the book Night Flight to Hanoi, and he appeared with Jeremy Irons in the film The Mission. He said his epitaph should be: “It was never dull. Alleluia.”

Berrigan was a prolific writer of poetry and prose. He wrote: “Of course, let us have peace, we cry, ‘but at the same time let us have normalcy, let us lose nothing, let our lives stand intact, let us know neither prison nor ill repute nor disruption of ties … ‘ There is no peace because there are no peacemakers. There are no makers of peace because the making of peace is at least as costly as the making of war – at least as exigent, at least as disruptive, at least as liable to bring disgrace and prison, and death in its wake.”
 

But Dan Berrigan was a peacemaker. He was arrested hundreds of times, consistently, nonviolently protesting US wars, bombing, torture. His way with words coupled with dramatic action propelled him to fame. In a “Meditation” on Catonsville he wrote: “Our apologies, good friends, for the fracture of good order, the burning of paper instead of children, the angering of the orderlies in the front parlor of the charnel house. We could not, so help us God, do otherwise…. The time is past when good men can remain silent, when obedience can segregate men from public risk, when the poor can die without defense.”

 

And his brand of peacemaking certainly brought notoriety. The first US priests to be arrested for anti war protests Dan and Phil were, notably, pictured on the cover of Time magazine, and Dan’s obituary, fittingly, appears on the front cover of yesterday’s New York Times.

 
Among those inspired by Dan Berrigan were Sister Megan Rice, the 84 year old Catholic nun who broke into the Y12 complex in Tennessee where US nuclear weapons are built and Fr John Dear who hammered on an F15-E nuclear-capable fighter-bomber in North Carolina. Sr Megan and Fr John have both spoken at the Edinburgh Peace and Justice Centre.
 
I met Dan Berrigan when he spoke at Georgetown University in 1983, just a few years after the Plowshares Eight action near my hometown in Pennsylvania. I was deeply impressed by his talk and asked him what I could do to work for peace. He answered enigmatically that there were many things to do. And so there have been. And so there are.
Dan Berrigan’s life stands as a call to peacemaking, a call to action.
John Dear gives a more detailed account of the life of Dan Berrigan in The Huffington Post. 
Brian Larkin
Share Button

Plowshares activist Sr Megan Rice Speaks to Packed House at New Peace & Justice Centre

On Friday 8 January US Plowshares activist Sister Megan Rice, spoke at the newly opened Peace & Justice Centre about being imprisoned for two years for a symbolic act of resistance at the facility where the US is making new nuclear weapons and where the explosive components of the Hiroshima bomb were produced as part of the Manhattan project.

Megan was 82 years of age at the time of the Transform Now Ploughshares action. She and Greg Boertje-Obed and Michael Walli crept through Tennesee woodlands at 1am and cut and crawled through three chain link fences at the Y12 facility in Oak Ridge Tennessee to reach the “Highly Enriched Uranium Facility” where enough Uranium to make 1000 nuclear weapons is stored. They poured blood on the building to symbolize the potential slaughter of millions of innocent human beings that is being prepared there, and hammered on the corner of the building to symbolically begin the transformation of that place from death dealing to life giving and graffittied “Swords into Plowshares” and “Woe to Empire”. Their action was in the faith based Ploughshares tradition inspired by the vision of the Prophet Isaiah that “They shall beat their swords into ploughshares and learn war no more.” A Ploughshare is the blade of a plough that cuts through the earth and turns a furrow for seeds to be planted. Thus it is a vision of transforming our world from reliance on weapons that have the potential to destroy the planet to a life affirming culture of peace.

Michael, Greg and Megan

Their action, know as the “Transform Now Plowshares”, caused what the New York Times described as “The biggest security breach in the history of the [USA’s] atomic complex” and shut down the nuclear weapons plant for two weeks. This was highly embarassing to the US government which, perhaps for this reason, pursued a spurious sabotage charge. They were convicted of sabotage but the sentence was overturned by an Appeals Court Judge who stated that the US government had no grounds for this conviction as there was clearly no attempt to act in any way that threatened the security of the United States. They were dramatically released in May.

Megan was joined by Plowshares activist Paul Magno. Paul is a staff member at Nonviolence International and has been involved with Witness Against Torture, taking part in prolonged fasts at the Supreme Court and the White House in response to the ongoing imprisonment and torture at Guantanamo. A core supporter of the Transform Now Plowshares trio Paul served two years in prison in the 1980’s for his part in the Pershing Plowshares action in which he and four others entered a factory in Florida where components for the Pershing missile system were being made. The Pershing missiles were at that time being brought into Germany. The purpose of these short range nuclear weapons was for use as “Tactical” weapons for fighting a nuclear war in Europe.

The New Peace and Justice Centre

The pair stressed that while their actions were inspired by their Catholic faith this kind of action is open to anyone who wants to resist nuclear weapons and the empire that relies on them for security. They said the symbolism of pouring human blood and symbolically beginning to disarm the nuclear weapons complex with hammers is very powerful. The action took only minutes and such actions can be done by anyone. It is important Paul said, not to see Megan as a superstar. Sister Megan described their action as following a simple model of marking the place where our society is preparing for crimes against humanity and thereby revealing the truth of the terrible injustice embodied there. They asked the gathering whether they considered this form of action to still be worthwhile after 35 years, and urged people to consider taking similar nonviolent, direct, and symbolic action.

Asked about her background Sister Megan told of her parents’ connection to the Catholic Worker community in New York city. Her earliest memories were of Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin the founders of the Catholic Worker movement, a loose network of communities which seek to live the social gospel by providing hospitality to the homeless and witnessing against war and militarism, which they see as the root cause of poverty. Megan stressed the importance of community for sustaining resistance. The Catholic Worker and Jonah House community in Baltimore are examples. Megan hoped that people understood that by “catholic” they were not talking about the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church but meant catholic “with a small c”, that is a faith and action that is universal, that lives in solidarity with the poor and seeks to create a just and peaceful world. When a member of the audience pointed out the strong stand of the Scottish Catholic Bishops (and another mentioned the stand of the Church of Scotland against nuclear weapons Paul agreed that was as it should be but emphasized that more than words actions of resistance are called for.

Fr Bill “Bix” Bichsel

Megan spoke too of her forty years working with poor communities in Nigeria as a nun. After returning to the US and caring for her mother in her final illness she went to work with the Nevada Desert Experience, a faith based retreat and witness at the Nevada test site. She was eventually inspired to take this action by the five members of the Disarm Now Ploughshares, including Father Bill Bichsel (“Bix”) who spoke at the Edinburgh Peace and Justice Centre three years ago.

Asked about how she prepared for prison Megan shared that she had been imprisoned for shorter periods of time – twice for six months – after crossing the line at two of the mass demonstrations at the School of Americas where the US has for many years trained members of the military from a number of Latin American dictatorships, especially in the 1980’s and still today in methods of torture. With this action Megan never made it to an actual prison but was in a holding facility in New York city, in a single dormitory style room where 60 women are held together, in many ways worse than a prison.

Paul spoke of the influence of Phil Berrigan who spent more than 13 years in prison for repeated Plowshares actions. Phil and his brother Daniel Berrigan, a Jesuit priest, were members of the Plowshares Eight, the first group to take such action in 1980. The eight Catholics entered a factory in Pennsylvania and hammered on the nosecone of an MX Intercontinental Ballistic Missile. In a letter to Paul while in prison Phil advised that, for male resisters in the US prisons, how they fared in the face of possible personal violence depended on how they carried themselves non-violently.

For Megan, as for women peace activists in US prisons generally the situation was quite different. All of the women prisoners easily related to her resistance to injustice as they themselves experienced another side of the injustice of the US state directly. Some women were held in the interim facility for up to four years and never made it to prison where there are opportunities for education and work. Resistance to nuclear weapons in the US brings activists face to face with the injustice of the for profit Prison Industrial Complex and in these times especially with the disproportionate and unequal imprisonment of people of colour that has burgeoned with the war on Drugs.

Megan asked all of us to take a small action of solidarity and write to President Obama to urge him to give clemency to Michelle West a woman who was sentenced to two life sentences for inadvertently aiding a drug deal, which she denies. Cards with details of how to write to President Obama are available at the Peace and Justice Centre Or you can sign the petition to President Obama here. Thousands of women are imprisoned in similar cases in the US.

Megan read from a letter from General Douglas MacArthur who said that he was not consulted about the Hiroshima and Nagasaki  bombs. He wrote that Japan was ready to surrender at the time and he would not have approved their use had he been consulted.

In summing up Paul  urged us all to consider that everyone has faith of some kind. It maybe wanting a better world for your children. It may be the more universal idealism of caring about the future of our planet. But everyone is willing to give up at least part of their lives for that and urged us to consider doing so.

The talk was jointly organised by Edinburgh Peace and Justice Centre and Trident Ploughshares and supported by Edinburgh CND. Sister Megan and Paul Magno went to Faslane the following day and joined a group of Glasgow Catholic Workers in praying for the disarmament of the Trident nuclear weapons system. Their tour of the UK and Europe continues.

Anyone wanting to explore the history of the Ploughshares movment more fully can borrow one of three books from the Peace and Justice Centre library, Crossing the Line and Doing Time for Peace by Rosalie Riegle and Swords into Plowshares by Art Laffin.

Anyone interested in getting involved in nonviolent resistance to the UK Trident nuclear weapons system can contact Brian at the Peace and Justice Centre or Jane Tallents at Trident Ploughshsares (TP) on tp2000[at]gn.apc.org. There will be NVDA (nonviolent direct action) trainings for TP in the spring of this year in Scotland and elsewhere in the UK.

Share Button

Sister Megan Rice – Transform Now Ploughshares Activist to Speak at New Edinburgh Peace and Justice Centre

At the age of 82 Sister Megan Rice, a Catholic nun, along with two other Christian peace activists, caused “The biggest security breach in the history of the [USA’s] atomic complex” and shut down a nuclear weapons plant for two weeks.

Megan, Michael and Greg had cut through chain link fences and eluded security to reach the building in the Y12 Nucelar weapons complex where nuclear weapons grade Uranium is stored. There they had symbolically hammered on the wall of the building, poured blood and grafittied “Woe to Empire” and “Transform Now Ploughshares”. Their action exposed the massive insecurity of the nuclear weapons complex and was highly embarassing to the US government. The three were found guilty of sabotage but the verdict was later overturned on appeal and Megan and the others were dramatically released from prison after more than two years.

Sister Megan, Greg Boertje-Obed and Michael Walli called their action the “Transform Now Ploughshares” action. It was one in what is now a long and noble line of such actions of direct and symbolic disarmament of nuclear weapons that began with the action of the Ploughshares Eight. For these three Catholics it was an act of prayer and a dramatic witness inspired by the famous words of the Prophet Isaiah “They shall beat their swords into ploughshares and their swords into pruning hooks and study war no more.”

We have been following their remarkable story in Peace and Justice News since we first heard of their powerful witness three years ago. Now we will have the opportunity to hear Megan tell her story at our brand new location in the heart of Edinburgh just off the Royal Mile.

Come hear Megan tell her remarkable story at the new Edinburgh Peace and Justice Centre, 5 Upper Bow, Edinburgh EH1 2JN.

Organised by Edinburgh Peace & Justice Centre
Supported by Edinburgh CND

Share Button

FM Nicola Sturgeon, Patrick Harvie MSP to speak at Scrap Trident Demo 4 April

Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon and Scottish Greens Co-Convener Patrick Harvie MSP, will headline the Scrap Trident Bairns Not Bombs demonstration against Britain’s weapons of mass destruction in George Square, Glasgow on 4th April,.

Cat Boyd

Also on the platform will be Cat Boyd from the Radical Independence Campaign, Disability History Scotland campaigner Sasha Callaghan , Nuala Watt, founder of Human Beings on Benefits, Ann Henderson, Assistant Secretary, STUC, Labour MP Katy Clark and singers Karine Polwart and our favourite local peace troubadour Penny Stone.

And on 13 April it will be the turn of the people to show our determined resistance to the unacceptable immoral ongoing deployment of nuclear weapons on our shores. The Bairns Not Bombs blockade of Faslane starts at 7am. Nonviolent Direct Action Training is encouraged for all who will be taking part or supporting the blockade and will take place in Glasgow on 12 April. Read the Briefing for full details and register here.

A Scrap Trident Coalition spokesperson said:

Nuala Watt

“The eyes of the world are on us. Britain is part of that intransigent and increasingly isolated minority of the world’s nations that possess and deploy nuclear weapons. Right now we have a unique opportunity to lead the way to global disarmament. The understanding that Trident makes no fiscal or strategic sense is ever more widespread, and as we face up to the horrors of its purpose, we are pushing at a door that is beginning to creak open. 

karine Polwart

And Trident is not in fact a single issue. As well as being a horrific reality it is a key symbol of the things we want to change in Scotland, the UK and the world. It sums up the UK’s outdated approach to relations with the rest of the world, an approach that puts threats before peaceful co-operation.

In the context of savage cuts to services it is a sacred cow. It stands for hatred rather than social justice, for environmental devastation rather than care for the planet.

farslane protest tridentThe Peace and Justice Centre is one of several groups in the coalition that is organising the Scrap Trident events andw we are urging everyone who can to help fill George Square on the 4th April and to consider joining the Big Blockade at Faslane.  With this election Scotland has an opportunity to deliver a raft of anti-Trident MPs to Westminster who could stop the renewal of Trident nuclear weapons. This isn’t just about Scotland or the UK but its about the possibility of push starting global disarmament from right here in Scotland.

Moreover the Big Blockade is to take place on the Global Day of Action on Military Spending. The P&J has long called for deep cuts to the military and a seismic shift in the culture of corporate profit at the expense of human needs and indeed human life. Please join us in speaking out for a new and better world, free of nuclear weapons where we prioritise real human needs over armaments.

We also urge everyone to put pressure on Westminster election candidates. Scottish CND has set up an online system to make it easy for anyone to send emails to their election candidates and ask them what they think about Trident. Please contact the candidates in your constituency here.

You can also find out what we already know about the views of your candidates here. To help us to keep the system up to date, please pass on any responses or alterations to the candidate lists.

 
Share Button