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 Global Perspective

August 6, 2003
Vol. 1, No. 19

Virginia Saldanha
Virginia Saldanha is a woman activist working in India for the empowerment of women through Church institutions as well as networking with secular organizations in the struggle for justice and peace.



The survivor of the atomic bomb told us that there is no bigger myth that the government used to brainwash people than the belief that fighting a war ensured the security of the country.

Remembering the past commits us to the future

By Virginia Saldanha

MUMBAI, India -- Each Aug. 6, thousands of people converge on the hallowed ground of the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park to remember, to pray, and to demonstrate for peace.

I was fortunate to be a part of this gathering of people in the year 2000, when the city of Hiroshima commemorated the 55th anniversary of the great human tragedy caused by the dropping of the atom bomb on their city.

That day in the Peace Park left me with a mosaic of memories:

  • The interfaith prayer service at dawn followed by the formal memorial ceremony organized by the city council.
  • Streams of survivors, descendants and people who cared to remember brought flowers, incense sticks, bottles of water, garlands and banners with peace messages.
  • An aged man wearing a banner that proclaimed "Never again" sat in silent demonstration before five containers of ashes of his family members.
  • Groups of young people who sang peace songs on the banks of the Motoyasugawa river and before the A-bomb dome.
  • And finally the floating of lanterns with messages of peace at dusk down the river into which burning victims jumped and perished.
All this brought a solemnity and holiness to the day. One could not but feel God's presence in the midst of people coming from different countries to this sacred place with a longing to put an end to hatred, injustice, greed and the mindless destruction of life especially through war and nuclear radiation.

The day's experience brought home to me the horrors of the effect of nuclear radiation on humans -- whether it is in the form of nuclear weapons or waste (which is a necessary part of any nuclear programme) as well as the futility of war.

Professor Morishta an A-bomb survivor, told us how Japanese youth were brainwashed as students to believe that Japan was fighting a divinely ordained war and that Japan was headed towards victory. They even wore headbands that proclaimed "Divine Wind." The schools closed down to allow students to be part of the war effort. He regretfully acknowledged his reluctance to listen to his mother whose intuition predicted the defeat of Japan because of the country's inability to provide food for its people.

He was 14 years old when he fell victim to radiation from the atomic bomb dropped over Hiroshima. His mother and home were reduced to ashes. A shudder went down my spine when he said he only found the buttons of his baby brother's coat in the place where the baby lay. His wounds took a month to heal but the psychological wounds remained. He was filled with despair. He remained silent because he could not make sense of life. He began a search for something permanent like truth.

He felt a sense of hopelessness when Japan declared war against Korea five years later; and further despair when U.S. President Harry Truman announced his decision to develop the H-bomb. He finally came to the realisation that all he could do was just love people as his small contribution to avoid the horror of Hiroshima taking place again.

As an older man, he felt sad again when the younger generation did not seem to understand the horrors of war. He only got courage to speak about the trauma of the A-bomb and work on peace education when a delegation of people arrived to do a study on attitudes of young people towards the survivors. He felt that he had to commit himself to telling the truth to bring about a true reconciliation within himself and with the past for peace in the future.

Morishta's witness brought to mind the words of Pope John Paul II in his appeal for peace at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park in February 1981, "To remember the past is to commit oneself to the future."

Listening to the survivor of the bombing, and further reflection led me to question the whole issue of war as a means of dealing with conflict or to resolve an issue between opponents/foes, or even to ensure the safety and security of one's country/citizens.

I feel great frustration when leaders of nations are still unable to learn the lessons taught to us by Hiroshima and Nagasaki, or even Vietnam. Which of us does not recall the famous picture of the young Vietnamese girl running with her body on fire, during the war in Vietnam? Can any war be called a success? The patriarchal structures of leadership maintain armies and weapons to "cower" down an enemy -- but at what cost? Who bears the consequences and the costs of war? The decision of the world after World War II, to build up the United Nations institutions to monitor conflict and keep peace is ample evidence of the realisation of the futility of war.

Today we need people who can advocate and broker peace not build up structures for war. The survivor of the atomic bomb told us that the greatest myth the government fostered to brainwash people was the belief that fighting a war ensured the security of the country. "We were never more insecure than during the war," he said.

So let us not fool ourselves that an army or fighting a war is assurance of security. We all know that the United State's response to the attacks of Sept. 11, 2003 has put in motion a spiral of violence that has generated greater feelings of insecurity for its citizens.

India and Pakistan claim that their nuclear program have been developed for the safety and security of their countries. When we talk of safety and security, let us first remember that safety and security is ensured only through ensuring first the peaceful co-existence of peoples coupled with easy access to basic necessities of life.

Very often a country needs protection from its own greed, corruption and lust for power. If the huge sums of money used to train and maintain armies and develop or buy weapons were diverted to the holistic development of citizens, every country would be secure.

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