6 August 2012: Remembering Hiroshima and Nagasaki
I was asked to talk about Bradley Manning as one of four speakers at the annual Hiroshima Flower Memorial event in Chester on Monday 6 August. The Memorial includes scattering white flowers on the River Dee from the suspension bridge, observing two minutes silence and visiting the ‘Peace Tree’, an oak planted by Minister Kishino of the Japanese Embassy in 2004.
Around 50 people gathered at 8pm by the bandstand down in The Groves on the city side of the River Dee in Chester. The event was opened by local Quaker Dai Owen, who explained the history of the Memorial and, for new participants, what would happen.
Peace Walk around Japan
We heard a moving speech from Val, whose Buddhist son and his girlfriend from the Milton Keynes Peace Pagoda are taking part in a peace walk around Japan’s coastline, walking, praying and fasting for peace. The group has now arrived at Hiroshima to take part in the commemoration ceremonies there.
I spoke about Bradley Manning, outlining his background, his current situation, his roots in Crescent, Oklahoma, a town best known for its other famous whistleblower, Karen Silkwood, who paid the ultimate price for blowing the whistle at the nearby Kerr-McGee Plutonium Plant, and his roots over here in Pembrokeshire where Wales’ First Minister Carwyn Jones has recently announced he would be happy to site Trident nuclear missiles. I also looked at some of the things revealed in the WikiLeaks cables about the insecurity of nuclear materials worldwide and Japan’s nuclear programme. I spoke about the importance of whistleblowers in the face of government cover up and media complicity and called for solidarity with Bradley Manning and Julian Assange.
After the talk, the first person to approach me told me she was ‘disgusted’ as she thought she was coming to a prayer meeting, not a political rally. She said the event was about world peace and remembering Hiroshima, not Bradley Manning. I explained that it wasn’t a prayer meeting and said that in my view the truth Bradley Manning has revealed about the wars has given us the opportunity to end them. She didn’t seem convinced.
On the other hand, a number of people expressed their concern about both Bradley Manning and Julian Assange after the talk, with one of them commenting along the lines of:
Listening to you speak, I felt ashamed that I’ve believed what’s in the papers. The way they write about Bradley Manning and Julian Assange, you just think that they’re guilty. To hear you talking about what’s really been going on made me think that I need to read everything critically and check things out. I do this with other things, but I realise that we need to do it with everything we’re told.
White flowers on the water
We made our way onto the suspension bridge where white flowers were dropped onto the water below and we observed two minutes silence to remember all the victims of the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945.
Chas Raws, a Quaker from the Wirral, then read a poem written for the occasion.
How long a silence
to honour a people bereaved?
A pause for respect
in an age of indifference –
moment of mercy
in cruelty’s continuum?
to cleanse a lasting guilt.
Flowers, white flowers,
Bouquets of mourning –
drifts and eddies
bearing their beauty away.
Our silent liturgy
and yearly pilgrimage
from vacant bandstand
towards a single tree –
an English oak
twinned with distant cherries.
Clouds of blossom,
bright in the mind’s eye,
bear our promise
to generations unborn.
How long a silence
to honour a world bereaved?
Can healing time
Ever repair such devastation?
Continuing over the bridge, we reached the other side of the river and walked a few yards along the bank to the Peace Tree, where a commemorative plaque noted the occasion of its planting and its purpose. A wreath decorated with Peace Pledge Union white poppies was laid at the base of the tree.
In the river, the white flowers could still be seen in the twilight gently floating downstream towards the weir.
Joan Bowers gave the final reading, with words from Abdul Baha, the son of the prophet founder of the Baha’i faith, from the book Peace: more than an end to war, written in 1912 in which Baha reflects on his father’s teachings. The reading prescribed governmental measures and conditions for a more peaceful world of nation states.
All those present then stood for a few more moments around the tree before the ceremony was concluded with thanks from Dai to everyone for attending.