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Keeping memory, and hope, alive

In this era of climate crisis, gun madness and “macho saber rattling,” we seem to forget that nuclear weapons stand poised to end the world as we know it, said voices at Ashland Peace House’s 34th annual Hiroshima-Nagasaki Vigil, held Tuesday morning in Lithia Park.

The U.S. dropped atom bombs on the two Japanese cities 74 years ago, resulting in 225,000 deaths (mostly civilian) and ending World War II.

Another casualty of the attack, said Ashland Methodist Church’s new pastor Brett Strobel, “We lost a moral tenet and broke trust with the future and gave up our faith with each other. ... So we’re here to reiterate, never again.”

Two dozen people meditated for some minutes, then, one-by-one, poured water on a large black stone, signifying the slaking of thirst and cries for water by survivors who staggered into clinics, “where you were unable to tell a man from a woman, their skin hanging from their faces, their eyes popped out, all covered in blood,” according to a letter from the mayor of Hiroshima, as read by Roy Saigo, former president of Southern Oregon University.

Current world leaders should remember the Cuban Missile Crisis, when the world was a breath away from nuclear war but President John F. Kennedy and other leaders “manifested reason and dialog.” Now, he added, the struggle for nuclear disarmament is at a standstill.

At the time of the Japanese bombing, Saigo was 5 years old and living at a Japanese Internment Camp on the Pima Indian Reservation in Arizona.

“It’s sobering, the number of lives lost, people who could have lived to contribute to a global society, a world beyond war,” he said.

Strobel, the keynote speaker, said he learned from watching a documentary that atomic scientists were enthusiastic about building the bomb, but after the “elation” of the first test of it at Alamagordo, New Mexico, they were “horrified, realizing they had created a new means of destruction without limit, that opened the door to a new era of devastation.”

Scientists said they were “interested in seeing if they could do it,” but after the test they wrote President Harry Truman imploring him not to use it.”

The lesson, said Strobel, is that “the ability to do something does not carry the imperative that it must be done.”

In today’s “paranoid” political climate, with “macho saber rattling in recent months, how can we secure liberty, let alone life,” he said, “when we have weapons that can possibly sterilize life? No one has the right to inflict that on future generations. I still believe our sense of reverence for life is not diminished. Life is sacred.”

Technological progress is a good thing if it’s headed in the right direction,” he added, “and every technological achievement should be matched by an achievement in our morality.”

The vigil continues 7 p.m. Wednesday with a film, “The Beginning of the End of Nuclear Weapons.” It is followed at 8 by a talk by Michael Neimann of Southern Oregon University’s Worldwide Strategies to Bring About a Nuclear-Free World. Events are at Peace House, 543 S. Mountain.

The same events will be held at 10 and 11 a.m., Thursday at the Medford library, 205 S. Central Ave. All events are free and open to the public. At 7 p.m. Friday, a closing ceremony at Lithia Park’s Japanese Garden will honor the dead of Nagasaki. It will feature music by Richard Williams and the Japanese Association of Southern Oregon chorus, with readings by the Rev. Caren Caldwell, Allen Hallmark of Veterans for Peace, and the Ashland Citizen’s Peace Commission. A Flower Ceremony of Remembrance will follow.

Ashland voters in 1982 made the city a nuclear-free zone. Ashland joined Mayors for Peace with 213 other cities. The Oregon Legislature in June approved a memorial asking Congress to support a nuclear test ban treaty. Oregon was only the second state to approve such legislation, following California.

Event details are at peacehouse.net.

Photo by John DarlingPeople gather Tuesday in Lithia Park for the Ashland Peace House's 34th annual Hiroshima-Nagasaki Vigil.
Photo by John DarlingAshland Methodist Church’s new pastor Brett Strobel speaks Tuesday at Ashland Peace House’s 34th annual Hiroshima-Nagasaki Vigil in Lithia Park.