On the 76th anniversary of the U.S. bombing of Hiroshima, Japan, Roshi Joan Halifax reflects on why we each must continue working toward the realization of nonviolence in our time.
At 8.15 AM Japanese time, on August 6th, 1945, a U.S. plane dropped a bomb named “Little Boy” over the center of the city of Hiroshima. Little Boy: A name that sounds so innocent, but the bomb it was named for wrought destruction, death, and suffering that is unimaginable.
Over the next two to four months, the atomic bombs dropped in Japan killed between 90,000 and 146,000 people in Hiroshima and between 39,000 and 80,000 people in Nagasaki; roughly half of the deaths in each city occurred on the first day.
You are the good news. The transformation of structures of violence to structures of peace comes about through you.
Some claim that these bombs were responsible for ending the war quickly and saving American and Japanese lives – an unfortunate theory created to justify horrific violence against innocent civilians. Others suggested that the weapons had to be tested as a matter of necessity.
Whatever the rationale, the dropping of weapons of mass destruction on these two Japanese cities ushered in a new era where the human inclination toward violence can now destroy the entire human race and make the earth uninhabitable for all but the most resilient of species.
The bomb dropped on Hiroshima had a destructive force of 12.5 kilotons. The missiles of today deliver bombs that have the power of 100 to 170 kilotons, with the potential of totally leveling everything within a 50-mile radius and wreaking utter destruction extending hundreds of miles, with wide-spread heat, firestorms and neutron and gamma rays that will kill, severely wound, and poison every living thing they envelope.
By any standard of proof, the use of these bombs constitutes genocide and terracide. As Philip Berrigan said, “Nuclear weapons are the scourge of the earth; to mine for them, manufacture them, deploy them, use them, is a curse against God, the human family, and the earth itself.”
Clearly, all war, violence and conflict at national and international levels in the last quarter of the twentieth century and the first two decades of the 21st century has taken on extraordinary and sinister proportions. Human nature has not changed, but the resources at our disposal have, and to put it directly, no country is free from the threat of nuclear annihilation.
This is the bad news. So what is the good news?
You are the good news. You are here today. The transformation of structures of violence to structures of peace comes about through you, through each one of us. This is about actualizing in the details of our lived experience respect, integrity, empathy, courage, compassion, and wisdom, and affirming the value put on these precious human qualities. That is why we are here today. We have made a choice to be people dedicated to the cultivation of love and wisdom in an ever-increasing connected world.
Just as we have witnessed huge phase shifts in our time, like the Berlin Wall coming down, the walls that separate us from each other, from this earth, from our basic goodness are coming down, as we stand in peace and justice working toward the realization of nonviolence in our time.
We also know that every human being has the right to be free from fear. Freedom from fear means that we are living in a world where basic human needs are being met, and where wellbeing is engendered for all, including all species, and that we are not living under the weight of threat of nuclear annihilation.
Thus, at this critical time, we must consider the profound importance of the development of moral sensitivity so that we can feel deeply the magnitude of the threat of nuclear annihilation that we are facing at this time. We must also resolve to develop moral character and have the resolve to take steps to engage in decisions and actions that mitigate suffering now and in the future. This is living by vow. And we must commit to a path of moral responsibility, a path of compassionate action and personal and collective discipline that draws us away from the danger zones in our world today through the creation of nuclear arsenals in our country and in more than a half a dozen countries around the world.
As my Zen practice matured over the years, I came to understand that living by vow reflects our ability to be guided by our deepest values, to be conscientious, and to connect to who we really are. Living by vow also reflects our capacity for insight and our ability to manifest moral nerve to deal with issues of harm, no matter how egregious or seemingly insignificant.
We all know that indifference kills.
I have also learned that what keeps us upright in our aspirations and vows is our ability to manifest moral nerve, the courage to stand in principles of non-harming, in principles of nonviolence. We need both a strong back and a soft front, lived equanimity and compassion, moral nerve and moral sensitivity, to keep ourselves aligned with our values and our vows.
We also all know that indifference kills. So in service to peace, in service to non-violence, in service to life, we live by vow, the vow to end violence in our world; the vow to dismantle the military-industrial system. This perspective is reflected in words said in 1967 by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.:
Our only hope today lies in our ability to recapture the revolutionary spirit and go out into a sometimes hostile world declaring eternal hostility to poverty, racism, and militarism…This call for a world-wide fellowship that lifts neighborly concern beyond one’s tribe, race, class and nation is in reality a call for an all-embracing and unconditional love for all human beings…When I speak of love…I am speaking of that force which all of the great religions have seen as the supreme unifying principle of life. Love is somehow the key that unlocks the door which leads to ultimate reality.
This is what I mean when I say “Live by vow,” the vow the end war; the vow to end violence in our world; the vow to meet each other, each thing through love. This is what I have faith in; I have faith that we can do this now.