Thirty years ago, seven Mainers were arrested at the Maine Air National Guard in Bangor on Aug. 5, the day before the anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima in 1945. They acted to call attention to the dangers of nuclear weapons. Those arrested and found guilty of criminal trespass were Mary Alice Anderson, Larry Dansinger, Francine Falcone, Karen Harlan, Peter Millard and Marguerite Roosen.
Today, the ongoing danger of the proliferation of nuclear weapons has all but disappeared from the headlines and from our awareness, with media attention focused on wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria; conflicts in the Ukraine, Palestine and Israel; the economy; major climate disasters; and election campaigns.
But 30 years later people still are willing to risk arrest to remind us of the ever-present danger. This past year, Megan Rice, an 83-year-old nun, whose ancestors came from Lee, Maine, was found guilty of criminal trespass, along with three other senior citizens. They embarrassed those entrusted to keep us safe from nuclear attack when they broke into the nuclear weapons facility in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. They painted slogans and unfurled a banner. Rice and the other three were sentenced to three to five years in federal prison, despite the nationwide support of those who let the judge know the break-in was not a dangerous criminal act. It was a courageous attempt to protect future generations from nuclear holocaust.
This past year, we lost one of the most articulate voices calling for elimination of nuclear weapons. In 1982 Jonathan Schell wrote his best-selling book, ” The Fate of the Earth,” warning of the likelihood of such a holocaust ending human life on earth. It is a passionate, well-argued and profoundly moving work that helped to launch the nuclear freeze movement and moved millions, including busloads of Mainers who traveled in school buses to attend the huge anti-nuclear rally in New York in 1984. Schell pointed out, “What happened at Hiroshima was less than a millionth part of the holocaust” possible at the levels of armaments at that time.
Just a few weeks ago, Portland mayor Michael Brennan signed on to the Mayors for Peace resolution. The resolution states, “according to the General Accounting Office, the U.S. will spend more than $700 billion over the next 30 years to maintain and modernize nuclear weapons systems.
“[T]his money is desperately needed to address basic human needs such as housing, food security, education, healthcare, public safety, education and environmental protection.” The resolution points to “the dangers of the U.S.-Russian conflict over Ukraine, nuclear tensions in the Middle East, Southeast Asia and the Korean peninsula, [which] remind us that the potential for nuclear war is ever present.”
Mayors for Peace was founded by the Mayors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1982. Brennan is one of 6,000 members in 158 countries calling for elimination of nuclear weapons by 2020. They point out that, 40 years after the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, an estimated 16,400 nuclear weapons — most held by the U.S. and Russia — continue to “pose an intolerable threat to humanity” with no disarmament negotiations in sight.
Like many others, I would prefer not to contemplate the horror of nuclear holocaust. But if others are willing to spend years in jail, I do feel a need to do whatever I can, and I invite others to join. Schell urged us all to act by taking a simple step. “The first, urgent immediate step which requires not deep thought or long reflection, is for each person to make known, visibly and unmistakably, his [or her] desire that the species survive.”
At noon Wednesday, Aug. 6, you are invited to show your concern about the ongoing dangers and affirm life by joining members of the Peace & Justice Center of Eastern Maine at Pierce Park in Bangor. We’ll gather next at the Bangor Public Library for commemoration of the 69th anniversary of the dropping of the bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki that killed more than an estimated 210,000 people by the end of 1945. There will be a symbolic “die in,” where participants may lie down to represent those killed or simply stand as witnesses. The die-in will be followed by a “Walk for Peaceful Priorities” through downtown Bangor.
Ilze Petersons is program coordinator for the Peace & Justice Center of Eastern Maine, located in Bangor.