Monday, August 3, 2009

Give Peace A Chance

Herein Maria goes to a Peace Vigil over the weekend and talks about it.

A few weeks back my friend handed me a flier about an upcoming Pax Christi event with two Nobel Prize winning women who were going to speak about Nuclear disarmament. As you all know, I live New Mexico, a state full of rich history and culture, we are also a state with notoriety that isn’t too rich or blessed. The first atomic bomb was made and tested here at the Trinity Site on the White Sands Proving Ground. Growing up my parents remember all the secrecy at Los Alamos. I honestly haven’t been to Los Alamos much in my life time. In elementary school we took the requisite field trip to the museums, I don’t believe we were given a tour of the labs but we were taught how great things happen there. I took my SATs there, I’ve sold real estate there and that really is my only connection with Los Alamos. As you come into the town, there is a flagstone sign welcoming visitors and says, “Los Alamos, where great discoveries are made.” What a truism.

Now I know that the scientists and engineers do more at the labs than make nuclear weapons. I know some of the world’s foremost AIDS research has come out of the labs, that there is a constant state of new technologies being developed that has nothing to do with nuclear weapons as well. I know many, many people who work in Los Alamos and I think the majority of them have nothing to do with making nuclear weapons. But they still make them there. I am not an expert by any means on the nation’s defense, but I do agree with the speakers, that these weapons are a means of destruction and not a method of defense. I also agree it’s time that we get rid of them.

On top of having created the atomic bomb, we had to create a depository to store all our nuclear waste. There are many of these in the country. It boggles my mind that we need to find a place to store all this waste because it is dangerous, radioactive and can make people sick. Shouldn’t that alone, be a good reason to stop making these weapons? A wonderful bypass was created so the waste wouldn’t be transported through Santa Fe on it’s way to WIPP down by Carlsbad. Obviously, we have not become the stewards of the land that God has wanted us to be if we’re putting nuclear waste in the ground, to sit there for thousands of years to finally be safe to touch? This is only one example of how we haven’t taken care of the Earth, but I won’t digress.

Friday, my friend who gave me the flyer and I went to Mass at my parish to kick off the Pax Christi event. Witness for Peace, the flier of the events, is here linked from the New Mexico Pax Christi website. First there was a Mass, then the two speakers and on Saturday there was a prayerful, peace protest where people went up to Los Alamos, started at Ashley Pond (Apparently the lab where the bomb was created was located there, then when it was dismantled they put in the pond. I’d never heard the story of the pond.) The group walked for 30 minutes, quietly and prayerfully and stopped at a designated time, sat down and prayed for about a half hour.

Fr. John Dear, SJ who helped organize this event, said in the local paper:

We're taking up the story from the book of Jonah where the people of Ninevah sat in sackcloth and ashes to repent of their violence,” said Dear, explaining that those who attend the event will walk through the streets of Los Alamos and also sit for a half hour in silent prayer.” Quote from Abq. Journal North Story, Friday July 31, 2009. original article here.

After a half hour of peaceful prayer, they returned back to the pond. My friend and I did take a ride up to Los Alamos on Saturday but didn’t participate in the peaceful protest. One of the priests at our parish is actively involved in working for peace and we went to the events to support him as well. He presided at the Mass on Friday, then Fr. Dear spoke after Mass and explained the schedule of events for the weekend.

Now, anytime I’ve gone to anything sponsored by our local Pax Christi group, I’ve observed I am the youngest one there. Same thing with this, though at the lecture and the protest event there were people my age and younger. The other thing I noticed is that the people attending the Mass were from everywhere else—some as far away as Massachusetts and other eastern states. A handful from my parish were there but people came from everywhere to be here on Saturday.

After Mass we had time to go eat. I was thinking of bailing on hearing the speakers, but I told my friend I’d get a bite to eat with her. I ended up going to listen to Mairead Maguire, a Nobel peace prize winner from Belfast, Northern Ireland who witnessed violence firsthand in the 70s, when a British soldier shot and fired at a suspected IRA terrorist, who while driving, plowed into her nieces and nephews who were innocently walking down the street. Subsequently, she rallied up women and children who peacefully protested against all the violence in her country and has ever since then worked on the behalf of peace.

She is a small, almost delicate looking woman, but the words she spoke were powerful. Her experiences are amazing and it was a privilege to hear her speak. She feels that all faiths and people need to come together to make it possible to abolish nuclear weapons. She said they are weapons of destruction and will not save anyone. How can we disagree with this?

The other woman to speak, was Jody Williams, an American Nobel winner, who worked to ban land mines, which, I believe after five years of tireless work, was achieved. She said her progression to the fight for ending nuclear weapons was natural. She grew up during the cold war and remembered her fears of the bomb as a child. She knew where the fallout shelters were in her hometown and worried that her own family didn’t have one. She saw how ludicrous the drills were in school and knew that huddling under her desk or against the wall in the gym wouldn’t save her from the bomb. Her memories and fears were familiar to most of the crowd.

She was a great speaker, powerful, witty and her words totally resonated with me. She would definitely be someone I’d love to take a class from or just sit and talk to over a long cup of coffee. I believe she teaches at the University of Houston. She challenged everyone in the room to work for peace—even if it’s just an hour a month—the rewards would be great.

Now, I believe there are nine nations with nuclear weapons or capability. Just imagine if one of the leaders of those nations suffers from some hysteria or delusion and allows a nuclear weapon to be detonated somewhere in the world? I shudder to think of the consequences. Just look at what the US did to Japan? This is
the cloud over Hiroshima after the bomb was dropped. I don’t have the words to even explain it. Atomic Bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki The Trinity Test Site explosion pales in comparison.

Honestly, I don’t know if any of this post made any sense, or if I even conveyed a sense of anything I was feeling this weekend. I just know that the lives of these peace activists touched me and I probably have more that I can say. I took some pictures of the peaceful rally and may post them somewhere. They’re shots of faces in the crowd mostly.

posted at the lj earlier today.


Jeff said...


Fascinating post. I'd forgotten all about the August 6th anniversary of Hiroshima, even though I've been reading a lot of WWII history lately.

I had no idea there was still so much going on at Los Alamos, and that they even take children on school trips there. I'd always assumed that there was lingering radiation at that location, at least from the buried waste if not for the above-ground tests that were conducted there. I know I'd be nervous! :)

Looking over a list of summer reads, I was tempted to pick up the biography of Robert Oppenheimer, American Prometheus, about the scientist who helped build the bomb, but then went on to have serious qualms about these weapons. Thick tome, though. It looked very daunting. I might reserve Doomsday Men at the library instead.

Pax Christi is a good organization, and it's sad to hear that it's mostly Q-tips who still attend these events. I'm glad that it was worth your while, though, to stay and hear those speakers.

Interesting. In a way, I almost miss the Cold War. I actually felt safer, because those weapons were under close control and supervision back then. I never thought that we or the Russians would acually use the things. Detsroy the world? Nah, there was too much money to be made! Now, with the black market and terrorists trying to get these things, it's much scarier. Living in a coastal city, it makes me very nervous.

Maria said...

Hi Jeff,

Yes, it was a really interesting experience. I don't think the turn out was what they were expecting or hoping for, but they were loyal and devoted to peace. At the actual event there were some younger people there, but there were remarks about my lack of gray hair. ;) (For the record,I have five or six.)

I've always heard good things about Pax Christi, but then if you stray off the safety blog zone, you run into all kinds of bashing.
Santa Fe is a liberal town and there are lots of old, peace loving former hippies living here.

I honestly don't want to think about how contaminated Los Alamos was. About 9 years ago there was a devastating wild fire and "the experts" were worried about it getting near the labs. I don't know how much of the word there is devoted to making nuclear weapons and things related, but it's still a huge part of its mission and it's truly frightening to think of the world now with all those other nations with Nukes.

I think you're right about the Cold War. At least we knew who had the weapons and how scared they were to use them, but now a days with the Russians, not quite our enemy and nations with crack-pot leaders and itchy trigger fingers, I think it's more frightening. I'd be nervous living on the East Coast. We were always told growing up Los Alamos was a target, so we've always had an ominous sense of fear about being attacked. I don't know how true that was, but it was scary enough growing up here.

What's interesting the names of streets in Los Alamos are named after the scientists. Oppenheimer has his own drive, there's a Trinity street and others that are notoriously (heh) named.

If you ever read his bio, I'd be curious about your thoughts. I haven't read it either.

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