Dancing for Peace Near the Persimmon Tree

On August 6, community members joined together at Alton Baker Park to commemorate the anniversary of the nuclear bombings on Japan.

The annual Hiroshima/Nagasaki Commemoration, organized by the Community Alliance of Lane County, was sponsored by the Japanese American Association, Asian American Council of Oregon, Women’s Action for New Directions, and Justice Not War Coalition.

The event featured traditional Japanese Taiko drumming, Obon dancing, and songs performed by the Yujin Gakuen Children’s Peace Choir.

Japanese American Association members lead a traditional Obon Dance. [Mary Bell // Double Sided Media]

Lois Yoshishige of Eugene Taiko Community Alliance feels a deep connection to this event as a Japanese-Okinawan American. 

“As a proud Okinawan-American ally to Japanese people, we must take stand,” Yoshishige. “This can never be allowed to happen to any other people ever again.”

Estimates from the bombings place the death tolls between 199,000 and 214,000, with roughly 80,000 lives immediately lost on Aug 6. 1945. Yoshishige said that this event is about connection. She said “It’s a day to mourn the loss of mothers, fathers, and children so that together we can heal.” 

Events like this take place all over the world and Yoshishige said “it’s a way of showing love and respect, instead of turning away.” She believes that right now people need to be aware of what’s going on.

Speakers echoed Yoshishige’s sentiments earlier in the evening calling on the community to address their representatives in favor and support of nuclear peace. According to the Nuclear Threat Initiative, the United States currently opposes the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. The United States has also not ratified the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, first signed in 1996.

Grassroot organizations first began forming in the United States after the creation of the bombs. Leo Szilard, one of the scientists responsible for the Manhattan Project, became an activist for international arms control and peaceful uses of nuclear energy. In 1962, during the Cold War, Szilard formed the Council for a Livable World with the mission of eliminating nuclear weapons.

Efforts toward nuclear peace at that time resulted in the Limited Test Ban Treaty which prohibited test explosions underwater, in the atmosphere, and in outer space.

Michael Carrigan, of CALCs Anti-Nuclear group, was part of the effort responsible for the 1996 Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. Carrigan said two trips inspired him to dedicate his life to ridding the world of nuclear weapons. The first trip, in 1985, was to Hiroshima and Nagasaki on the 40th anniversary of the bombings. In 1998, he traveled to the test sites in Nevada.

Carrigan began working with Taiko in 1996 and every year he helps out during Eugene’s event.  Though he’s now retired, Carrigan is at heart an activist and is still working towards nuclear peace. Along with Yoshishige, Carrigan hopes that commemoration events are a call to action, as well as a time of reflection, especially after the last few years.

During the Trump administration, the United States began seeking out new types of nuclear weapons and withdrew from the U.S.-Russia Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty in 2019.

In 2020 the United States deployed the first W76-2, a new low-yield nuclear submarine warhead. Later that year, Trump administration officials openly discussed resuming explosive nuclear weapons testing.

Current President, Joe Biden believes that “Our nuclear arsenal should be managed in a way that deters the use of nuclear weapons and makes nuclear use less likely,” further adding that “there would be no “winners” in a nuclear exchange.”

The August 6 commemoration ceremony began at 7 p.m. by the duck pond at the site where the Japanese Persimmon Peace Tree was planted in 2019. At the end of the event attendees were invited to offer prayers for the future in traditional Japanese style. 

Satoko writing the words “Peace” and “Respect” on a paper lantern.  [Mary Bell // Double Sided Media]

Each year the commemoration closes with floating lanterns on the duck pond. The lanterns contain messages of hope for the future written in Japanese: words like peace, love, and respect, things the world needs much more of now. 

Michael Carrigan collecting the paper lanterns from the duck pond at the end of the event.  [Mary Bell // Double Sided Media]

While there have been drastic efforts to reduce the global number of nuclear weapons, the pace of reduction has slowed down since the 1990s. Heavily nuclear-armed states have retained large arsenals for national defense strategies, including the United States. 

So, even though communities around the world recognize the catastrophic effects of nuclear weapons and are still mourning the losses from the 1945 bombings, disarmament is not a top priority. 

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