Footage from this month’s Hiroshima-Nagasaki commemoration, an annual event in which members of the Corvallis community gather to mourn and remember the devastating nuclear attacks on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan, is now available to the public. The event, sponsored by the Women’s International League of Peace & Freedom (WILPF) and Veterans for Peace Linus Pauling Chapter (VFP), was held at the Riverfront Park on August 5 and featured a variety of speakers from within and beyond the Corvallis community. Live traditional koto music was provided by Masuma Timson, who teaches and records musical sessions from her home studio in Salem.
Linda Richards, a member of the WILPF and VFP and an instructor at OSU’s School of History, Philosophy and Religion, remarked in her opening speech that those in attendance had gathered “as a type of ceremony to send healing” to all of those harmed by nuclear weapons, including the hibakusha — survivors of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki — and the victims of radiation exposure.
Honoring the Hibakusha
One of the hibakusha commemorated at the event was Hideko Tamura Snider, peace activist, author, and founder of the Medford-based organization One Sunny Day Initiatives (OSDI), which provides education to the public about the consequences of nuclear weapons and the need for reconciliation and healing in a nuclear-armed world. In 2017, Snider partnered with Oregon Community Trees (OCT) to acquire seeds collected and distributed by Green Legacy Hiroshima, a Japanese-founded global initiative established to safeguard and spread worldwide the seeds and saplings of Hiroshima’s A-Bomb survivor trees, or hibakujumoku, as universal symbols of peace, warning, and resilience.
A packet of hibakujumoku seeds was sent to Michael Oxendine, a Board member of OCT, who successfully germinated the seeds and, in seeking public homes for the growing saplings, transferred them to be cared for by Jennifer Killian of Corvallis Parks and Recreation. Since 2019, the OSDI, OCT, and Corvallis Parks and Recreation have partnered with the Oregon Department of Forestry to distribute the saplings to be planted in public places throughout Oregon, Snider’s second home.
In Corvallis, peace tree saplings have been planted in three locations: the Adams Elementary at Western View Center, OSU’s Asian & Pacific Cultural Center, and, most recently, Martin Luther King, Jr. Park. On May 27 this year, Corvallis resident and hibakusha June Ikuko Terasaka Moore and her family visited the OSU campus to bless the peace tree that was planted at the APCC.
Moore, who is 93, was too ill to join those who had gathered at Riverfront Park, but was honored in a statement she had written for the event, titled, “The Samurai Survivor of Hiroshima.” The statement, which recounts Moore’s memories of the nuclear attack on her hometown as a young high school student, was read by Claire Nelson, an OSU student and intern at the university’s Peace and Justice Strategies Office.
Prohibiting Nuclear Weapons
Another speaker was Adrien Monty, a recent OSU graduate who earned her Master of Arts in Environmental Arts and Humanities, where she transcribed the oral histories of individuals who were exposed to and harmed by nuclear radiation, from downwinders to atomic veterans. Monty drew from these stories to develop her thesis project, a collection of creative nonfiction essays focusing on U.S. nuclear history.
As Monty noted, this year’s commemoration was the first to be held with the United Nations Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, or TPNW, in effect. Courtesy of the coordinated efforts of Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility, both a state measure and a Portland City Resolution have been passed to support and align with the commitments of the treaty, including the human right to not be threatened by nuclear war or contamination. The state measure cites Corvallis and other Oregon cities like Eugene, Ashland, Beaverton, and Lincoln City as “Mayor for Peace” cities that have supported the call from the mayors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki for the abolition of nuclear weapons.
“States that sign the [TPNW] agree to important commitments, including being mindful of the unacceptable suffering of and harm caused to the victims of nuclear weapons — the hibakusha — as well as those affected by the testing of nuclear weapons,” said Monty.
Accordingly, the TPNW obligates states to provide care to victims of nuclear weapons use and testing, as well as to undertake environmental restoration efforts of contaminated areas. However, the U.S.’ own Radiation Exposure Compensation Act (RECA), which provides a one-time compensation for people suffering from health impacts linked to radiation exposure, is due to expire in July 2022 unless action is taken by Congress. The current RECA bill still excludes many radiation-exposed communities — communities which, as a result of this ongoing exposure and other social factors, were disproportionately vulnerable to COVID-19 — and several new bills are being introduced to expand its coverage. However, public support is still needed.
“We achieved the ratification of the UN Treaty only because of the imagination and ongoing sacrifices of the hibakusha, the survivors of nuclear war who continue to speak their demand that nuclear war must never happen again,” said Monty. “They suffer in reliving their memories to help people understand that we must act.”
Remembering the Downwinders
The next speaker was Patricia Hoover, a Eugene resident who herself was harmed by exposure to radiation growing up in the 1940s and ‘50s downwind from the Hanford Nuclear Reservation, where plutonium was manufactured for nuclear weapons — including the bomb that was dropped on Nagasaki. Monty, during her time as a research graduate assistant, uncovered more of Hoover’s story in an essay about the toxic legacies of Hanford’s nuclear experiments and activities.
Such a story of radiation exposure is one of many to come forward in a series of workshops organized for the OSU Downwinders Project, a collaborative effort between the university’s Environmental Arts and Humanities Initiative, History of Science graduate program, and Special Collections and Archives Research Center. Funded by the National Science Foundation, the project was led by Richards and History Professor Jacob Darwin Hamblin to produce the first detailed historical studies on the Hanford Environmental Dose Reconstruction Project, which was the federal government’s initial attempt to estimate the amount and types of radioactive materials that communities downwind from the Hanford site were exposed to. An article on the living histories of radiation exposure, co-authored by Richards and Hamblin, was published in the Journal of the History of Biology earlier this year.
Hoover read the poem “August 6” by the late Janice Mirikitani, a Sansei (third generation) Japanese-American poet and activist who, as an infant, was imprisoned with her family at the Rohwer internment camp in Arkansas during World War II. The poem can be found in Mirikitani’s fifth and final collection of poems, Out of the Dust: New and Selected Poems.
Heeding Indigenous Leaders
Speakers were also keen to highlight the connections between nuclear weapons development and testing and the U.S.’ settler-colonial assaults on Indigenous communities, whose lands, waters, and bodies have been disproportionately exploited as nuclear sacrifice zones.
Laurie Childers, a local artist and ceramics instructor at Linn-Benton Community College, touched on this when guiding attendees to participate in a series of movements. At one point, she told attendees to stretch out their arms and imagine touching the lives of all those connected to the creation and explosion of atomic bombs, including “the Diné and Pueblo people whose land, air and water have been poisoned by the mining of uranium.”
Indeed, the industrial issue of extracting and producing materials for nuclear power and developing test sites is also an ecocidal one — one that has scarred Tribal lands and rendered them some of the most contaminated places on the planet.
After opening with a land acknowledgement, Richards said, “I was taught by Roberta Blackgoat, Arvol Looking Horse, Robert Owens-Greygrass, Perry H. Charley, [Corbin Harney,] and Agnes [Baker] Pilgrim that following Indigenous elders is essential at this time to repair wrongs and to learn what we must do to ban nuclear weapons — and thus, survive the climate crisis — creating justice and peace for future generations.”
Richards has written more about this subject in two articles — “On Poisoned Ground” and “Healing Hózhó in the Nukescape: Hózhó Naasháa Doo” — the latter of which is drawn from her forthcoming book, Human Rights and Nuclear Wrongs.
Divesting From War
As Monty noted during her speech, “Survivors’ leadership, Indigenous leaders, radiation-exposed communities like atomic veterans and downwinders like Patricia Hoover make clear why we need to rid the world of nuclear weapons.”
In Corvallis, a growing assembly of longtime and up-and-coming community activists is up to the task. Former Ward 7 City Councilor Bill Glassmire, who was also in attendance at the event, is currently a leading member of Corvallis Divest from War (CDfW), an ad-hoc activist group committed to redefining security by shifting U.S. priorities away from militarism and toward resources that advance justice and healing.
“Since World War II, the United States has steadily increased its foreign policy commitment to militarism, with huge military spending and repeated armed attacks on other countries,” said Glassmire in an email. “As a first step toward redirecting U.S. priorities away from militarism toward building a better world, CDfW is formulating a resolution for the city of Corvallis to renounce investment in our country’s weapons-of-war economic sector.”
Richards, who has dedicated most of her life to researching and calling attention to nuclear issues, took a moment to thank attendees for their perseverance in advocating for the eradication of nuclear weapons worldwide.
“I feel as though I’ve waited my whole life for this very day, for this very moment, when this crowd would come together, [when] we would have this beautiful music and the koto playing, we would have the poetry, we would have the sadness, and we would have the beauty of all of you,” said Richards. “I walked across the country in 1986 for global nuclear disarmament, and I don’t believe I ever stopped walking until tonight.”
For more information about the event, contact Richards at [email protected]. To learn more about the legacies of U.S. nuclear weapons activities — including uranium mining, weapons production and storage, and atmospheric nuclear testing — and ways to support impacted communities, check out the webpages of Tularosa Basin Downwinders Consortium.
By Emilie Ratcliff