By GAUTAMA MEHTA
Sunday, Aug. 6, was the 72nd anniversary of the United States’ atomic bombing of the Japanese city of Hiroshima.
This date has special importance for Hyde Park, the neighborhood in which the process that led to the dropping of the bomb took place—most notably the nuclear chain reaction achieved by physicist Enrico Fermi on Dec. 2, 1942, in an underground laboratory then situated beneath the bleachers of the University of Chicago’s (U. of C.) Stagg Field football stadium. The stadium has since been moved west to make way for the Regenstein Library. The spot where Fermi’s reaction occurred is marked by an iconic and unsettling bronze Henry Moore sculpture entitled “Nuclear Energy.” This has been the site for several years of an annual, community-organized gathering in remembrance of the victims of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
On Sunday afternoon, a crowd of about 50 people assembled once again on the Ellis Avenue sidewalk to hear speeches, poems and songs from an assortment of peace activists, academics and religious leaders. Most were veterans of a pacifist movement which eschews nuclear energy as well as nuclear weapons—one speaker, Norma Field, a retired (U. of C.) professor of East Asian studies called the distinction between the two virtually meaningless—and spoke of the difficulty of maintaining hope in the face of dispiriting news around the globe and an increasing threat of the development and use of nuclear weapons from world leaders.
“We’ve all been rattled by what’s been happening in the world in the last year,” said Jack Lawlor, a teacher at the Lakeside Buddha Sangha, an Evanston-based meditation group. “I wonder if the 21st century has learned anything about the 20th century.”
Gesturing at the library and campus buildings surrounding him, Lawlor said, “These buildings around us are full of history books.” Then he read aloud the Metta Sutta, an early Buddhist text known as the “Discourse on Love.”
Yuki Miyamoto, a professor of religious studies at DePaul University and a Hiroshima native, spoke about her personal experience of the effects of nuclear war.
“My mother was six years old when the bomb was dropped,” Miyamoto said.
Her mother eventually died of causes traceable to the after effects of radiation exposure. Miyamoto described the lifelong anxiety experienced by hibakusha, the Japanese word for survivors of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki attacks: “We never know when radiation will catch up.” Descendents of immediate survivors, like Miyamoto, are affected as well, not only medically but also societally, through discrimination. It is difficult for members of “the second generation, perceived as having inherited bad genes from their parents,” to marry and procreate, she said.
Charles Strain, also a professor of religious studies at DePaul, captured the tone of outrage and moral passion common to the various speeches delivered Sunday when he said, “The very existence of these apocalyptic weapons corrupts the moral underpinnings of our democracy.”