War survivors plead for peace
In the wake of September 11 and heightened terrorist threats, war has been at the forefront of Americans' minds. In a growing debate over the ethics of war and the legitimacy of overseas violence, political leaders grapple with the possibility of launching additional foreign attacks.
The Washington D.C. based The Student Peace Action Network (SPAN) is an anti-war organization that plays an active role in this brewing political controversy. SPAN encourages the possibility of peaceful resolutions to international conflict and on November 2, a speaking tour organized by SPAN coordinator Jen White brought the hidden side of war to Bowdoin College. Survivors of terrorism and nuclear violence shared their stories and ultimately voiced a plea for peace.
Speaker Seiko Ikeda and translator Mika Yoshida discussed the severe physical and emotional agony caused by nuclear weapons. Ikeda, a survivor of the first atomic bombing at Hiroshima, recalled the sight of a B-29 bomber roaring over the city and the massive destruction that the area endured. "The city of Hiroshima had disappeared," she said. "Fires were breaking out spontaneously, people were trapped under burning houses." By 1950, 200,000 people had died from the 1945 bombing. Ikeda lamented the extensive loss of life resulting from the attack, "each one of those people were important, irreplaceable to their families."
Ikeda's exposure to the residual radiation continues to plague her today. "I worry about cancer when I have a stomach ache, leukemia when my head hurts," she said. Ikeda's story reminds us that even 57 years after it is dropped, an atomic bomb still has the power to kill. "Even at this moment," she said. "Hiroshima survivors are dying from the aftereffects of the a-bomb."
After Ikeda spoke, White read a letter written by John Hallock, a member of the September 11 Families for Peaceful Tomorrows. Hallock lost his cousin in the September 11 tragedy. In his letter, Hallock discouraged military retaliation in the Middle East, claiming he does not want to inflict the same grief he feels upon people from other countries. "Leave revenge to the Lord," he advised.
The Bowdoin Students for Democratic Socialism, Rosalind May'03, and Matthew Fleck '03 all played crucial roles in the planning of the event. In organizing the tour, Matthew hoped to expose the Bowdoin community to a world perspective that was independent from "mainstream media." Rosalind wanted to give students an opportunity to examine "the realities of war."
Students who attended the speaking tour left with a heightened understanding of the destruction linked with war. After the tour, senior Sarah Bruss said, "Until I heard the horrors that Ms. Ikeda experienced as a survivor of the Hiroshima bombing, it was hard for me to really grasp the intense human suffering of the victims. Her powerful retelling of surviving Hiroshima brought a human side to the inhuman concept of nuclear war."