Wednesday, July 29, 2009

From Hiroshima to Hope

(UPI Photo/Jim Bryant)

We’ve spent the last four months preparing for a trip that begins tomorrow, and yet somehow I still spent most of the afternoon and evening frantically tying up loose ends and packing my bag. My phone has been ringing off the hook: where can I get a copy of the medical release form? Do we have time for a photo op before we go through the metal detectors? Who still has space in their bag to carry peace cranes? What size of liquid soap can we take carry on? But at last I’m ready – or as ready as I’ll ever be – to begin the journey of repentance.

Tonight, as I sat on the floor surrounded by all the belongings I would need for the next 13 days, I realized just how many people have been involved in the JOR, and how few of that number will be physically traveling to Japan. I thought of the family members of delegates who have been attending meetings and working behind the scenes to prepare everything from gifts to our Web site, the translator who got a call at 5pm this evening with a rush order of documentary release forms to be taken from English to Japanese text, the donors who have made it possible for all 18 of us to travel to and around Japan, the students of Holy Rosary Catholic School who folded hundreds of beautiful cranes for us to deliver for them, and the 500+ individuals who have signed a statement of remorse. I have the privilege of being one of 18 who are able to go – but the Journey of Repentance continues on here at home while we are gone.

Although being with us in spirit is an incredible gift, there are also ways that you can be part of our mission here in the States. Gatherings, memorials, and discussions are going on all across the US to continue sharing the memories and understanding gained in the last 64 years. On August 6th on the shore of Green Lake, an annual lantern floating ceremony, From Hiroshima to Hope, occurs to honor the victims of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The event beings at 6:30pm, just south of the Bathhouse, with music and speakers. You can learn more by visiting

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Tom's Call to Conscience

Several participants in the Journey of Repentance were asked to share their perspectives on both the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, as well as the reconciliation and non-proliferation process. Tom Karlin, a leader for our group, provides his insights below.

Do you remember when you first heard about the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki? How did you find out? What were your first thoughts? What was your reaction?

When I first heard about the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, I was only 9 years old. I do remember clearly the comments my parents made when the news came over our battery-operated radio. "They should have dropped one on Stalin right away." Like most Catholics and Americans, they believed in the "just war" doctrine.

What about the bombings most impacted you?

What impacted me the most about the bombings was what I saw 11 years later, visiting Nagasaki while in the Navy. At the epicenter of the bombing was a multi-story museum displaying thousands of relics, documents, and photographs. The whole display was poignant and ponderous... men, women and children trying to flee the inferno, terrorized.

What has your past involvement with nuclear non-proliferation been?

My past involvement with nuclear non-proliferation has been lobbying our representatives, letterwriting, attending rallies and marches, speaking at forums, and enacting civil resistance at the Trident Submarine Base at Bangor, Washington from the early 1970's, on. I have been arrested 6 or 7 times, and have done 4 months in federal prison once.

What is your opinion on nuclear proliferation? Is it at all influenced by your knowledge or understanding of the impact atomic bombs had in Japan?

My opinion on nuclear proliferation is that not only is reliance on nuclear weapons bad and violent policy, it is unlawful. The use, or threat of use, of nuclear weapons and the indefinite maintenance of a nuclear arsenal are contrary to established, universally recognized rules of international law.
Nuclear weapons and the threat of their use, is, in my opinion, terrorism. I believe the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, as well as the fire-bombings of 60 Japanese cities was a crime against humanity and also was a war crime, even if one embraces the "just war" doctrine.

What inspires you to travel to Japan for the Journey of Repentance?

What inspires me to travel to Japan with our delegation is the call of the Gospel to be peacemakers. I am inspired by the example of peace prophets like Gandhi, Dorothy Day, Oscar Romero, Martin Luther King Jr., Bix, and many others. Last but not least, the Japanese people, especially the Hibakusha, inspire me. ("Hibakusha": the people who suffered and are still suffering the effects of the atomic bombings.)

While in Japan, what do you hope to accomplish?
Along with my fellow travelers, I hope to accomplish the following:
^ Do a great deal of compassionate listening to the people we meet.
^ Express our deep sorrow for the suffering that our nation inflicted on them and ask their forgiveness, while also forgiving their nation for the suffering they inflicted on our people in the war.
^ Deepen mutual respect between our peoples.

Upon returning, what do you hope to do with your experience?

I hope that, upon returning, we can all in our unique ways and perhaps as a group share what we have seen and heard. I hope we thereby can contribute to healing, reconciliation and help peace break out, even in some small way, in our world.

Is there anything else you would like to share about yourself, your experience, or your intent for this journey?
After my discharge from the Navy in 1960, I entered the Trappist Monastery in Oregon. My novice master had been an aviator on a B-29 bomber that was involved in the fire-bombing of some of the 60 Japanese cities. While sharing my concerns, he encouraged me to become a conscientious objector to all war.

My "call to conscience" became so clear, I could no longer accept the Church's "just war" teaching. I became a conscientious objector to all war, and try to be a conscientious objector also to the things and activities that contribute to war. "Non-cooperation with evil is as much a duty as cooperation with good." -- Gandhi
In Luke's gospel, chapter 9, verse 54, when James and John wished to call down fire from heaven on their enemies, Jesus remonstrated with them: "You know not of what spirit you are. The son of man came not to destroy souls but to save them..." He also said, "Whatever you do to the least of my sisters and brothers, you do to me..." Matthew 25:40

Japanese Students Respond to the Journey of Repentance

At a high school near Hiroshima, Marc Milsten, a Pacific Lutheran University graduate and local Washintonian, teaches English to a group of Japanese junior high school students. To help them understand one perspective of Americans, his students have been reading a recent Tacoma News Tribune article about none other than the Journey of Repentance. The Tacoma News Tribune, upon hearing this, wrote another article outlining their reaction; that they were “moved – even surprised – American’s would travel to Japan for this purpose.”

One student, Monami, wrote that “I think those people in Tacoma are wonderful and modest because they will visit Japan to ask forgiveness although it was Japan that started the war. Japan should visit your country and apologize first. In any war, both countries have to be responsible for the results. I think this visit will be a good chance to forgive each other and make a better relationship.”

Thank you to Marc for beginning this dialogue in your school, thank you to Steve Maynard of the Tacoma News Tribune for continuing it here in Tacoma.

Up north in Ferndale, WA, Sarah and Debi Covert-Bowlds have been receiving much support for the Journey of Repentance. The Ferndale Record Journal included a half page article about the trip (, 7/22/09).

Sarah was interviewed on KGMI Bellingham radio (KGMI.COM, podcast, 7/20/09) with an articulate and concise response to the mission and her individual reason for going as a 15-year old high school student. She answered that it was "crucial" that young people learn about the history of WWII, to learn from the history of all wars, to prevent repeating the mistakes and atrocities of the past, and emphasized the need to prevent the use of and work to abolish nuclear weapons. Sarah and Debi spoke of their trip's mission to their faith community of Zion Lutheran Church throughout July, and members folded origami peace cranes for them to take to Japan. A "love offering" from this small country church was received towards trip expenses.

On Saturday, 7/26, Debi and Sarah presented at a camp for children of migrant farmworkers, ages 6-11. The children were quite engaged by the picture book "Sadako and the Thousand Cranes" Sarah read to them, and they were very focused on the paper crane folding. They were shown photos of the Sadako peace monument in Hiroshima and told that the delegation would lay the cranes at this special place. One 10 year old told her friend who came late that Sadako died "by bombs we dropped." The emphasis was they all can be peacemakers even at a young age. One 10-year old boy declared camp for him was about having fun, and Debi replied that we can work for peace so that all children can have fun, because that is what all children deserve.

The children are very excited for us to lay their cranes at Sadako's Peace memorial, and signed their names on the wings of the peace cranes. Requests for trip reports and presentations are coming in. Sarah and Debi are eager to share their JOR experience in classrooms, churches, and to whomever is interested. They are overwhelmed with gratitude for the shared excitement and support of family, friends and community members, and realize that they are representatives on this Journey for our entire beloved community. They are especially grateful for Chris, husband/father, who is journeying with them vicariously through the many library books and videos he has brought home for them to watch, read, and discuss.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Several participants in the Journey of Repentance were asked to share their perspectives on both the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, as well as the reconciliation and non-proliferation process. Fr. Bill Bichsel, a leader for our group, provides his insights below.

Do you remember when you first heard about the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki? How did you find out? What were your first thoughts? What was your reaction?

Dutch Schultz and I were hitch-hiking to Seattle to learn where and when he would be inducted into the Navy. The man who stopped to give us a ride had his car radio on. We introduced ourselves and talked about why we were heading for Seattle. Then music that was coming from the radio was interrupted by an announcer who blandly said that an army-air force plane had dropped an atom bomb on Hiroshima and that, as a result, the war would soon be over. We asked one another what an atom bomb was. None of us knew. We didn’t know what to make of it and wondered whether Dutch would still be inducted. Dutch was 18 and was enlisting in the navy before being drafted by the army. I was 17 and not yet old enough for the draft.

What about the bombings most impacted you?

I was most impacted by the picture of the young girls in the playground wide eyed and questioning, looking up into the sky at the plane that within minutes would drop the bomb that vaporized them.

What has your past involvement with nuclear non-proliferation been?

Since 1974 I have joined in with groups here in Washington, to protest the use of the Bangor Station for the Trident Submarine Base. In 1976 I did my first civil-resistance action at Bangor by helping to carry a replica of the Trident Sub onto the base. I continued with other protest actions and received a short sentence to the King County jail. In 1980 I served 4 months at Lompoc Federal Prison for a trespass violation onto the base. During the later 70’s and early 80’s I worked with the Ground Zero Center for Non-Violence. After our effort to stop the Ohio, the first Trident to port at Bangor, we turned our efforts to block the White Train which was bringing nuclear weapons from Amarillo, Texas to the Bangor Base. This prolonged resistance to the white train deliveries brought about the government’s decision not to ship the weapons by rail.

Since 2004 I have tried to focus my attention again on the nuclear weapon issue by working through the Ground Zero Center for Non Violence. I have joined with GZ members in acts of civil resistance.

What is your opinion on nuclear proliferation? Is it at all influenced by your knowledge or understanding of the impact atomic bombs had in Japan?

My understanding of the contagious proliferation of nuclear weapons has been formed by the impact of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The events of unleashing the hellish blast which incinerated and destroyed thousands of people and their environment generated fear at its center that has spread throughout the world much as radioactive fallout does. Fear of this weapon and fear to be without this weapon spreads its illogical fallout to the body-politics of our world. Nations that fear and mistrust one another are the essential ingredients for nuclear weapon proliferation. However, the primary cause of proliferation is the United States Government which initiated the first atomic bombings and which failed to acknowledge the bloody deed and turned to developing nuclear weapon superiority. We continue today to threaten other nations with the use of nuclear weapons. It could have led the world community to nuclear disarmament but continued to produce and enhance nuclear weapons and their delivery system.

What inspires you to travel to Japan for the Journey of Repentance?

For some time I have felt that unless the U.S.A. is able to acknowledge and repent of the atomic bombing it would not turn from the path of using its nuclear weapon superiority to dominate and subdue other countries and cultures. Over the years I have learned that repentance for the devastating deeds and the commitment to abolish nuclear weapons must come from people at the grass-roots level. Our government is too embedded in its own power structure to be able to acknowledge its murderous deeds and to turn its energy toward a world free of nuclear weapons.

The fact that the plutonium that was used in the second atomic bomb which destroyed Nagasaki was produced at Hanford, right here in Washington State is added incentive to seek forgiveness.

While in Japan, what do you hope to accomplish?

I travel to Japan to have my heart and mind touched by the Hibakusha (survivors of atomic bombings) and hopefully be moved to a deeper commitment to abolish nuclear weapons. I also hope to form friendships and connections with Japanese people to work cooperatively on the abolishing of nuclear weapons.

Upon returning, what do you hope to do with your experience?

I hope to work with Japanese friends and all other interested people in preparing for the Non Proliferation Treaty Review which will take place at the United Nations in New York in May,


Is there anything else you would like to share about yourself, your experience, or your intent for this journey?

The absence of compassion and moral judgment brought the decision to use the atomic bomb on two cities and their inhabitants. The deadly deeds inflicted on the people of Japan by our government must be acknowledged and repented by the American people. Repentance and compassion are essential first steps toward eliminating all nuclear weapons.

We and our human family in global villages and countries are held in the bondage of fear and terror by nuclear weapons. The possibility of the use of a nuclear weapon is always with us; however, even if a missile or nuclear weapon is not fired the poor and destitute of our country and in our global village are dying and robbed of a human life by the staggering amounts of money and resources going into the production, enhancement, and deployment of nuclear weapons. Large sections of people are dying for lack of human services that could otherwise save lives. Often the mentally ill on our streets live in makeshift lean-tos or abandoned autos, and our lack of response often leads to them taking their lives.

In our country of nuclear weapon superiority, violence and greed are ever rising. As Fr. Richard McSorley, S.J., a prisoner of WWII for 3 years has said: “The taproot of violence in our society today is our intent to use nuclear weapons. Once we have agreed to that, all other evil is minor in comparison. Until we squarely face the question of our consent to use nuclear weapons, any hope of large scale improvement of public morality is doomed to failure.”

Some years ago who would have thought that the American people would allow torture as a practice to be officially approved. As world tension increases we are becoming more numb to respond as human beings to each other and care for each other and the world that God has given to us.

- Fr. Bill Bichsel

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Dialogue with Japanese College Students in Tacoma

From Journey of Repentance 2009
What an exciting hour I had, sharing about our Journey of Repentance this afternoon with 25 Japanese students at Tacoma Community College. The students are here from Kitakyushu University, (北九州市立大学), in Tacoma's Sister City in Japan. Professor Gail Watters is giving them a summer course in English. Ms. Watters had the students following all the articles in The News Tribune, i.e., the controversy over repentance or asking forgiveness for the atomic and hydrogen bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

The students were so attentive and receptive, and had well thought out questions. "Do most Americans really believe that the A and H Bombs were what ended the war?" "What do you think about American troops in Japan?" "Do you have peace activism in Tacoma?"

On my way home, I thought of how important it is to share the meaning of nonviolence with young people like these who are so eager to embrace that message. I sensed absolutely no resistance or opposition to that message. Our young people are our hope, not only for the future, but also for the here and now.

I was touched by the easy, gentle, cheerful rapport Ms. Watters had with her students.

-- Tom Karlin, July 21, 2009

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Delegates Retreat

Journey of Repentance participants met last weekend at the Bainbridge Island Buddhist temple to prepare both logistically and spiritually for the trip. We began by listening to and reflecting on a recording of a speech by Hiroshima’s Mayor Akiba from August 6, 2002. In it, he speaks of the continued agony of the Hibakusha, and reminds us that one reason for this is that “their experience appears to be fading from the collective memory of humankind. Having never experienced an atomic bombing, the vast majority around the world can only vaguely imagine such horror…” These word, and others like it, have heavily influenced our journey. We have been asked to listen compassionately to the experiences that we cannot imagine ourselves.

We have been asked to remember so that history cannot repeat itself.

Not everyone who takes part in our Journey of Repentance is able to travel with us physically to Japan. Everyone, everywhere, has an opportunity to hear the testimony of the Hibakusha. The Japan Confederation of A- and H-Bomb Sufferers Organizations has made available the stories of several victims of the A and H Bombs.