Back in 1991, the then leader of Japan Socialist Party, Takako Doi delivered a speech at a peace and security conference held in University of Montana and praised Janet Rankin as a life-long pacifist. Rankin, a graduate of the university, was the first woman elected to the US congress. She voted against the US’s entry to both the First and the Second World Wars. In 1941, this Montana Congresswoman was the sole voice in the House to oppose declaration of war on Japan. She said “”As a woman, I can’t go to war and I refuse to send anyone else.” Those who wanted a unanimous resolution threatened Rankin to change her mind. She was even spat on but she stood firm. It was this episode in Doi’s speech then that I first come across the word, “conscientious objector”.
Twenty years later, on 6 August I walk-in to a small park near Euston Station called the Tavistock Square to join the Hiroshima Day 2011 that the London Regional CND organised. It is only a coincident but on the 7.7 London bombings (July 2005), the double-decker Stagecoach bus blasted just outside of this place.
I knew that a commemorative cherry tree is planted here. What I did not know was that a statue of Mahatma Gandhi and a memorial stone for conscientious objectors are also placed in this Square. The stone bears the following message:-
To all those who have established and are maintaining their right to refuse to kill. Their foresight and courage give us hope.
An hour’s ceremony was held here.
Songs by the choir, Raised Voices were moving. They sang a song well in Japanese. For the first time, I listened to the English version of the classic 原爆許すまじ Against the Atom Bomb.
One speaker pointed out that 16 major wars were fought since “the war to end all wars” was first declared in 1914. It only illustrates the fact that belligerence is not the way to resolve international conflict. Another said that the US government knew that Japanese imperialists were considering surrendering but went ahead with the dropping of the A-bomb on 6 August to test its effects and to demonstrate its military supremacy against the USSR and emerging communist China.
Those who attended the rally came from all walks of life. Unsurprisingly, an SWP man was selling their newspaper. The Japanese Buddhist monk based in London is a regular participant to peace meetings. I met for the first time a SGI member but after all they are also active in peace movement. There were a couple of my friends too. One is a retired former president of a union. I meet him regularly on May Day marches and political protests. When so many would distance themselves from such events once you are on retirement, he isn’t. The other there was a member of Stop the War Coalition. I did not know that he is a serious singer until I saw him in the choir today!
Undoubtedly, those who were present at the ceremony would advocate for nuclear disarmament and most likely that they are opposed to wars. The question is, still, how can such notions be shared and supported with wider groups of society? We live in a world where the massacres perpetrated by Anders Behring Breivik are condemned and the victims are mourned for. Yet “official” belligerencies between states are often supported by the majority of population.
But either way, don’t you see that people are getting killed? What’s the difference?
Hetty Bower (top photo right) is a 104-year old peace campaigner and she is still going strong. So is Tony Benn (top left). Just like my former union friend, I see Tony at many political gatherings. Sometimes, he is just a participant but is there. They teach you something. Hetty and Tony as well as those pacifists and conscientious objectors have something firm to believe in. Money can be stolen. Possessions and statuses can be taken away from you. But your belief, not.
And with it, you can be strong, even in difficult times.
More practically, I believe that we have a link between the anti-cuts campaigns and peace movement. Massive amount of war expenditures surely should be cut instead of essential public services in the name of austerity plan.
*See the slideshow of the event on my Flickr!