There But For Fortune: The Film Bio of Phil Ochs Reviewed By Howard Romaine



Just days after its opening in Boston, DC, and other places, the new film biography of Phil
Ochs opened in NASHVILLE at the Belcourt Theatre. If one wants a good, brief biography of the
sixties, taught from the perspective of the ‘singer-songwriter,’ this is the movie. If one wants to see
the origins of the singer-songwriter ‘folk’ crowd before it moved out to places like Nashville, New Orleans, Boston, San Francisco and Macon, and Atlanta, Georgia, Austin, Texas, and Woodstock, New York, this is your movie.
If one is younger, and wants, from lack of personal knowledge,  a puzzled back look
at what all the musical and cultural excitement and horror of the sixties was about – from the perspective of the young and engaged – this is the one movie one should see, and have history classes see.

From the early photos, movies and songs about the election of President Kennedy and his idealistic energy to the spread of this spirit to “Negroes” demanding the vote, or a seat at the table, to images of the death of Medgar Evers, and Malcolm X,  to the dogs attacking demonstrators in Birmingham, one gets the perspective and the reactions of the young folk crowd in New York, and, in effect, literary commentary on those events which were, at least in my case, as a college student of the era, the ‘facts’ as well as the ‘feelings’ about the facts which only songs, and songs from a certain milieu, in this case, Greenwich Village, and the urban sophisticated ‘south’ of ‘the movement,’ and the folk and coffee houses there, could provide.

Omission – the black presence and creative factor

Unfortunately, for me, the movie fails to provide much of the ‘black song’ which also arose from and enveloped these events – songs by Nashville and New York’s Julius Lester, or Cordell Reagon, or LA’s Lynn Chandler, or Albany and Atlanta’s Bernice Johnson Reagon, who met and married Nashville’s Cordell in the SNCC’s ‘Freedom Singers,’ and continued to  create, throughout her career, the musical soundtrack to the resistance to the racist repression of the sixties and ensuing years, rising to a high tide with Barry Goldwater, and his clone, Ronald Reagan.

After an early career with the SNCC Freedom Singers, and a move to DC for a Ph.D. at Howard in Musicology, Dr. Bernice Johnson Reagon’s created and sustained the acapella genius of Sweet Honey in the Rock, and helped Anne Romaine, here in Nashville, and thru the region,  sustain the folk cultural vision for years with events like the Grass Roots Days in Nashville, and concerts with artists around the country as diverse as John D. Loudermilk to Babe Stovall, and the Rev. Pearly Brown, Pete and Mike Seeger, Alice and Hazel, and Lynn Chandler,  and many other artists linked like chains of visionary poets to the principal events sadly and sharply depicted in this movie – from civil rights to Kennedy deaths, to Lyndon Johnson’s war in Vietnam, to its continuation by the two criminals Nixon and Spiro Agnew, shown here as they ascend; and the New York folk scene shifts from vocal opposition to active organizing – a role of Ochs which was new and revealing to me. It would have made a better, and more balanced,  movie to show the black origins of the music and organizing tradition of the era, as best reflected in Dr. Reagon’s long career.

However, many of the other leading lights of the era appear to give commentary, from Joan Baez, to Pete Seeger, to the record company executives of Electra, Ochs early publisher, to A & M, his publisher as he moved to Los Angeles in the second half of the sixties decade and to new alternative musical modes of creativity, to other musicians, friends, and relatives, sister, brother, daughter, whose appearance as a small child is one of the more moving black and white images in the middle part of the film, as her color commentary at the end, about  her father’s life and legacy, is sobering.

The extent of Ochs’ career, as a writer, as well as an activist, which continues with artists like Buono, of U2, is well captured with many later artist-activists, many of which I did not know. The early village scene with artists like Bob Dylan, and Baez, and the concurrent musical themes reacting to the events in the South is very well captured. And the size and diversity of his musical creations are given regular short shots throughout the movie, well paced between song, interview and visuals. Many of Ochs best known performances are available now on UTube, for example –

Although I had read of the competition between Ochs and Dylan, and it is briefly touched on in the movie, it is not a main theme, and indeed, their complimentary if competitive paths re-coalesce at an Ochs organized benefit after the CIA sponsored military takeover of the Allende democrats in Chile, in which the singer-songwriter, Victor Jara, was led into a stadium, filled with onlookers, and the singer’s fingers and hands were systematically smashed by rifle butts as a warning to the populace.

Ochs was sufficiently political and world traveled to have visited the Chilean singer just before the military coup, and organized a concert in Carnegie Hall to protest the vivid and viscious symbolic smashing of the songwriter’s hands by the Nixon-Kissinger-CIA backed military hunta.

According to the movie, the singer, Victor Jara, walked, his hands bleeding, toward the stands, and began to sing a patriotic song, and was joined by all in the stands, gradually, before he was shot down, murdered by the military.

Ochs and Village friends organized a Carnegie protest of this to bring it to world attention. The reconnection between Dylan and Ochs at this event is emphasized, rather than their sometime brutal competition, as footage of their joining together at the Carnegie Concert is shown, an event, again, which had slipped my ordinarily unrelenting Dylan history memory.

One could continue, as some reviews do, with reflections on Ochs ‘manic-depression’ and growing alcoholism, or marvel at his various incarnations – as an Elvis interpreter, in self-ironic jest – as a co-hort of the ‘yippies’ Ruben and Abbie Hoffman, (another alleged ‘manic depressive’ and drug abuser), or speculate about the lack of support of friends and family as he descended into ‘madness’ which various scenes toward the end capture – but, to me, this tragic aspect of his life is not the centerpiece.

No, that’s the beautiful voice, the tunes seemingly unending from his guitar, his laugh and joy in creation and opposition, and the contrast between a beautiful, if defeated creative life, and various evil, misguided, and murderous policies he dedicated his life and art to opposing.

Go see the movie for yourself. Or read the reviews, then go see it.

It plays two or three more days at the Belcourt. It’s the best movie I’ve ever seen about the sixties, but then, again, I see the era from the vantage point of its early literature – the song!! And, I know tragedy and literary triumph interconnect like earth, rain and spring.

How the Pentagon Turns Working-Class Men into the Deadliest Killers on the Planet

[Some folks have been decrying the torture behind turning dogs into killing machines.  Here David Swanson points out how the pentagon, as an organized force (not an aberration) turn human beings into killing machines.  Perhaps the model we are supposed to follow in society, one that requires “a few good men” to step forward and do their duty, provides the context for violence in the rest of society.  This excerpt from a book by Swanson was published on his blog, Let’s Try Democracy,  and on Alternet. — Lew Rosenbaum]

How the Pentagon Turns Working-Class Men into the Deadliest Killers on the Planet

By davidswanson – Posted on 14 December 2010

By David Swanson,


The following is an excerpt from David Swanson’s self-published new book War is a Lie (David Swanson, 2010).

Since the Vietnam War, the United States has dropped all pretense of a military draft equally applied to all. Instead we spend billions of dollars on recruitment, increase military pay, and offer signing bonuses until enough people “voluntarily” join by signing contracts that allow the military to change the terms at will. If more troops are needed, just extend the contracts of the ones you’ve got. Need more still? Federalize the National Guard and send kids off to war who signed up thinking they’d be helping hurricane victims. Still not enough? Hire contractors for transportation, cooking, cleaning, and construction. Let the soldiers be pure soldiers whose only job is to kill, just like the knights of old. Boom, you’ve instantly doubled the size of your force, and nobody’s noticed except the profiteers.

Still need more killers? Hire mercenaries. Hire foreign mercenaries. Not enough? Spend trillions of dollars on technology to maximize the power of each person. Use unmanned aircraft so nobody gets hurt. Promise immigrants they’ll be citizens if they join. Change the standards for enlistment: take ’em older, fatter, in worse health, with less education, with criminal records. Make high schools give recruiters aptitude test results and students’ contact information, and promise students they can pursue their chosen field within the wonderful world of death, and that you’ll send them to college if they live — hey, just promising it costs you nothing. If they’re resistant, you started too late. Put military video games in shopping malls. Send uniformed generals into kindergartens to warm the children up to the idea of truly and properly swearing allegiance to that flag. Spend 10 times the money on recruiting each new soldier as we spend educating each child. Do anything, anything, anything other than starting a draft.

But there’s a name for this practice of avoiding a traditional draft. It’s called a poverty draft. Because people tend not to want to participate in wars, those who have other career options tend to choose those other options. Those who see the military as one of their only choices, their only shot at a college education, or their only way to escape their troubled lives are more likely to enlist. According to the Not Your Soldier Project:

“The majority of military recruits come from below-median income neighborhoods.

“In 2004, 71 percent of black recruits, 65 percent of Latino recruits, and 58 percent of white recruits came from below-median income neighborhoods. “The percentage of recruits who were regular high school graduates dropped from 86 percent in 2004 to 73 percent in 2006. “[The recruiters] never mention that the college money is difficult to come by – only 16 percent of enlisted personnel who completed four years of military duty ever received money for schooling. They don’t say that the job skills they promise won’t transfer into the real world. Only 12 percent of male veterans and 6 percent of female veterans use skills learned in the military in their current jobs. And of course, they downplay the risk of being killed while on duty.”

In a 2007 article Jorge Mariscal cited analysis by the Associated Press that found that “nearly three-fourths of [U.S. troops] killed in Iraq came from towns where the per capita income was below the national average. More than half came from towns where the percentage of people living in poverty topped the national average.” (Click here to read more)

Automation & Robotics News – Dec. 12, 2010, from Tony Zaragoza

[This issue includes information on a robot who could be taking your medical history soon, the wikileaks revelation that drones are on everyone’s list to Santa, and, if you thought that China might be the last haven for those pursuing low wage workers, think again:  see below to find the “waiter” who may be serving you in Chinese restaurants.]

The Northrop-built drone touched down late Tuesday night at Edwards Air Force Base in Southern California after spending more than a day aloft.

Automation and Robotics News–Dec 12, 2010



High-Flying Spy Drone, Powered By Liquid Coal

Jason Paur, November 24, 2010

No unmanned aircraft in the American arsenal flies higher or longer than the Global Hawk. On Tuesday, it soared high and long, powered by a blend of synthetic fuel. The Northrop-built drone touched down late Tuesday night at Edwards Air Force Base in Southern California after spending more than a day aloft. Both the Navy and Air Force have flown numerous other aircraft using other non-traditional jet fuels, but this is both the first for an unmanned aircraft, and the first time any type of aircraft has flown with this type of fuel. JP-8 jet fuel (the kind typically used in the Air Force) was combined with a synthetic paraffinic kerosene derived from liqufied coal, and another derived from natural gas, to make up the blend.

Air Force on Secret Space Plane: Nothing to See Here, Move Along

David Axe, December 7, 2010

The Air Force has news for anyone looking for sinister motives behind the flying branch’s latest orbital gizmo: the mysterious, high-tech X-37B space plane. The 29-foot-long robotic shuttle — vaguely labeled a “test asset” by the Pentagon — returned to earth on Friday after 224 days, nine hours and 24 minutes in space. In those eight months, observers speculated that the X-37 might be a prototype bomber, a satellite-snatching snoop or a speedy, quick-reacting sensor platform. Forget it, Richard McKinney, Deputy Undersecretary of the Air Force for Space Programs, said Monday. “I applaud the ingenuity and innovation of some reports, but really it’s as described. This is a test vehicle, pure and simple.” But a test vehicle for what? Well, for testing, McKinney said. The way he described it, the X-37 should eventually function as an orbital laboratory for new satellite components and other space gear — pricey stuff that today gets boosted into the heavens with very little realistic testing. “If we could place technology in orbit, check it out and bring back to earth, that would be significant accomplish,” he said. “The purpose of this particular mission was the vehicle. In order do the other things we talked about … we’ve got to have a vehicle to do that.”

All the same, the X-37 did carry something in its payload bay during its inaugural flight — something secret, McKinney admitted. “It’s not unusual for us to put satellites into orbit that are classified. This is no different than that.”

WikiLeaks Reveals Everybody’s Christmas List: The World Wants Drones

WikiLeaks Reveals Everybody’s Christmas List: The World Wants Drones

Adam Rawnsley, November 29, 2010

Black Friday has passed, but the holidays are upon us and shopping days are increasingly few. Having a hard time finding the perfect gift for that tiny emirate hoping to psych out Iran or the large NATO ally looking to fight terrorism in Iraq? Fortunately for you, WikiLeaks has revealed the number one item atop seemingly everybody’s wish list: drones. Only a select few close American allies have the export-restricted Predator B (a.k.a. MQ-9 Reaper) armed drones, but that hasn’t stopped countries from the United Arab Emirates to Turkey from pestering & pleading with America to sell them the shiniest new toy, the WikiLeaks document show.


Strawberry-picking robot knows when they’re ripe

Robots to put ripe strawberries on your table

December 13, 2010 Posted by Tim Hornyak

Japan prepares to unleash a strawberry-harvesting robot on the world.

Robot’s singular job: Cutting flesh from pig bone

Tuesday, December 07, 2010 Posted by Matt Hickey

Some people are scared of clowns, some of zombies. I’m scared of giant robots with knives programmed to slice meat from a pig’s thigh.

Entwistle’s of Ramsbottom sets one-year target to double sauce production – 12/13/10

While Entwistle said that Lancashire Sauce was looking into taking on another team member, he stressed that the investment in automation was intended to …


Robots wait on you in this Chinese restaurant

Robots serving food in this restaurant in . . . China!

Thursday, December 09, 2010 Posted by Juniper Foo

At China’s Dalu Rebot (sic) restaurant, patrons are greeted by robot receptionists and attended by robo-waiters. Fortunately, real-life cooks are on hand in the kitchen.

Personal Robotics Market to Top $19 Billion in 2017

Sales of telepresence and security robots are helping to drive the latest forecast.

Robotics Trends Staff – Filed Dec 13, 2010

While many consumers’ current interaction with robots is limited to those that clean their floors, pools, or gutters, ABI Research, in its market study “Personal Robotics,” forecasts that the personal robotics market will grow to more than $19 billion in 2017, driven in large part by sales of telepresence and security robots featuring high-quality cameras, microphones, and processors that allow the robots to serve as interactive substitutes for human beings.

“Hi I’m a robot. I’ll be your doctor today.”

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (blog) – Mark Johnson – Dec 8, 2010

The engineers say the technology now exists to design robot assistants competent to perform in the high-stress environment of a hospital emergency room.


Section 179: Take Advantage of Tax Deduction in 2010, December 07, 2010

Considering purchasing robots, workcells, or other robotic equipment soon? Why not make this capital investment now, before the end of the year. This way you can take

Romeo, shown here in a computer-generated rendering, is a French humanoid robot designed to assist elderly and disabled people. Image: Aldebaran Robotics

advantage of Section 179 tax incentives.


Automate Keynote Speaker Tom Ridge

November 23, 2010

First Secretary of Homeland Security and Distinguished Statesman

Two major automation and logistics shows, Automate 2011 and ProMat 2011, are collocated March 21-24 in Chicago, Illinois at McCormick Place and together bring you a special keynote speaker, Tom Ridge, on Monday, March 21. His topic is, “Fortune Favors the Brave: The Net Gain of Supply Chain Security in a Risk-based World.”


France Developing Advanced Humanoid Robot Romeo

Erico Guizzo  /  Mon, December 13, 2010

France is set to join the select club of countries that have developed advanced adult-size humanoid robots. Paris-based Aldebaran Robotics, famed for its small humanoid robot Nao, is working with major French research organizations to build a larger and more capable humanoid called Romeo, to be unveiled next March. Designed to assist elderly and disabled individuals in their daily activities, the 1.4-meter-tall robot will be able to walk through a home, fetching food from the kitchen, taking out the garbage, and acting as a loyal companion who helps entertain its owners and keep tabs on their health.

Running robot aims to take on Usain Bolt

Monday, December 13, 2010 Posted by Leslie Katz

Aptly named Athlete, bipedal robot developed in Japan takes a biomechanical approach to running in an attempt to mimic human flexibility and agility.

Buffy St. Marie

“Good mother nature on a luncheon plate/ They carve her up and call it real estate.”

As the person who sent this to us said: “this kicks some butt! Disco/tribal/protest.”

Watch and listen here.

Teachers Condemn FBI Raids on Trade Union, Anti-War and Solidarity Activists

Condemn FBI Raids on Trade Union, Anti-War and Solidarity Activists

Committee to Stop FBI Repression | October 20, 2010 at 12:08 am | Categories: Solidarity Statements |
The following resolution was submitted by San Jose, California Local 6157 of the American Federation of Teachers to the south Bay AFL-CIO Labor Council where it passed by a unanimous vote on October 18, 2010

Condemn FBI Raids on Trade Union, Anti-War and Solidarity Activists

Whereas, early morning Sept. 24 in coordinated raids, FBI agents entered eight homes and offices of trade union and anti-war activists in Minneapolis and Chicago, confiscating crates full of computers, books, documents, notebooks, cell phones, passports, children’s drawings, photos of Martin Luther King and Malcolm X, videos and personal belongings. The FBI also raided offices of the Twin Cities Anti-war Committee, seizing computers; handed out subpoenas to testify before a federal Grand Jury to 11 activists in Illinois, Minnesota and Michigan; and paid harassment visits to others in Wisconsin, California and North Carolina; and

Whereas, one target of the raid was the home of Joe Iosbaker, chief steward and executive board member of SEIU Local 73 in Chicago, where he has led struggles at the University of Illinois for employee rights and pay equity. Brother Iosbaker told the Democracy Now radio/TV program that FBI agents “systematically [went] through every room, our basement, our attic, our children’s rooms, and pored through not just all of our papers, but our music collection, our children’s artwork, my son’s poetry journal from high school — everything.” He and his wife, a Palestine solidarity activist, were both issued subpoenas. The earliest subpoena dates are October 5 and 7; and

Whereas, the majority of those targeted by the FBI raids had participated in anti-war protests at the 2008 Republican National Convention in St. Paul MN, which resulted in hundreds of beatings and arrests [with almost all charges subsequently dropped]. Many of those targeted in the 9/24 raids were involved in humanitarian solidarity work with labor and popular movements in Colombia — “the most dangerous place in the world to be a trade unionist”– whose US-funded government has been condemned by the AFL-CIO and internationally for the systematic assassination of hundreds of trade unionists; and

Whereas, the nationally coordinated dawn raids and fishing expedition marks a new and dangerous chapter in the protracted assault on the First Amendment rights of every union fighter, solidarity activist or anti-war campaigner, which began with 9/11 and the USA Patriot Act. The raids came only 4 days after a scathing report by the Department of Justice Inspector General that soundly criticized the FBI for targeting domestic groups such as Greenpeace and the Thomas Merton Center from 2002-06. In 2008, according to a 300-page report obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, the FBI trailed a group of students in Iowa City to parks, libraries, bars and restaurants, and went through their trash. This time the FBI is using the pretext of investigating “terrorism” in an attempt to intimidate activists.

Therefore be it resolved, that the South Bay AFL-CIO Labor Council denounce the Sept. 24th FBI raids on the homes and offices of trade union, solidarity and anti-war activists in Minneapolis, Chicago and elsewhere; the confiscation of computers and personal belongings; and the issuance of Grand Jury subpoenas. This has all the earmarks of a fishing expedition. The FBI raids are reminiscent of the Palmer Raids, McCarthy hearings, J. Edgar Hoover, and COINTELPRO, and mark a new and dangerous chapter in the protracted assault on the First Amendment rights of every union fighter, international solidarity activist or anti-war campaigner, which began with 9/11 and the USA Patriot Act;

And be it further resolved, that this Council make the following demands:

1.  Stop the repression against trade union, anti-war and international solidarity activists.

2.  Immediately return all confiscated materials: computers, cell phones, papers, documents, personal belongings, etc.

3.  End the Grand Jury proceedings and FBI raids against trade union, anti-war and international solidarity activists;

And be it further resolved, that this Council participate in the ongoing movement to defend our civil rights and civil liberties from FBI infringement; forward this resolution to our affiliates, Bay Area labor councils, California Labor Federation, Change to Win and AFL-CIO; and call on these organizations at all levels to similarly condemn the witch hunt;

And be it finally resolved, that this Council urge the AFL-CIO to ensure that denunciation of the FBI raids is featured from the speakers’ platform at the October 2, 2010 One Nation march in Washington, DC, possibly by inviting one of those targeted by the raids, for example the SEIU chief steward whose home was raided, to speak at the rally.

40th Anniversary of the Chicano Moratorium — Mark Vallen’s Art on the Line

(There is a reason to remember muralist David Alfaro Siquieros on the anniversary of the great march of 30,000 against the Vietnam War in East Los Angeles:)

Vallen speaks at Autry National Center sponsored event.

On Saturday, September 18, 2010, Vallen will be speaking about David Alfaro Siqueiros at the Center for the Arts in Eagle Rock, California, at a panel discussion sponsored by the Autry National Center of Los Angeles and the José Vera Gallery of L.A.
Titled A Print Dialogue: Siqueiros & The Graphic Arts, the round-table talk will be moderated by Cynthia McMullen – Senior Curator for the Museum of Latin American Art, with fellow panelists including artists Wayne Healy and Luis Ituarte. Art historian Catha Paquette and curator Lynn LaBate, who collaborated on the Autry’s momentous exhibit Siqueiros in Los Angeles: Censorship Defied (which opens at the Autry on Sept. 24, 2010) will also appear as panelists.
The focus of the panel discussion at the Center for the Arts will be Siqueiros “as a print maker and graphic artist advancing a populist political agenda.” Vallen will spotlight a number of

Ruben Salazar, journalist murdered by LA Police Dept. during the Chicano Moratorium 40 years ago. Print by David Alfaro Siquieros, from the Jose Vera Gallery web site.

Siqueiros’ prints, the stories behind their creation, and why these socially conscious works continue to resonate in today’s world. Vallen will highlight the 1970 lithograph Siqueiros created of L.A. Times reporter Rubén Salazar, printed in the aftermath of the journalist being killed by the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department. Salazar was slain during the Chicano Moratorium anti-Vietnam war demonstration of August 1970, where sheriffs also killed three others involved in the massive protest of some 30,000 people.
On Aug. 28, 2010, up to 3,000 people marched in East L.A. in commemoration of the 40th anniversary of the Chicano Moratorium; this time protesting the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. As the multitudes passed the spot on Whittier Boulvard where Salazar had been murdered, hundreds of people heaped flowers upon the sidewalk in memory of the slain journalist.

The Siqueiros panel discussion is scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. The Center for the Arts is located at 2225 Colorado Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90041-1142. Phone: 323-226-1617. For more information on the event, visit the Art For A Change web log.


What Color is Hiroshima? by Ronni Alexander

Hiroshima and the World: What Color is Hiroshima?

(March 15, 2010)

by Ronni Alexander

Ronni Alexander
Ronni Alexander, a peace activist, educator and scholar, first came to Japan in 1977, spending five years in Hiroshima before moving to Tokyo for graduate school. She is a professor at the Graduate School of International Cooperation Studies, Kobe University, where she has worked since 1989, specializing in transnational relations and peace studies. Ms. Alexander holds a Ph.D. in International Relations from Sophia University, an MA in Public Administration from International Christian University, and a BA in Psychology from Yale University. She has published widely in both Japanese and English, including her bilingual picture books, Popoki, What Color is Peace? and Popoki, What Color is Friendship? In 2006, she began the Popoki Peace Project to encourage critical thinking, imagination and action for peace. She was born in the U.S. state of California in 1956.

What Color is Hiroshima?

What color is Hiroshima? One hibakusha said the bomb was “the whiteness of the sudden flash.” Another told me, “I can’t say what color the bomb was but I’m sure the blue of the sky and sea when I went back home after Nagasaki is the color of peace.” Some say it is a cold, hard, dark, artificial color, devoid of all feeling, others say it is the color of tears or the faintly shining fragments of the hopes and dreams that were shattered in that instant.

As a senior in college, I knew that I wanted to travel to someplace completely different from everything I had ever known, so I jumped at the chance to work in Japan. It was only later that I learned that I was to be sent to work in Hiroshima. I struggled to accept the implications of going to live in the city that I had heard so much about, but could not imagine. Would I be able to make friends in a place where everyone was sure to hate me? Was Hiroshima really, after all these years, safe? What if…

My two years in Hiroshima turned into five, and now, more than thirty years later, Hiroshima remains an important foundation not only for my scholarly work, teaching and activism but also for my soul. For me, more than the Atomic Bomb Dome, Peace Museum and Peace Park, the spirit and meaning of Hiroshima is conveyed in the festival held every year on the evening of 6 August, when lanterns made of candles and colored paper, bearing inscriptions, are floated down the river. Originally a festival to ease the spirits of the dead, the meaning of the Hiroshima Lantern Festival today lies in its message for the future; our tears at the death and horror transformed into pearls of hope and dreams for a peaceful tomorrow.

The lanterns represent one of Hiroshima’s three voices. That voice is the one which calls on each of us to act now to create a world free of nuclear weapons. This voice turns the despair and horror into positive energy for peace and presents a choice which is not a choice: we can opt for life by resolving never again to try to solve problems through the use of nuclear weapons, or we can seal our own fate by continuing down this path of death and destruction. This voice focuses on life as a universal value, important in and of itself rather than because it belongs to particular individuals with specific affiliations. It is a transnational or perhaps supra-national voice calling for responsible action to preserve the future, not only of the human race but of all the creatures in the world. This voice reminds us that to remember Hiroshima is to recognize the infinite variety, beauty and richness of the colors of life.

The second voice of Hiroshima is that of reconstruction and rebirth. Initially it was said that no trees or grass would grow for seventy years after the bombing. Yet the spring of 1946 was announced by new growth on the burnt limbs of the trees. Survival, recovery and rebirth are possible, but they require hard work, commitment and inner strength. Hiroshima was more than the immediate physical and emotional trauma. It was the mangled and charred bodies, the horrific images burnt deep into the memories of those that saw the destruction, the injuries that refused to heal, the overwhelming grief at the immense loss of life and property – and of course the terror of never really being sure about the long-term and inter-generational effects.

Within this second voice lies a different and rarely mentioned Hiroshima, hiding under a tarpaulin of fear and ignorance. Hiroshima’s residents suffered discrimination and isolation from a Japan anxious to move forward and leave the war behind, but it also embraced the contradictions of Japanese society as a whole. Fearing ‘contamination,’ deeply scarred hibakusha were shunned at public baths and many parents and grandparents, fearing ‘Hiroshima’ would harm their offspring’s chances of finding jobs or marriage partners, remained silent about their experiences. Korean survivors, many of whom had been brought forcibly to labor in Japan under extremely harsh conditions, were the target of multiple layers of racism, hatred and fear. Politically the war may have ended but the bio-politics of the use of nuclear weapons continues in the bodies of the survivors, and perhaps their children, grandchildren and all who follow. To remember Hiroshima is not only to acknowledge that while the explosion may have occurred in an instant, the effects of radiation may last virtually forever. It also reminds us that coercion, hatred and oppression are prerequisites to war, and do not necessarily disappear when the fighting stops. To remember Hiroshima is to recognize the color of fear, greed and injustice.

The third voice of Hiroshima is the one that assures us that even in the face of the horror of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, forgiveness is possible. Last year, I asked Suzuko Numata, a friend and hibakusha I have known for years, for her definition of peace. “For about two years,” she said, “I was totally filled with hatred. It ate away at my soul. Eventually I realized that I had to let go of the hate, and gradually I began to forgive. … Many people on both sides died.” … I think peace is about forgiveness, trust and respect for life. How can we, as a global community, learn from the way Numata-san and so many other survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki have been able to transform their hatred into forgiveness? To remember Hiroshima is to remember that hatred fosters despair and forgiveness, hope. Perhaps remembering Hiroshima is learning to create the color of love.

In responding to the first voice of Hiroshima and calling for the abolition of nuclear weapons, US President Obama has given renewed legitimacy to an old idea: far from making us safer and more secure, nuclear weapons endanger our lives and our futures. As global citizens, we must help President Obama turn his words into positive action, but we must also respond to the other voices of Hiroshima. We must acknowledge our own connections to the vast network of people who profit from the business of war, and act to disconnect ourselves. Hiroshima is not only history; Hiroshima speaks of war, armed conflict and occupation today. To remember Hiroshima is to confront militarism in Afghanistan, in Palestine, in…. Without the transformation of the way we think, how we live and how we think about security, our nuclear-free goal will not be achieved.

Even without nuclear weapons, today the global community possesses enough arms to totally destroy the world as we know it. In many countries, it is easier and cheaper to buy ‘small arms’ than food or medicine. Particularly since the ‘war on terror,’ military and militarized solutions have become more and more an integral and invisible part of the daily lives of every person in the world. Sometimes with long strides and other times with incremental baby steps, we are slowly moving toward the hidden Hiroshima, the one ridden with fear, intolerance and exclusion.

What color is Hiroshima? I believe that using our imagination, compassion and insight, we can delve into our global paint box and create colors that go beyond national borders and recognize multiple identities; strong, vibrant colors of de-militarization, gentle colors of caring, and changing colors of social transformation and just peace. In them, we will find the joyful colors of Hiroshima, the colors of a world free of nuclear weapons and filled with responsibility to ourselves, to future generations and to life itself.

(Originally published on March 15, 2010)

Copyright(C)2008 Hiroshima Peace Media Center
7-1 Dohashicho Nakaku Hiroshima Japan 730-8677