Friday, May 7, 2010


In August of 1982 the march in support of the Nuclear NonProliferation Treaty closed down whole streets of New York City. The whole city turned its attention to the need for nuclear disarmament; police were present, but inconspicuous, except for a few on horseback. The giant spindly puppets of the Bread & Puppet Theater towered in friendly anti-war color, over both police and protestors. We'd come from Kentucky where Ande & I lived then, working in an Appalachian clinic and hospital, to march for disarmament when President Reagan was spouting Star Wars.

Our kids, Maura and Sam, just toddlers, got tired of walking, but enjoyed the day, and were so unusually tired out, that my cousin Barbara, at whose penthouse apartment we stayed that night, thought them well enough behaved I believe it gave her some of the encouragement to consider kids of her own. Barb was a highly competent tax lawyer then, for International Telephone and Telegraph. Muffin her poodle and our kids had a good time playing together. Now Barb a single mom, still a most competent part-time lawyer, has a home in small town Ohio, and two beautiful young adult daughters.

Barb, in that pre-cell phone age, had somehow found us coming down from her office to the streets to march for a while with us. The atmosphere in New York then was festive and full of hope. The march ended with a concert in Central Park bursting with people and the stars of the folk singer circuit.

This time New York City barely blinked. The numbers of demonstrators had shrunk from one million to ten thousand, and people were methodically discouraged from joining in. Marchers were begrudgingly granted one lane of the streets [while bicyclists, on an annual cross city ride earlier in the day, had the rule of the whole road for hours]. We were assembled and cordoned off at the march stating point, Times Square, by impatient police who bunched us behind cattle-barrier-like tubular steel fences, that interlocked in 10 foot sections, keeping us in a tight one lane 15 foot wide, four block long, corridor. People were to stand there hours listening to speakers & singers, for most of the corralled packed-in participants, way down an unhearable unseeable distance, while traffic still whizzed by alongside.

ur Peace Action mostly Detroit group had been walking miles already that morning, and needed a rest. [Of the forty in our contingent nearly half were in the grey haired activist/“raging grannies” categories—amazing energizer bunny spirits, flesh with some limits.] Instead, we’d come in on the wrong end of the long assembly line, and were being continually prodded along down the cattle fence by law officers, while other non-march onlookers and pedestrians on the sidewalk were left alone. I incurred the wrath of one of the crowd controllers when I gently placed my hand on her shoulder towering above my own, to get her attention—Please can we stop here? --“Keep your hands off the officer!” Realizing my mistake, and with a sincere “I’m sorry”, a more patient negotiation ensued, and we were allowed to stay put. Maybe the NYPD were on short fuse because of the night before’s incident with the wanabee terrorist “pre 4th of July cookout” bomber [unsuccessful --made his bomb out of camper propane tanks, fireworks, and gasoline mixed with the wrong kind of fertilizer].
Nagasaki some time after 11:02am August 9, 1945--Cathedral ruin on hill was the center of the largest Catholic community in the Far East at that time, building used for A-bomb targeting

When the trip towards the United Nations Building began, our marchers certainly kept up spirits with chants and songs. And neighboring Buddhist monk drummers and young spiked-haired Goth shouters were especially impressive. Then it was back on the bus, our only accommodations two nights sandwiching the one day, for the fourteen hour ride home. Ande and I had made it, but the elders on this disarmament pilgrimage were an incredible example for us, and the valiant teenagers who’d come along. One of the older and most colorful of our Peace Action women said it best from under her very wide brimmed hat as she sat down across the aisle, “The thing about us is that we never give up!”
It’s this spirit that guarantees this Mother’s Day, that one day, all of New York City will suspend its business as usual, in jubilation, and celebrate with the United Nations, the end of all nuclear weapons.

o all of New York City—and throughout our nation—we should begin to more than blink, but keep eyes, ears, and hearts wide open, millions upon millions of awakened world citizens. In a small cool park [Dag Hammarskjold] in the late morning of our long Sunday, a smiling Japanese choir of perhaps 75 young and old, invited us to join them and their three accordion players. A beautiful song, with words written by Ohzu high school students translated to mean: “Our Wish”—from above our heads, come down books & notebooks, not bombs—an end to all war. Then, across the language barrier, “We Shall Overcome.” They gave us gifts of bright postcards & peace cranes.

An older man, Kou Tanaka, was second generation survivor of our dropping the A-bomb on his city Nagasaki. He earnestly handed me his calling card. Fortunately, Ande had remembered the “Konishiwa” greeting from our son Sam’s years of Port Huron Northern language classes. The group's translator helped me offer in return the story of Fr. George Zabelka, who we’d known here in Michigan, former chaplain to the Enola Gay bomber crew—his eventual pilgrimage return to Japan, to apologize. Japanese and East Asians had a very large delegation in this NPT disarmament march, and keep coming half way around the world to help us pass this torch of truth, justice, peace down the generations, persistently beside us, until the wish becomes the reality.

Postcard image of Hiroshima monument with peace crane garlands at base--a gift of UTAGOE, Japanese choir group we met.

In a founder of Mother’s Day’s own words, resonating with the message of our May 2 NPT Disarmament march.

Mother's Day was originally started after the Civil War, as a protest to the carnage of that war, by women who had lost their
sons. Here is the original Mother's Day Proclamation from 1870.

Arise, then, women of this day! Arise all women who have hearts,
whether our baptism be that of water or of fears!

Say firmly: "We will not have great questions decided by
irrelevant agencies. Our husbands shall not come to us, reeking
with carnage, for caresses and applause. Our sons shall not be
taken from us to unlearn all that we have been able to teach
them of charity, mercy and patience.

We women of one country will be too tender of those of another
country to allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs. From
the bosom of the devastated earth a voice goes up with our own.
It says "Disarm, Disarm! The sword of murder is not the balance
of justice."

Blood does not wipe our dishonor nor violence indicate possession.
As men have often forsaken the plow and the anvil at the summons
of war, let women now leave all that may be left of home for a
great and earnest day of counsel. Let them meet first, as women,
to bewail and commemorate the dead.

Let them then solemnly take counsel with each other as to the
means whereby the great human family can live in peace, each
bearing after their own time the sacred impress, not of Caesar,
but of God.

In the name of womanhood and of humanity, I earnestly ask that a
general congress of women without limit of nationality may be
appointed and held at some place deemed most convenient and at
the earliest period consistent with its objects, to promote the
alliance of the different nationalities, the amicable settlement
of international questions, the great and general interests of

Julia Ward Howe

The tone of this courageous woman reminds me of the words of Mary to Elizabeth in her "Visitation" to her cousin--both of them pregnant and filled with anxious expectation & hope.

The "Magnificat" Please read in Luke 1:46-55

Image by Kristin McCarthy {daughter of Fr. Emmanuel Charles McCarthy}

Illuminations by Kathy Brahney

1 comment:

  1. Dad - this is a great article. i can just envision the bustle of NYC barely blinking. One issue, i wonder/think, is that we youth of today did not see the horror of war as first hand as you... it is hard to have the depth and feeling of importance of that first march you attended, without having nuclear war top of the national consciousness. I don't know how this changes - how to inspire people without a sense of the gravity of the situation, top of mind or in the media?