Originally appearing in the Greenfield Recorder.

Staff Writer

Thursday, August 02, 2018


GREENFIELD — The blinding light from the bombing of Hiroshima — and the bomb dropped on Nagasaki three days later — birthed the nuclear era.

More than seven decades later, the modern nuclear threat — at least 43,000 more powerful than the force of those two first atomic bombs — is so potentially destructive that “people’s eyes glaze over” thinking about it, in the words of filmmaker Helen Young, whose documentary, “The Nuns, The Priests and The Bombs” will be part of a four-day vigil in Greenfield next week.

The event commemorates the bombings with talks and films about the growing threat of nuclear annihilation, but also art, music, paper-crane making, puppet shows and activities to celebrate life. Organizers stress that our lives are threatened by nuclear proliferation and heightened potential for its use.

The event will include appearances by Young, Physicians for Social Responsibility co-founder Ira Helfand and, by pre-recorded video, Daniel Ellsberg, whose latest book is “The Doomsday Machine.”

The first-of its-kind program, marking the 73rd anniversary of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, comes as the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists advanced its “doomsday clock” to 2 minutes before midnight — the most dangerous setting since the Cold War of the 1950s because of risks from North Korea’s nuclear escalation, U.S.-Russian discord, tensions in the South China Sea, the buildup of Pakistan’s and India’s nuclear arsenals and uncertainty over dismantling of the Iran nuclear deal.

For event co-organizer Sally Stuffin of Wendell, the idea struck in January after she heard via a news report President Donald Trump suggest that nuclear weapons be used to respond to non-nuclear threats.

“I still somehow believed we were building these things for deterrence, which I thought was the stupidest idea in the world: building bombs in order to not use them. Until there was even a stupider idea: to build them with the purpose of using them. I really went into physical shock, because all of a sudden I grasped what annihilation would be,” she remembered. But then after grasping what that meant for a minute or so, “that was gone and I was fine. That scared me more than anything else, and I couldn’t even access that feeling. I thought, ‘This is how we’re built to survive.’ And I thought, ‘Wait: I don’t want to get past this, this sense of this is usual.’”

So drawing on her experience with vigils, as well children’s programming as an art teacher and puppeteer, Stuffin — whose full name is Sally Alley Muffin Stuffin — decided to gather others for support, “to really peel away layers of protection, to build real understanding” through a multi-day event around the anniversary of the Aug. 6, 1945 bombings. The commemoration is a project of Franklin County Continuing the Political Revolution’s Peace Task Force.

And rather than “four days of death,” which Stuffin knew would be a hard sell for downtown Greenfield, she, together with co-organizer Rebecca Tippens of Colrain, began planning an event that also celebrates “what we value, what we want to protect, with a festival including fun activities for children and adults alike.”

The event begins Monday with drumming by the Buddhist monks of the Leverett Peace Pagoda from 8 a.m. until the ringing of Greenfield’s church bells at 8:15 and a moment of silence Stuffin hopes will be shared across the entire community. It will include sharing of poetry, music and a performance of her Oops, I Dropped My Wrench Kabloooee Theatre’s puppet show, “The Meek Shall Inherit The Earth,” geared toward an adult audience, with parental guidance recommended for children. All will be on the Greenfield Common, followed at noon by a talk by Eric Nakajima, whose family died in the May 1945 bombing of Tokyo.

A three-day Reconciliation Film and Conversation series at 1 p.m. at Greenfield Community College will be followed by a “visions of peace” art project from 2 to 4 p.m. on the Common and a showing of the post-apocalyptic film, “On the Beach” at 3 p.m. in Greenfield Public Library.

Range of programs

Young’s documentary, with the director herself discussing it, will be shown at 7 p.m. at the Episcopal Church to conclude Monday’s events.

“This is a very critical moment in the nuclear weapons debate,” she said. “We need to be talking about … these powerful, almost supernaturally destructive weapons. The issue is so scary, there’s a tendency to kind of avoid it and put our heads in the ground. But people respond to films and to personal stories. Humanity’s very fate is in jeopardy. There are 15,000 nuclear weapons,” and there’s such complexity involved, “your eyes glaze over.”

Young added, “It’s taken decades for (this issue) to rise to the surface, but I do feel there are far more young people on the climate issue, and I hope they can see the connection between climate and nuclear weapons,” with increasing political turmoil as places become uninhabitable. “If one of these weapons is used, we’re talking about not having a climate.”

Following a second day of workshops, stories and more on Tuesday, Helfand — who is co-president of the Nobel Peace Prize-winning International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War — will speak at 7 p.m. at All Souls Church.

“We’re in very, very great danger of nuclear war,” said Helfand, citing multiplying geopolitical tensions and “an extraordinarily dangerous situation, totally unprecedented” of a U.S. president who he said lacks the judgment, temperament and knowledge base to control nuclear weapons.

Helfand, like many other presenters, will offer suggestions for what people can do to help the situation, pointing to his support for the grassroots Back From the Brink Campaign.

“We need to have a fundamental change in U.S. policy that focuses not on maintaining an arsenal for an indefinite future, but actively seeking the elimination of nuclear weapons worldwide. The U.S. may not be successful if it pursues that policy, but it’s never tried. It’s what it urgently needs to do.”

Wednesday’s 7 p.m. presentation — following a full day of events and a 6 p.m. “family night of peace” at Greenfield Public Library — will include a video presentation at the Episcopal Church by Ellsberg and “Atomic Diplomacy” author Gar Alperovitz. Randy Kehler, who directed the 1980s National Nuclear Freeze campaign, is scheduled to moderate the event.

“It’s always hard to face hard truths that have to do with threatening, dangerous situations,” Kehler said. “But because it’s hard, we easily latch onto any rationale, however flimsy, for thinking we don’t have to worry any more. Since the dissolution of the Soviet Union, there’s been the sense we don’t have to worry about nuclear war. North Korea and Trump really brought it back to life, but then people, I think, really put it in a box and said the only real problem is a possible confrontation between North Korea and the U.S., and once we had the summit, it’s been easy to put that out of mind, especially because there are many competing issues. People of conscience who are awake and aware are overwhelmed with what needs to be done.”

In addition to the planned events during the four days, Stuffin said, there are more events being added, along with an invitation for “grassroots creativity” on the Common.

An online schedule and other information is at: hn4vigil.org