Reflections on Hiroshima Day in Kingston


Many thanks to all of you who attended Hiroshima Day this year. It was a truly meaningful and moving evening. Photos by Jolene Simko have been posted to the PeaceQuest Flickr. Please check back as more photos are forthcoming!

Read on for a personal account of the evening. Thank you Joe for sharing your thoughts with us!

A Visitor Reflects on Kingston’s Hiroshima Day

By Joe Gunn

Earlier this month my wife Suzanne and I were visiting friends in Kingston. Our trip from Ottawa coincided with the 71st anniversary of the atomic bomb attack on Japan, killing and sickening untold thousands, so we wanted to attend Kingston’s commemorative events that afternoon.
Suzanne and I had sometimes participated in Hiroshima Day remembrance events in Ottawa. Assembling at the Quaker House, a few folks (the majority, like us, with greying hair) would fashion paper lanterns. After a few understated words in keeping with the host organization’s tone, we would walk a few blocks to the Rideau Canal. After lighting candles inside the lanterns, we’d float them on a small, peaceful pond.
I especially remember one year when the skies opened just as our intrepid group attempted to illuminate the little lanterns. Suzanne turned to our daughter as the thunderstorm struck, proclaiming in her typically optimistic way, “Just think; we are now part of people doing this all over the world today.” Our perceptive progeny famously queried, “Mom, is it always so successful?”. We were all soaked to the bone before fleeing to shelter. That year, we could have been forgiven for thinking that even Nature was arrayed against the peace movement!
But in Kingston, things would be different. In spite of this being a city of military institutions, and street names recalling battlefield glories, there is also a decades-long history of Hiroshima Day gatherings.

Thirty of us gathered under a massive City Park oak tree where a granite marker installed in 2013 by PeaceQuest sits in the ground. PeaceQuest is part of an effort to stimulate critical conversations among Canadians about the meaning of war and the need to build a just peace.
A couple of participants spoke briefly, explaining why they came: a Unitarian mom wanted to be there for her children; a Catholic nun reflected that this was the eve of the Feast of the Transfiguration in her tradition. We proceeded down city sidewalks to McBurney Park where the major festival was taking place. Led by two towering stilt walkers, there were no identifying signs — except for two long banners reading simply “Hiroshima” and “Nagasaki.”

By 6:30 we reached the main Hiroshima commemoration where children were making the floating lanterns, folks were folding origami cranes, a group was drumming while another clan practised tai chi. It looked like Kingston had been transformed back to the tie-dyed 1960s. A fellow with a guitar led the crowd in Pete Seeger’s “If I had a Hammer,” John Lennon’s “Give peace a Chance,” and the Youngblood’s evocative tune:

C’mon people now
Smile on your brother
Everybody get together
Try to Love one another right now

Yes. At one time we may have really thought that achieving peace was like that…
Thank God that PeaceQuest’s tent provided information and videos about the group’s work, and that the group’s co-chair Bronek Korczynski said a few words. His was the only presentation that talked of the current state of peace efforts, of how we’re at a crucial moment in the struggle to abolish nuclear weapons. Thank God PeaceQuest volunteers circulated a flyer inviting us all to actually do something – i.e., write to Prime Minster Trudeau to urge him to sponsor a resolution at the 2017 UN General Assembly calling for vigorous negotiations towards a legally-verifiable treaty to abolish weapons that would abolish our species — and countless others.

What did appear to be novel at the solemn commemoration, however, was the presence of 3 agents provocateurs. Two youth, carrying the old Canadian Ensign and the American Stars and Stripes, appeared with Bristol board posters of The War in the Pacific. They loudly hailed their grandfather’s participation in that conflagration. Wearing dark sunglasses and hats, they wanted to be noticed, welcoming festival-goers by asking us to thank their forbearers for making possible a peaceful gathering in a city park. They interrupted the PeaceQuest speaker with catcalls, and a chorus of the Battle Hymn of the Republic. It was ironic that these uncouth leather lungs wanted us to remember their grandfather’s service, while forgetting the good manners and respect for neighbours that their own parents had surely taught them.

But such are the dilemmas the peace movement has always faced – and must continue to face with integrity and determination. Our predecessors in the peace movement were arrested and smeared as dupes of whatever devilishly-inspired enemy was in vogue at the moment. The peace movement has always needed to recognize that calling for peace has never had to mean choosing to support one lily-white, atrocity-free proponent of any war over some dark, evil-inspired contender.

Those who gave the peace movement integrity were not deterred, but neither were they Pollyannaish concerning the internal or external obstacles that they had to face. Building cultural movements to encourage peaceful resolution of differences that caused violent responses – in our homes, workplaces and communities – must also be accompanied by advocacy work promoting change that moves our political world towards transformation of economic and defense structures.
Such efforts really could give peace a chance.
picture-17-1453222158Joe Gunn is the Ottawa-based executive director of Citizens for Public Justice, a member-driven, faith-based public policy organization focussed on ecological justice, refugee rights and poverty elimination.