Sadako Sasaki was 2 years old the day the atomic bomb fell on Hiroshima. She lived only a mile from the detonation site.
Ten years later, lying in a hospital and dying from radiation poisoning, she began folding paper cranes, since Japanese lore teaches that 1,000 cranes will cure any illness. When Sadako died, 365 cranes short of her goal, her classmates made 365 more and placed them in her coffin.
The origami crane is the symbol of a monthlong festival here, called "Imagine There's a Future," commemorating the dropping of the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki 40 years ago, in August of 1945.
'The World Changed Forever'
About 140,000 people died in the blasts; tens of thousands more would die of radiation poisoning, cancer and pernicious anemia. These were the only times atomic weapons have been deployed hostilely and, as the festival brochure states: "The world changed forever."
Marvin Schachter, chairman, was explaining the delicacy of the task facing the planners of "Imagine": "You don't celebrate Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Still, you don't want this to be a period of despair."
Rather, Schachter said, the committee asked itself, "What did we learn from it?"
The festival--art shows, symposiums, religious services and theater--is a celebration in one sense: It celebrates the idea of a world living without the threat of nuclear war.
The citywide festival, now through Aug. 9, is being cosponsored by the Interfaith Center to Reverse the Arms Race and the Hollywood Women's Coalition, an organization of executive women from the entertainment industry, in cooperation with the Southern California Ecumenical Council and the Southern California Board of Rabbis, together with a broad-based coalition of peace, religious and community groups.
At the Young People's Peace Festival on Aug. 3 at the Triforium Plaza and Children's Museum downtown, children will make origami cranes to be sent to the peace park in Hiroshima for permanent exhibit.
And, in Little Tokyo on that day, the bombings will be remembered at the Hiroshima/Nagasaki Commemoration honoring the victims. Burning there will be a peace flame, transported from the Hiroshima peace memorial where the dedication reads: "Rest in peace. We shall not repeat the same mistake again."
"Ours will be a somber celebration," said Kent Wong, co-chairman for the Asian Pacific Americans for Nuclear Awareness event. "But I think it's appropriate to have people express their concerns about world peace in many different ways. There is a time for celebration, for appreciating the arts. It's a time for humanity to come together as one."
Schachter, president of Maris Management Corp., a development firm, was a 21-year-old in Army intelligence, stationed at what is now Camp David, Md., in August, 1945. Reflecting, he said, "I don't think anybody, when the bombs went off, really realized the significance. It was a big bomb, different in magnitude" rather than kind.
Beginning in the '70s, Schachter's accumulated knowledge on nuclear arms led him to believe "it was out of control. There's no way there's going to be a solution to the competition between superpowers without political revolution."
He became involved. In 1982 Schachter was co-chairman of the successful statewide nuclear freeze initiative. A former ACLU national vice chairman, he serves today on the executive committee of the Pasadena-based Interfaith Center to Reverse the Arms Race.
Preserving Joy and Optimism
"I think a nuclear war is possible," Schachter said, if not probable. But one thing he is absolutely convinced of is that "without controlling nuclear weapons, there will not be a future"--that is, a future filled with joy and optimism.
That, in essence, is the message of "Imagine There's a Future." To that end, the committee has put together a calendar of events and happenings--ranging from discussions of violent conflict in Central America and the Middle East to a 204-block-long vigil along Wilshire Boulevard on Aug. 6.
The festival, he said, "is to celebrate the spirit that has kept us passionately pursuing a world of peace since August, 1945. The alternative is to surrender to absolute hopelessness."
More than a dozen art and photography exhibits expressing the artists' visions of a future free from nuclear threat are continuing in galleries through Aug. 9, the anniversary of the Nagasaki bombing.
As a project of the Southern California Alliance of Survival, the "world's largest
peace symbol," 300 yards in circumference, will be on display at Santa Monica Beach palisades (Ocean Avenue and Wilshire Boulevard) through today. The "On the Beach" symbol was unveiled Tuesday to mark the 40th anniversary of the first atomic bomb test and to protest escalating nuclear arms production.
Co-chair Emily Levine, a writer-producer, views the festival as a vehicle "to stimulate the imagination, to think about our lives differently, to create an alternative future to the one that's in place."
And, she added, "To bring communities together who'd never come together before."
Schachter put this another way: "We didn't want the kind of meetings where people who are already convinced come. We wanted to reach people who'd rather not think about these things."
Two diverse ways in which the committee hopes to do this are through the churches and the RTD. "There'll be over 2,000 churches," Schachter said, "a million people who'll participate in religious services" Saturdays and Sundays during the next three weeks. RTD buses will carry the a symbolic photograph of a man kissing the cheek of a baby.
Preserving Human Values
The festival is symbolic, Schachter said, of the struggle to preserve human values in a world that "donates more and more of its resources to militarism. It is a dedication to life, to a world of peace and justice."
With a paid staff of two--"not very well paid," Schachter noted--and a budget of less than $100,000, it is largely a labor of love.
If there is only one message from this festival, Schachter hopes it will be a reminder that human killings are not acceptable. To a degree, he said, people have come to accept things such as slaughter on the highways and, "in a sense, that's happening with the nuclear debate--an attitude that a first strike might mean 'only 100 million Americans being killed.' "
Not Going to Grow Up
Gene Boutilier of the Southern California Ecumenical Council said, "There's been a sad theme alive in the land, kids believing they're not even going to grow up and they're certainly not going to have grandchildren. . . . That belief can be contributing to its own happening." It is not enough to lobby against nuclear arms, he suggested; people need to be able to "Imagine There's a Future."
The 204-block vigil planned for Aug. 6 will, Boutilier said, cut across political persuasions to embrace everyone who believes that "nuclear destruction has to be opposed." He referred to the event as "a very, very long picket line."
And Levine spoke of the children's event. "It's really designed to make peace fun," she said.
Although observances of the anniversary are planned in 150 cities worldwide, the Los Angeles festival, with its threefold cultural-religious-peace focus, is different. "I think there's going to be a lot of interest in this in the national peace movement," Schachter said.
The Hiroshima/Nagasaki Commemoration, to take place Aug. 3 in Little Tokyo, has largely been an event within the Asian American community, which includes the largest Japanese-American population in the United States. On this 40th anniversary year, Kent Wong said, "We thought it was important that the entire city know the significance of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and its impact on the world."
This year's ceremony will initiate a campaign to find a permanent home for the eternal flame, brought over last year from Hiroshima and kept in Koyasan Buddhist Temple in Little Tokyo. "City Hall would be a possibility," he said. "Little Tokyo would be another."
The sponsoring APANA is "very much concerned about the issues of nuclear disarmament," Wong said, "and we have a special role to play. It is important that the broader peace movement be sensitized to issues of the Asian-American community," among them the testing and waste disposal "that impact on people in the South Pacific."
He added, "The peace movement is almost all white. We're trying to bridge that gap. Japanese-Americans have a very deep interest. Everyone has friends or relatives who died at Hiroshima or Nagasaki, so there is a very profound grasp of the horrors.
"The message that Asian-Americans have to share is that the only time nuclear war has been unleashed has been against the Asian people. It's no accident that they chose to bomb Japan instead of Germany. There's a pervasive view that the lives of people of color are worth less than the lives of Caucasians."