Group meets for evening of food, art and talk of nuclear war

Monday, August 6, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 9:46 p.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008
Michelle La Fata and Emily Adams illustrate lanterns to be floated across Stephens Lake at Mid-Missouri Peaceworks' 21st Annual Hiroshima-Nagasaki Commemoration at Stephens Lake Park on Sunday evening.

COLUMBIA-Completed lanterns sat on the grass near a table where Columbians were decorating long white pieces of paper. One woman wrote “peace” in orange letters and outlined them with a neon yellow marker, while another used crayons to decorate her paper with orange, red and pink stripes. These projects were later attached to Styrofoam blocks to create paper lanterns to float across Stephens Lake.

Lantern-making was only one part of the evening that Mid-Missouri Peaceworks organized Sunday at Stephens Lake Park for its Hiroshima-Nagasaki 62nd Anniversary Commemoration. The annual event started in 1987 in an effort to end the U.S.-Soviet arms race. Although its focus has always been remembering the devastation of the atomic bombs dropped on Japan, its purpose has changed with time.

“It now is to get our country to recognize that continuing to have nuclear weapons could lead to another nuclear war,” said Mark Haim, director of Mid-Missouri Peaceworks.

The night started when the master of ceremonies asked everyone to form a circle and join hands.

“We want to ask everyone to remember tragedy but to remember it in a hopeful way,” she said.

After introductions, attendees filled all four of the picnic tables in the park’s Gordon Shelter, laughing, talking and eating.

“I don’t know what you could do better with an afternoon like this,” Elvin Martin, a member of Peaceworks, said.

Three speakers discussed the possible effects of a nuclear war and what people can do to join the cause to eliminate nuclear weapons in the United States.

Bill Wickersham, an adjunct professor of peace studies at MU, has studied nuclear war issues for 45 years.

One of the things he spoke about was why more people aren’t joining the fight against nuclear weapons. He cited denial, habituation, distancing and despair as “social and psychological obstacles.”

“Talking is the most important thing we can do. We need to start having serious dialogues on the realities of nuclear weapons,” he said.

Mark Robertson, who is on the steering committee for Peaceworks, spoke about “the politics of usable nukes.”

“We’re blurring the line between conventional weapons and nuclear weapons by even considering using nuclear weapons in war,” he said.

The final speaker, Steven Starr, who was a nuclear engineer for a year, spoke of strategic nuclear weapons on high-alert status in the U.S. Starr said there are more than 1,000 nuclear weapons that can be released in under three minutes, and one of his goals is to get them off high-alert status.

“It takes time away from decision-making,” he said.

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