Viewpoint: Time to rededicate peace efforts worldwide

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By JAN SLAKOV

On Aug. 6 and 9, Canada’s Dominion Carilloneur, Dr. Andrea McCrady, will ring the largest bell in the Peace Tower 75 times. People all around the world will be able to hear it, as it will be audio live-streamed.

Seeing those dates, you may have a hunch why: because 2020 is the 75th anniversary of the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Canada was involved in the Manhattan Project that built the bombs — with Canadian uranium.

There is, at least tangentially, a Salt Spring connection to the special bell-ringing commemoration of this anniversary. It was our MP, Elizabeth May, who asked that the bells in the Peace Tower be part of a nation-wide Bells for Peace commemoration effort, a request which House speaker Anthony Rota was pleased to accommodate. 

For decades, Salt Springers have gathered annually to commemorate the bombings. We want never to forget the horror of war, particularly nuclear war, and to rededicate our efforts for peace. Holding the event at the Peace Park — Heiwa (or “peace”) Garden — is a way to remember also our own troubled history with respect to Japanese-Canadians and ongoing racism.

This year’s event will feature singer-songwriters Sue Newman (who wrote a song specifically for Hiroshima Day) and Susan Devor Cogan, who is well-known in both Israel and Canada as a folk-world-jazz vocalist. It is truly an honour that such gifted artists would show up, year after year, for these gatherings.

Why commemorate such horrible events? Just as we need, as individuals, to acknowledge mistakes in order to learn from them, as a society, we need to learn how our forebears engaged in horrors, so we stand a better chance of avoiding similar acts. Germany’s experience is instructive. Police cadets enrol in a multi-year program with classes in law, ethics and police history, which includes learning from Holocaust survivors. In Germany, police are trained to focus on communication and de-escalation; rates of police-involved injuries and killings are much lower than in the U.S. or Canada.

An emphasis on communication and de-escalation in international relations would surely make us all much more secure. That is why peace activists across Canada are mobilizing to get the Canadian government to drop its plan to buy new fighter jets, at the astronomical price of $19 billion. Just the cost of running an F-35 for one hour is well over $40,000, which is considerably more than most bank tellers make in a year. It’s worth asking our government whether fighter jets actually provide us with “security” and whether we might not get much more by redirecting those resources. (We don’t need to ask our MP; she’s already on record as opposing the plan to buy more fighter jets.)

Salt Spring’s commemoration will start at 5 p.m., but anyone who is able to help with maintaining the gardens in the park (right across from ArtSpring) is invited to come earlier, at 4 p.m., to chip in. There will also be a Hibakusha Remembrance webinar at noon on the internet featuring the renowned Dr. Mary-Wynne Ashford (whose family has strong Salt Spring ties!), Dr. Jonathan Down and Margritte Gordaneer, founder of McGill Students for Peace and Disarmament. For more information, please call or email janslakov@shaw.ca or 250-537-5251.

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