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Cherry Tree Planting Ceremony Speech

On Friday, December 6, a cherry tree was planted along College Street near City Hall in memory of the victims of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki on August 6th and 9th,1945. This planting was sponsored by the Western North Carolina Chapter of Physicians for Social Responsibility (WNCPSR) in collaboration with Asheville GreenWorks and other participants who are committed to the reduction and eventual elimination of nuclear weapons. 

Dr. Scott Allan Baker, a member of WNCPSR, delivered the following message: 

I come from a musical family and so I often tend to think in terms of song lyrics. And when I began to put my thoughts together for this memorial a song popped into my head. It’s a song about Tomorrow. In fact that’s its name. 

The lyrics begin: 

The sun will come out Tomorrow Bet your bottom dollar That tomorrow There'll be sun! 

It was a sunny morning in the manufacturing town of Hiroshima, on August 6, 1945. It’s a city about 4 times the population of Asheville. I can imagine the usual morning hustle and bustle: workers heading to work, mothers and fathers rushing their children off to school. 

The war had dragged on for years and the noose was tightening on the nation that in fact was called the Land of the Rising Sun. There was indeed sun that beautiful morning in early August. I can imagine the children laughing, jostling with each other the way children do everywhere. 

But then at 8:15 a.m. everything changed. Not only Hiroshima but the world changed. A bright light flashed from 2000 feet overhead. It wasn’t a life-giving light like our sun provides. It was life-destroying. 

The children’s laughter stopped much of it never to be heard again. Two thirds of the buildings within three miles were simply leveled – banks, factories, schools. And everyone in them ... well, you understand. The light was so powerful it left semi-permanent shadows on the ground – shadows of the people who were caught in that terrible explosion. We don’t know precisely how many people died instantly – many estimates say around 70,000. And they were in many ways the fortunate ones. Somewhere about twice that number died from the effects of the radiation – burns, malnutrition, cancer. And later, birth defects. Those facts are important to everyone but especially to physicians. 

But Hiroshima was not the end. Three days later, the United States dropped a second bomb on Nagasaki – a bomb more powerful than the first but with lesser effects partly because the city was surrounded by mountains. As a result, 40,000 more died immediately, another 30,000 by the end of the year. 

Six days later on August 15, Japan surrendered. Some say the atomic bomb was necessary to end the war with Japan. It’s interesting to me that generals like General Eisenhower said that Japan would have surrendered anyhow without the bomb and without an invasion - partly due to the Soviet Union entering the war against Japan. 

But we’re not here to debate that. We’re here to plant a tree of remembrance for the victims of that fateful decision. We’re planting a sakura, or cherry tree. For centuries it has been a symbol for life, death, for birth and for regeneration. We’re here to plant this tree of hope; hope for the future for our land, for Japan and for the world. 

This sakura is planted by all of us participating today but this planting is sponsored and funded by The Western North Carolina chapter of Physicians for Social Responsibility or PSR, of which I am a proud member. PSR’s conviction is this: we must prevent what we cannot cure. We must prevent the massive number of deaths of innocent civilians, the unimaginable suffering and perhaps even the end of civilization as we know it by reducing and eventually eliminating the acute danger posed by the mere existence of nuclear weapons. 

That is what we are committed to working for. There is a lot of work that must be done. And we know now that the effects of even a limited nuclear exchange could trigger a nuclear winter in which the sun - our good sun’s rays are blocked by ash and smoke in the atmosphere so pervasively that even far away from the site of the bomb explosions crops fail and people starve. 

But you, the people gathered here today, working along with other anti-nuclear organizations, some informed congressional representatives, former defense officials, former secretaries of state, people all around the world - you represent hope. You are what makes our mission to make the world safe - possible. 

We’ve already proven we can do it. Let me explain. Today there are about 14,000 nuclear warheads in the world under the control of the nine countries that compose the so- called nuclear club and scattered among 14 countries. 14,000 warheads. That’s a lot. But that is a profound reduction from the some 70,000 warheads that existed just 40 years ago. Why the reduction? Because of you and me. Because public pressure from people all around the world including here in the United States made the world safer. We did it!. We’ve had an effect before. We can again. That’s the good news. 

The challenging news is this: there is a lot more work to be done. The existence of even one nuclear weapon is potentially catastrophic. How so? Well...there are just too many scenarios how things could go perilously wrong. We all know people make mistakes. Computers malfunction. They misread data. The accidental launch of just one ICBM could trigger an all out nuclear exchange. I’m not being chicken little here. Accidents have already happened. More than one nuclear expert has stated that the only thing that has kept humanity from a nuclear exchange already is nothing more than “dumb luck”. Is that what we want to depend on? Nuclear weapons or the fissile material they contain can be stolen or misplaced. This material can then be used by enemies or terrorists for extortion ...or worse. This could take place here or, in any of the other countries where nuclear weapons are poised – India, Russia, Pakistan. Again, my point: the existence of each nuclear weapon constitutes a threat. 

Panic captured the state of Hawaii just last year when an employee pressed the wrong button triggering the false alarm of a nuclear attack. This panic dramatizes the fear that is embedded deep inside people everywhere; a fear we don’t like to even think about. We don’t like to bring it to consciousness. But its there. 

Hope is found in knowledge. Hope is found in that the world is waking up to the reality of the danger of the existing predicament...and people are taking action. At last count 33 nations have signed the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons making it an international crime to use and even to possess nuclear weapons, just as it is a crime to possess biological or chemical weapons. When 50 nations have signed, it goes into force. 

More hope. The program known as Back from the Brink is gaining popular support all over the world. It advocates five critical steps in reducing the threat of a nuclear explosion. These include renouncing the first use of nuclear weapons. 

This step is included in two bills before Congress even as we speak. We at PSR are committed to supporting and promoting all the steps of the Back from the Brink program. We hope you will too. 

These are sensible steps to security, to safety, to peace. So that what happened at Hiroshima and Nagasaki never happens again. So that the people of the world can go to sleep at night and have the assurance that indeed the sun will come up tomorrow and that we will see and enjoy it, and our solar system’s sun will continue to give life to this cherry tree and indeed all life here on earth. 


Mission Statement

PREVENTING WHAT WE CANNOT CURE: Physicians for Social Responsibility is the medical and public health voice working to prevent the use or spread of nuclear weapons and to slow, stop and reverse global warming and the toxic degradation of the environment.