Remembering Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Saving “Chain Reaction”

IMG_5625PSR-LA was pleased to co-sponsor a Hiroshima Anniversary Vigil on August 6 with Save Chain Reaction, a group dedicated to restoring and saving Paul Conrad’s historic sculpture at the Santa Monica Civic Center.

Chain Reaction is a 26-foot-tall sculpture depicting a nuclear mushroom cloud created from chain links. The inscription at the base reads, “This is a statement of peace. May it never become an epitaph.”

The piece was designed by three-time Pulitzer Prize winner Paul Conrad and gifted to the City of Santa Monica in 1991. Though designated a Santa Monica Landmark last year by the Landmark Commission, the City wants to remove Chain Reaction unless supporters can raise $400,000 by February 1, 2014.

It was most fitting for the Hiroshima remembrance to be held at the sculpture, as both the event and artwork share the important goal of calling attention to the devastation caused by nuclear weapons.

Sixty-eight years ago, the United States became the first country to use a nuclear weapon by bombing Hiroshima, Japan, instantly claiming the lives of at least 140,000 people and causing thousands more to suffer from the debilitating effects of radiation. Two days later, the US dropped another atomic bomb on Nagasaki, instantly killing 80,000 with thousands more to be impacted by radiation.

Other countries quickly moved to have their own nuclear weapons, but the dramatic escalation of US and Soviet Union arsenals terrified citizens worldwide and prompted a massive global movement for disarmament.

PSR-LA was founded as part of that movement. Our 1981 conference on the medical consequences of nuclear war was attended by 3,000 people. We led physician diplomacy visits to the Soviet Union and China, where like-minded physicians from those countries joined in our call for peace. Physicians throughout Southern California joined PSR-LA, recognizing that on the matter of nuclear war, prevention is the only cure.

Nationwide, the movement flourished. In 1982, over a million people gathered in New York’s Central Park to rally for nuclear disarmament. A diverse group of speakers – from Martin Sheen to Cesar Chavez – called upon world governments to step back from the brink.

As the Cold War ended, the threat of nuclear war faded from our collective consciousness. The disarmament movement made great progress indeed – the global arsenal has gone from 70,000 nuclear weapons down to approximately 20,000 today. But the nuclear threat has by no means disappeared.

Today’s nuclear bombs are far more powerful than those that devastated Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and thousands remain on hair trigger alert. Nuclear power is rife with proliferation, security and health threats. Commercial nuclear reactors contain 1,000 times the radiation as released by the Hiroshima bomb, and the impacts of a disaster are difficult if not impossible to mitigate as we are seeing in Fukushima. Last year, taking into account the threats posed by nuclear weapons, nuclear energy, and climate change, the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists moved the hand on its infamous Doomsday Clock to 5 minutes before midnight.

IMG_5533 As the clock keeps ticking, it is ever more important to remember the victims of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and to preserve art like Chain Reaction that reminds us that the nuclear cloud remains over all of our heads. On August 6, 2013, PSR-LA, Save Chain Reaction, and a dedicated group of individuals did just that.

Santa Monica icon and veteran peace activist Jerry Rubin, who organized and emceed the event, opened with a moment of silence for the victims of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, followed by a moment of silence for those suffering due to the nuclear disaster in Fukushima. Regina Sakurai and Michio Masubuchi of the Koyassan Buddist Temple in Los Angeles then presented the Hiroshima Eternal Peace Flame. The flame was given to the City of Los Angeles by the Mayor of Hiroshima in 1984 for the summer Olympics. Folk singer Ross Altman then sang a song about Hiroshima entitled “Furusato.”

An impressive group of speakers, including former Mayors of Santa Monica, longtime nuclear activist Harvey Wasserman, and Vietnam veteran, activist, and author of “Born on the Fourth of July” Ron Kovic, author and peace advocate Marianne Williamson, and Truthdig editor Robert Scheer, took to the mic for a few words.

Speakers included:

  • Jerry Rubin, peace activist
  • James Conn, former Mayor of Santa Monic First mayor to be arrested while protesting at the Nevada Nuclear Weapons Test Site.
  • Judy Abdo, former Mayor of Santa Monica. Also arrested while protesting at the Nevada Test Site.
  • Michael Feinstein, former Mayor of Santa Monica
  • Alexandra Paul, Actress and participant in 1986 Great Peace March for Global Nuclear Disarmament
  • Rev. Janet McKeithen, Minister, Church in Ocean Park
  • Cris Gutierrez, Santa Monica activist
  • David Conrad, Save Chain Reaction and son of Paul Conrad
  • Denise Duffield, Associate Director,Physicians for Social Responsibility- Los Angeles
  • Dr. William E. Perkins, Pediatrician and PSR-LA Peace and Security Ambassador
  • Ian McIlraith, Director of Peace and Community Relations, Soka Gakkai International- USA
  • Harvey Wasserman, Author and leading strategist and organizer in the anti-nuclear movement
  • Ron Kovic, paraplegic Vietnam veteran and author of “Born on the Fourth of July”
  • Nat Trives, former Mayor of Santa Monica
  • Elena Christopoulos, scientist and communications and sustainability expert
  • Marianne Williamson, Spiritual teacher, author of “A Course in Miracles” and co-founder of the Peace Alliance
  • Robert Berman, Founder and Owner of Robert Berman Art Gallery
  • Robert Scheer, Editor in Chief, Truthdig
  • Carol Wells, Founding Director of the Center for the Study of Political Graphics
  • Richard Brand, architect

As the evening drew to a close, participants held candles and encircled the Chain Reaction sculpture – each resolved, perhaps, to do just a little bit more for a nuclear weapons free world. And do more, we must. The nuclear threat has not gone away, and neither must we.

To get more involved in PSR-LA’s peace and security program, call Denise Duffield at 213-689-9170 or email [email protected]. To learn more about how you can help perserve the Chain Reaction, visit Please also sign the petition.

View photos from the event:
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