Nukes protest in Sch’dy recalls ’45 bombings

A crowd in white gathered beneath the gray sky Sunday evening in Schenectady Central Park.

A crowd in white gathered beneath the gray sky Sunday evening in Schenectady Central Park.

Bright flags flapped and signs reading, “No More Nukes,” creased and bent in the moist wind. One marcher sounded a muted gong.

It had the air of a funeral, minus the black suits.

“White is the color of mourning in Japan,” said David Easter, 30-year member of the Upper Hudson Peace Action organization. “We’re enjoying this beautiful park today, but it was beautiful in Japan the day the bombs dropped.”

Sunday’s event commemorated the 1945 nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

“We’re walking around the lake because when the bombs fell, many of those who survived made it to the water,” said Elaine Klein, Schenectady Neighbors for Peace coordinator of the event. “So the route is significant.”

The march was equal parts sorrow and social action.

“It’s really two things,” said Lawrence Wittner. “We want to commemorate the mass killing that took place, and we want to use that memory to call for a nuke-free world.”

Wittner is on the national board of Peace Action. He taught history for years at the University at Albany and published several books, including “Confronting the Bomb” released in 2009, which made him the resident expert.

He said at the height of the Cold War, there were roughly 70,000 nuclear weapons in existence. Since then, the number is down to 20,000, with 95 percent controlled by the U.S. and Russia.

“More than two-thirds have been abolished,” he said, “but there are still 20,000. Wouldn’t the U.S. be safer if no one had nuclear weapons?”

The desire to whittle down the world’s nuclear arsenal was at the core of the event.

There was the solemn gong and white mourning cloths, but the roughly 40 attendees carried signs and wanted change.

Wittner played folk favorites, “Blowin’ in the Wind” and “Down by the Riverside” on the banjo with his band the Solidarity Singers.

The chorus “Ain’t gonna study war no more” echoing from the park’s Peace Pole brought ’70s era social action to mind.

“Things only change when people try,” said John Amidon, of Albany, who wore a military-style Veterans for Peace hat. “We don’t expect this to get done by tomorrow morning, but people need to stand for what they believe.”

Amidon was recently arrested with career activist Daniel Ellsberg for marching onto Vandenberg Air Force Base in California to protest the Minuteman III missile, a first-strike nuclear weapon.

He recounted calming the nervous young man who cuffed him saying, “Don’t worry, I’m cooperating. I’m an old guy.”

Amidon was a Marine during the Vietnam conflict, but was not sent in.

Even as a veteran and respectable senior citizen, he said getting arrested for the cause is an easy call.

“War is the lowest form of human behavior,” he said, “and nuclear weapons target everything, not just combatants.”

Sunday’s event wasn’t the type to get people arrested. There was music, a short walk and a picnic complete with Peace Cake. Democratic Senate candidate Madelyn Thorne even showed up. But the intent was clear.

“Our view is, the more pressure we put on the government, the more awareness we raise,” Wittner said, “the better chance we have of getting rid of nuclear weapons all together.”

Categories: Schenectady County

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