President Obama spoke at a wreath-laying ceremony at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial on Sunday.
“Seventy-one years ago, on a bright cloudless morning, death fell from the sky and the world was changed. A flash of light and a wall of fire destroyed a city and demonstrated that mankind possessed the means to destroy itself,” he began.
Obama is the first sitting US president to visit the Japanese city, where American forces in Aug. 1945 dropped the first atomic bomb used during warfare.
His speech touched on the ubiquity of warfare throughout the history of mankind — whether motivated by greed, need, nationalism, or fanaticism. He also noted the irony that virtually every innovation or advancement in human civilization came tempered with a destructive element.
In the image of a mushroom cloud that rose into these skies, we are most starkly reminded of humanity’s core contradiction. How the very spark that marks us as a species, our thoughts, our imagination, our language, our toolmaking, our ability to set ourselves apart from nature and bend it to our will — those very things also give us the capacity for unmatched destruction.
How often does material advancement or social innovation blind us to this truth? How easily we learn to justify violence in the name of some higher cause.
Every great religion promises a pathway to love and peace and righteousness, and yet no religion has been spared from believers who have claimed their faith as a license to kill.
Nations arise telling a story that binds people together in sacrifice and cooperation, allowing for remarkable feats. But those same stories have so often been used to oppress and dehumanize those who are different.
Science allows us to communicate across the seas and fly above the clouds, to cure disease and understand the cosmos, but those same discoveries can be turned into ever more efficient killing machines.
“Technological progress without an equivalent progress in human institutions can doom us,” he said. “The scientific revolution that led to the splitting of an atom requires a moral revolution as well.”
We must change our mind-set about war itself. To prevent conflict through diplomacy and strive to end conflicts after they’ve begun. To see our growing interdependence as a cause for peaceful cooperation and not violent competition. To define our nations not by our capacity to destroy but by what we build. And perhaps, above all, we must reimagine our connection to one another as members of one human race.
The dropping of the atomic bomb signaled not only “the dawn of atomic warfare,” he said, but hopefully, “the start of our own moral awakening.”
[images via Wikicommons]
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