August 7, 2019

Nakashima Speaks at Hinds Plaza Rally Commemorating Hiroshima, Nagasaki

SPEAKING FOR PEACE: Robert Goldston, a professor of astrophysical sciences at Princeton University, and artist and architect Mira Nakashima both spoke at Monday evening’s rally at Hinds Plaza to commemorate the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. (Photo by Wendy Greenberg)

By Wendy Greenberg

Monday evening’s commemoration of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki took on a broad, timely message as speakers addressed immigrant detention at the U.S. southern border; recent U.S. shootings in Dayton, Ohio, and El Paso, Texas; and nuclear crises between the U.S. and Iran and North Korea.

The event on Hinds Plaza, sponsored by the Coalition for Peace Action (CFPA), began with the peaceful strains of the shakuhachi, a Japanese flute played by Glenn Swann, and ended in candlelight. A minute of silence was observed at 7:15 p.m., which corresponded to 8:15 a.m. on August 6, 1945, when the bomb was dropped on Hiroshima (the Nagasaki bomb was dropped August 9).

“Unfortunately, there is no guarantee this will never happen again,” said CFPA Assistant Director Niki VanAller. The grassroots group calls for abolishing nuclear weapons, encouraging a peace economy, and halting weapons trafficking through changing public policy and education. 

“I think the event did a really good job of relating the past to the present and interconnected forms of violence,” VanAller said Tuesday. “The goal is not to say whether the bombings were right or wrong, but to remember the devastation was horrific, and today we have more powerful weapons so we have to prevent that from happening again.”

Robert Goldston, a professor of astrophysical sciences at Princeton University and former director of the Princeton Plasma Physics Lab, offered an update of the nuclear crises in Iran and North Korea.

Speaker Dolores Phillips, legislative director of CeaseFire New Jersey, which is under CFPA’s umbrella, noted that the mass shootings in Dayton and El Paso were the 250th and 251st mass shootings in America in 2019. 

Members of the CFPA offered anti-war songs and music. It was the group’s 40th Hiroshima/Nagasaki Commemoration, which it has organized annually since 1980.

Keynote speaker Mira Nakashima, daughter of renowned woodworker and furniture designer George Nakashima, and a celebrated artist herself, bridged the experience of Japanese internment camps of World War II and today’s conditions at the U.S. southern border.

Nakashima was born in Seattle, Wash., but as a result of U.S. Executive Order 9066, in April 1942 was sent at six months old with her family to an internment camp for Americans of Japanese descent. The Nakashimas ended up at Minidoka, a “relocation center” in Idaho where some 9,000 Japanese Americans were sent.

Many of the young men from the camp were conscripted and served in the U.S. military under some of the most difficult conditions, she said. At the camp, her father was introduced to master carpenter Gentaro Hikogawa, who was also incarcerated there, and who taught him to use hand tools and other techniques that would impact his artistry.

“We still have bitterbrush (shrub) from the desert,” said Nakashima, a Harvard-trained architect. “My father used it as handles on early furniture.” Through a sponsor, the family came to New Hope, Pa., to work on a farm and settled in Bucks County, Pa., where Nakashima lives and carries on the woodworking tradition at the family studio. (George died in 1990).

She described how her father later made peace altars from walnut trees, first for St. John the Divine Cathedral in New York, and for locations in Moscow and India. “It was part of a dream where all nations and cultures could convene in peace,” she said. She is in search of more sites. 

Many Japanese Americans have joined to protest conditions now for today’s immigrants in camps, she noted. Nakashima shared prose written by psychotherapist Satsuki Ina, read at Fort Sill, Okla., this past June. Fort Sill, now a holding center for immigrant children, also held some 700 Japanese Americans during World War II.

Looking back on the internment years, “at first I thought (the history) should be left alone, but the cry came, ‘Never Again.’ Our people did not rebel, but made the best of it,” said Nakashima. She said that they organized schools and baseball games. There were no fresh vegetables in the food rations, so they planted gardens. This did not diminish the psychological scars, she said.

Coincidentally, she said she recently visited Minidoka, now a historic site, where she was asked to create a memorial, a mobile that has two clouds representing Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It is installed at the new information center there.