by Andrea Leblanc
August 3rd, 2005
I am honored to have been invited to this World Congress 2005 here in Hiroshima and humbled to be among the noble, wise and big-hearted people assembled here. I was fortunate to have been able to walk 2/3 of the way from Nagasaki to Hiroshima with Stonewalk Japan with an amazing group of people, some of whom are Hibakusha. We pulled a 2 ton stone on a caisson 600km (360 miles) over the course of 34 days to remember and honor the unknown civilians killed in war and as a result of terrorism, most especially those killed as a result of the Atomic Bombings of Nagasaki and Hiroshima 60 years ago.
Stonewalk Japan is a project of The Peace Abbey in Sherborn, Massachusettts and September 11 Families for Peaceful Tomorrows. I am a member of Peaceful Tomorrows, a group of family members of those who died on Sept.11 who have chosen to turn our grief into action for peace. The name of the group derives from a quote by Martin Luther King, Jr., “Wars make poor chisels for carving out peaceful tomorrows.”( In Japanese, “Sensou wa heiwa na asu wo souzou suru dougu dewa nai.” )
On Sept. 11, 2001 my husband, Robert LeBlanc, was killed on the second plane that was flown into the World Trade Center. At that moment my life was shattered into a million pieces and it is taking a very long time to learn how to make sense of life again.
Bob, my husband, taught Cultural Geography at the University of New Hampshire for 35 years. He was an obsessive traveler and was always planning the next four or five trips to places he had never been, but was eager to experience.
Bob believed that it is important to GO to the places where people live their daily lives, to speak with them, walk in the marketplaces and taste the food, smell the smells, hear the music, stand in the holy places, and try to understand the problems people struggle with and the joys they celebrate. He believed that trying to know and better understand people in this way makes our common humanity undeniable.
At my husband’s memorial service a colleague and friend read a quote from the Quran which said in essence, “I have created you man and woman, tribes and nations, not that you may hate one other , but that you may know one another.” Bob spent his life trying to “know” other people. He did not judge or condemn, but rather delighted in the differences he found in the world.
The news on July 7th of the bombings in London brought back to me the vivid memories of the morning on Sept. 11 when I watched the plane my husband was on crash into the World Trade Center. I felt the same initial numbness. I KNOW the pain of the victim’s families.
Immediately after Sept. 11 a group of Hibakusha came to New York City to extend their compassion to us, because they knew OUR pain. Because of their generosity of spirit a strong and valuable bond has developed between us. The compassion of the Hibakusha and their dedication to ending war and to the elimination of nuclear weapons has been a shining example for us.
In the 20th Century 80% of the victims of war were civilians, innocent people ….. children, women, the elderly. These were people living their daily lives, working, playing, raising families, as are the people we met and stayed with as we walked across Japan this past month. And as were people like my husband on his way to a meeting, or the young man in London going to his office, or the mother making bread in Afghanistan, or the sleeping children in Iraq, or the young girls going out to fetch water in Darfur… as were all the people in Hiroshima and Nagasaki on Aug 6th and 9th, 1945.
Wars have been waged by nations throughout history. People have suffered because the violence is self-sustaining. War and its justifications have become a high art, an industry based on greed and fear that has created a far more dangerous world than we knew 60 years ago.
I have asked myself a thousand times the reason why people choose violence when it is so plainly evident that violence only begets more violence. There are so many sources of suffering in this world, tsunamis, earthquakes, famines, floods, diseases, which we cannot control, try as we might. But people DO have the ability to stop one source of suffering. We CAN end war and eliminate its weapons. We MUST if we are to survive.
The most promising thing to me is the fact that I believe some of us are waking up to the fact that whatever harms one of us, harms all of us. The very existence of nuclear weapons harms ALL of us. Some of us ask ourselves who will suffer because of a decision we make and remember that, though we don’t know the names of the people half way around the globe who pay (sometimes with their lives) for our decisions, everything costs someone something. We are, indeed, a “human family” and have an enormous responsibility to nuture all its members. We have choices every moment of every day. We can choose to do no harm.
We can choose to NOT BE SILENT when we see harm being done.
We can choose kindness in all things.
We can choose leaders who think about who will be harmed by the decisions they make, not only about who will benefit.
As a member of Peaceful Tomorrows I have been given the great gift of meeting and learning to know and love many people all over the world who see themselves less as citizens of a particular nation, but rather are pledging allegiance to the Human Family and its welfare. I do believe that if ALL of us who want to see wars ended, who do not want our children killing other people’s children, dedicated ourselves, as the Hibakusha have done to world peace, we will succeed.