Sadako Sasaki was 2 years old the day the atomic bomb fell on Hiroshima. She lived only a mile from the detonation site.
Ten years later, lying in a hospital and dying from radiation poisoning, she began folding paper cranes, since Japanese lore teaches that 1,000 cranes will cure any illness. When Sadako died, 365 cranes short of her goal, her classmates made 365 more and placed them in her coffin.
The origami crane is the symbol of a monthlong festival here, called "Imagine There's a Future," commemorating the dropping of the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki 40 years ago, in August of 1945.
'The World Changed Forever'
About 140,000 people died in the blasts; tens of thousands more would die of radiation poisoning, cancer and pernicious anemia. These were the only times atomic weapons have been deployed hostilely and, as the festival brochure states: "The world changed forever."
Marvin Schachter, chairman, was explaining the delicacy of the task facing the planners of "Imagine": "You don't celebrate Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Still, you don't want this to be a period of despair."
Rather, Schachter said, the committee asked itself, "What did we learn from it?"
The festival--art shows, symposiums, religious services and theater--is a celebration in one sense: It celebrates the idea of a world living without the threat of nuclear war.
The citywide festival, now through Aug. 9, is being cosponsored by the Interfaith Center to Reverse the Arms Race and the Hollywood Women's Coalition, an organization of executive women from the entertainment industry, in cooperation with the Southern California Ecumenical Council and the Southern California Board of Rabbis, together with a broad-based coalition of peace, religious and community groups.
At the Young People's Peace Festival on Aug. 3 at the Triforium Plaza and Children's Museum downtown, children will make origami cranes to be sent to the peace park in Hiroshima for permanent exhibit.
And, in Little Tokyo on that day, the bombings will be remembered at the Hiroshima/Nagasaki Commemoration honoring the victims. Burning there will be a peace flame, transported from the Hiroshima peace memorial where the dedication reads: "Rest in peace. We shall not repeat the same mistake again."
"Ours will be a somber celebration," said Kent Wong, co-chairman for the Asian Pacific Americans for Nuclear Awareness event. "But I think it's appropriate to have people express their concerns about world peace in many different ways. There is a time for celebration, for appreciating the arts. It's a time for humanity to come together as one."
Schachter, president of Maris Management Corp., a development firm, was a 21-year-old in Army intelligence, stationed at what is now Camp David, Md., in August, 1945. Reflecting, he said, "I don't think anybody, when the bombs went off, really realized the significance. It was a big bomb, different in magnitude" rather than kind.
Beginning in the '70s, Schachter's accumulated knowledge on nuclear arms led him to believe "it was out of control. There's no way there's going to be a solution to the competition between superpowers without political revolution."
He became involved. In 1982 Schachter was co-chairman of the successful statewide nuclear freeze initiative. A former ACLU national vice chairman, he serves today on the executive committee of the Pasadena-based Interfaith Center to Reverse the Arms Race.
Preserving Joy and Optimism
"I think a nuclear war is possible," Schachter said, if not probable. But one thing he is absolutely convinced of is that "without controlling nuclear weapons, there will not be a future"--that is, a future filled with joy and optimism.
That, in essence, is the message of "Imagine There's a Future." To that end, the committee has put together a calendar of events and happenings--ranging from discussions of violent conflict in Central America and the Middle East to a 204-block-long vigil along Wilshire Boulevard on Aug. 6.
The festival, he said, "is to celebrate the spirit that has kept us passionately pursuing a world of peace since August, 1945. The alternative is to surrender to absolute hopelessness."
More than a dozen art and photography exhibits expressing the artists' visions of a future free from nuclear threat are continuing in galleries through Aug. 9, the anniversary of the Nagasaki bombing.
As a project of the Southern California Alliance of Survival, the "world's largest
peace symbol," 300 yards in circumference, will be on display at Santa Monica Beach palisades (Ocean Avenue and Wilshire Boulevard) through today. The "On the Beach" symbol was unveiled Tuesday to mark the 40th anniversary of the first atomic bomb test and to protest escalating nuclear arms production.
Co-chair Emily Levine, a writer-producer, views the festival as a vehicle "to stimulate the imagination, to think about our lives differently, to create an alternative future to the one that's in place."