Push for the Prize: An Indigenous Perspective

A Nobel Prize for Survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki: An Indigenous Perspective

by Steven Newcomb (Shawnee/Lenape) | Indigenous Law Institute

Mr. Akio Matsumura has proposed that a Noble Peace Prize be awarded to the remaining survivors of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki as a reminder and a lesson to the world against the horrors of nuclear war. It is a timely and excellent suggestion.

Steven Newcomb, Indigenous Law Institute

Those survivors remind us that war and dehumanization are inextricably intertwined; to commit acts of war, by killing, maiming, or incinerating one’s fellow human beings, in the name of flag, country, race, creed, color, or religion, it is necessary to first become detached and desensitized by seeing one’s fellow human beings as “less-than-human.”

The dwindling number of remaining survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki come from many countries of the world; not just Japanese people were impacted. The survivors are living testimony to the magnitude of destruction that humans are capable of through processes of dehumanization: scientific and technological ingenuity utilized in the most heinous and deadly manner on a mass scale. Those who perished horribly on that fateful day in 1945 and the living survivors are a reminder of the importance of peace for all living things.

The meaning of the word “peace,” however, is a matter of context and purpose. The historian Tacitus said of the Romans: “They make a desert and call it peace.” The dropping of the atom bombs on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki left such a desert, a radioactive one.

By contrast, an Indigenous concept of peace was expressed by the Oglala Lakota holy man Black Elk. He said that “above all you should understand that there can never be peace between nations until there is first known that true peace which is within the souls of men.” Such a peace, said Black Elk, results when people realize “their relationship, their oneness, with the universe and all its powers, and when they realize that at the center of the universe dwells Wakan-Tanka [the Great Mystery], and that this center is really everywhere, it is within each of us.”

This Oglala Lakota concept of peace is a result of spiritual and ecological insight developed through thousands of years of ceremony: We are, one and all, inter-related and inter-woven together, not just with other humans, but with every single expression of the miracle and beauty of Life. The remaining survivors of the atomic blasts at Hiroshima and Nagasaki ought to remind us of this very profound truth.

Ordinarily, the Nobel Prize is awarded to a particular individual for some remarkable contribution to humanity in an area of science or some other field. The contribution  made to humanity by the survivors of the atomic bombs is the reminder that the basis for a true and lasting peace is not merely be the cessation of war, or a temporary lapse between wars, but an altogether different paradigm.

From an Indigenous perspective it is shortsighted to narrowly focus on ourselves as humans; many forms of life other than humans were also annihilated by those atomic bombs. We do not exist separate and apart from other aspect of Life, and one of the most positive developments is that Western science is catching up to the Indigenous insight that the oneness of all Life is correct. This is not just a poetic construct but an abiding spiritual and biological truism that we ignore at our own peril.

Wisdom is the ability to learn from our past missteps and adjust our life-course accordingly, but we are in need of healthy patterns to model ourselves after.  John Collier, who was the U.S. Secretary of Indian Affairs from 1936 to 1945, saw American Indian spirituality as a profound model of peace in a world facing the threat of nuclear destruction. In 1947 he published the following about Indigenous peoples just after the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Of American Indians John Collier wrote:

They had what the world has lost. They have it now. What the world has lost, the world must have again, lest it die. Not many years are left to have or have not, to recapture the lost ingredient. This is not merely a passing reference to World War III or the atom bomb—although the reference includes these ways of death, too. These deaths will mean the end if they come—racial death, self-inflicted because we have lost the way, and the power to live is dead. What, in our human world is this power to live? It is the ancient, lost reverence and passion for human personality, joined with the ancient, lost reverence for the earth and its web of life. This indivisible reverence and passion is what the American Indians almost universally had; and representative groups of them have it still. If our modern world should be able to recapture this power, the earth’s natural resources and web of life would not be irrevocably wasted within the twentieth century, which is the prospect now. True democracy, founded in neighborhoods and reaching over the world would become the realized heaven on earth. And living peace—not just an interlude between wars—would be born and would last through ages.

Although a group award of the Nobel Prize to the survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki would be unprecedented, we can only hope that it would be a step toward a realization of true and lasting peace in the world. It is for this reason that we ought to support Mr. Matsumura’s brilliant proposal.

Steven Newcomb (Shawnee/Lenape) is the co-founder and co-director of the Indigenous Law Institute, author of “Pagans in the Promised Land: Decoding the Doctrine of Christian Discovery,” and a columnist for Indian Country Today.
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