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Mother's Day was born as a cry for protest and peace. Let's honour that history.

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Julia Ward Howe

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Card companies, florists, and drugstores with perfumes and lotions galore, are urging us to celebrate and honour our mothers with the perfect gift. It’s a commercial bonanza! Everyone feels bound by social convention to show respect through gifts, to make up for time you didn’t have to spend with mom, and attention distracted by a thousand other things in busy lives.

But what if we honoured the original and real meaning of the day? Read the Mother’s Day Proclamation, written by Boston activist Julia Ward Howe in 1870 after the bloody Civil War had scarred American states. It’s a cry of protest, and a call for women to demand peace and to organize to get it.

“Arise, then, women of this day! Arise all women who have hearts...We women of one country will be too tender of those of another country to allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs. From the bosom of the devastated earth a voice goes up with our own. It says "Disarm, Disarm! The sword of murder is not the balance of justice."

In 2016, one woman who is working towards disarmament is Toronto-based hibakusha Setsuko Thurlow, a survivor of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima in 1945 named by the Washington-based Arms Control Association the Arms Control Person of the Year 2015. This week she appeared before the UN special nuclear disarmament body the Open Ended Working Group (OEWG) in Geneva to urge the nations gathered there to begin working on a treaty to ban and eliminate nuclear weapons, the deadliest war threat we face.

Why should we worry, on Mother’s Day, about this issue? All of us, each and every one is at greater risk today from nuclear arsenals. Three humanitarian conferences (held in Oslo, Nayarit (Mexico), and Vienna, in 2013 and 2014)  established that even a  very limited nuclear war would cause catastrophic consequences on a global scale, which humanity could not cope with. 

Currently, 1800 nuclear missiles are kept on launch-ready status and there are still more than 15000 nuclear warheads in the world, most held by the US and Russia, but also some by the UK, France, China, India, Pakistan, Israel, and now North Korea. There is always the risk of detonation by accident, technological failure, misreading of warnings, or operational dysfunction at missile bases due to addiction, alcoholism, and mental illness. Recent history has seen many dire near misses and accidents that could have been catastrophic.

Nuclear arsenals are being modernized so they’ll be around for another 70 years, with the US planning to spend $1 trillion over the next 30 years. There are no right hands for wrong weapons. This massive expenditure on nuclear weapons, both in the U.S. and globally, is money not spent on improving health, education, economic chances, and environmental security, for the next generation.

In Toronto, efforts to eliminate this nuclear threat include an annual commemoration of the Hiroshima bombing every August, organized by the city’s Hiroshima Nagasaki Day Coalition (HNDC). This year’s commemoration will take place on the evening of August 6th at Nathan Phillips Square and in the newly opened Peace Garden. The event will include Setsuko Thurlow as the featured speaker, and performances by Japanese taiko drummers, and renowned flutist Ron Korb. The evening helps us all to better understand the threat of nuclear weapons and to commit ourselves actively to ending it and creating a better and safer future for the next generation. 


Phyllis Creighton works with the Hiroshima Nagasaki Day Coalition (HNDC)

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