Coordinator Trip Report -
8-10 Aug 2008
From: Bruce Gagnon
This trip report covers the period of August 8-10 as I traveled to Toronto, Canada to speak at the 33rd annual Hiroshima/Nagasaki Day Peace Commemoration and Lantern Ceremony. The event was organized by the Hiroshima Day Coalition which is made up of many key groups in Toronto and throughout Canada.
My host for the weekend was Dr. Barbara Birkett, a member of the Hiroshima Day Coalition, and a leader in the group called Physicians for Global Survival. After picking me up at the Toronto airport she took me to her home in nearby Oakville for a dinner party with local leaders of the Oakville peace community. Her husband Richard, the cook in the family I was told, made a wonderful meal.
On Saturday, August 9 Barbara took me to the Toronto city hall at noon so we could be present when the local media came to film the Hiroshima/Nagasaki photo exhibit in the rotunda of the building. The photo exhibit had been there all week and many people, who had come to city hall for other business, were able to see the vivid story of the U.S. atomic bombing and the aftermath in the two cities.
Later in the afternoon a film showing was held inside city hall where several award winning anti-nuclear documentaries were made available to the public. The formal program began at 6:30 pm in the middle of an exciting thunder and lightening storm. Originally the ceremony was to be held in the Peace Garden that adjoins the city hall grounds but due to the storm the program was moved under the huge overhang of the city hall building.
Earlier in the day a man was passing out an Opinion piece just published in the Halifax Chronicle Herald by Tamara Lorincz entitled "Canada should not abet erosion of international nuclear restraints." Tamara is a member of the Halifax Peace Coalition and a board member of the Global Network. In the op-ed Tamara writes that under "the controversial US-India Nuclear Co-operation deal" Canada's "uranium could be used to expand and modernize India's nuclear weapons." India will not now sign nor ratify the UN's Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Tamara rightly asks in the piece, "How can Canada give support for India's civilian nuclear program but condemn that of Iran, a party to the NPT?....Canada's reversal has also compromised our commitment to nuclear weapons non-proliferation."
Pakistan sits and watches the U.S. and Canada help India build more nuclear weapons so they will turn to China to get help with their nuclear program. Thus an already volatile region of the world edges even closer to nuclear war. The U.S. of course uses these mounting tensions to prove that "missile defense" is needed in the region which only helps escalate the already dangerous situation.
I made sure to mention Tamara's op-ed key points in my speech as I wondered out loud if the Canadian government was now becoming a junior member of the U.S. program of "security export." Even though we were told that Canada's previous Liberal government had rejected participation in "missile defense," I told the assembled, we now know that Industry Canada was in fact funding research and development for Canadian aerospace corporations to participate in the U.S. Star Wars program as is happening in so many other allied countries around the world. The U.S. government, I said, is telling Canadian aerospace to get their government "on-side" because "you don't want to get left behind this new technological curve do you?"
As I do in all my talks I ended with a call for participation in the conversion of the global war machine. The fact is that the Conservative government, led by Prime Minister Stephen Harper, is steadily increasing Canada's military budget and cutbacks in their social programs are now the result.
While in Toronto I learned about the developing Georgia-Russia conflict. It was interesting to see the difference in Canadian and U.S. newspaper coverage of the issue as I made my way home on August 10. Canadian newspapers gave more context to the crisis. The Toronto paper I read on the plane home shared Russian concerns about NATO expansion to their borders and also mentioned that oil and natural gas pipelines in the region were a key reason for the growing U.S.-Russian conflict. When I picked up U.S. newspapers in the Newark, New Jersey airport they mentioned neither of those two important background points. U.S. papers largely made the story into the aggressive Russian bear once again on the loose conquering innocent people - the U.S. must do something to stop these nasty Russians. Of course very few U.S. newspapers mentioned the fact that Georgia had initiated the attack on Russian peacekeepers in the independent territories of South Ossetia and Abkhazia along the Georgian-Russia border. Information is everything.
One other trip home observation. On the plane I was reading the Continental airlines magazine and found an article called "Out of This World" about a NASA astronaut talking about the space agency's new "Constellation Program" that is "devoted to developing the vehicles that the agency hopes will one day enable astronauts to visit Mars and the asteroid belt, and possibly travel even farther." The Constellation Program funding is now a serious question as the U.S. budget deficit grows. In the article astronaut John Grunsfeld says, "Everybody believes NASA should bring people to Mars, build colonies on the moon. I think that's the vision everybody has for space."
Everybody? Does Mr. Grunsfeld and NASA exaggerate just a bit? Are they trying to create the public perception that there are no critics of the space program - everyone agrees? It just goes to show how the aerospace industry uses every media outlet they can to shape public opinion. Say it and it becomes true NASA knows.
The Associated Press reported on August 12 that "NASA is not properly emphasizing safety in its design of a new spaceship and its return-to-the-moon program faces money, morale and leadership problems." The Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel cites "surprising anxiety among NASA employees" about the Constellation program and says the project "lacks clear direction."
In spite of that news I'm sure "everybody" agrees that we should give NASA all the money they want!
My next trip takes me to St. Paul, Minnesota on August 30-Sept 2 to speak at the Peace Island Conference at Concordia University that will serve as a positive alternative to the Republican National Convention also being held in the city at the same time.
Bruce K. Gagnon