In December of 2014 I accompanied Utah downwinder Michelle Thomas to Vienna, Austria, where she was set to testify at the 3rd International Conference on the Humanitarian Impacts of Nuclear Weapons (#HINW14Vienna). There, she and I met and conversed with scientists, diplomats, doctors, nonprofit representatives, and activists from all over the world. While Downwind was not formally featured at the conference, I was able to share news of the book and my research with a great many conference attendees. HINW14Vienna demonstrated overwhelming international support for the abolition of nuclear weapons worldwide. Attending the conference fundamentally affected the way I view my work on this issue.
I set out to study the implications of nuclear technology on the local level, in the stories of some of the small towns and communities that were impacted by nuclear testing and the uranium industry in the American West, because it meant I could visit actual places and talk to actual people. The idea of studying the complex history of nuclear weaponry and technology on the international scale seemed to me both abstract and overwhelming. Vienna altered my entire paradigm, because the gathering of nations that took place in the Hofburg Palace was anything but abstract. It was a gathering of real people. People who made up their nations, people who all called their own local place home.
The overwhelming majority of conference delegates were there because they believed in their hearts that other people's places and other people's children mattered as much as theirs did.
Strong, unequivocal messages about the need for total disarmament from the Austrian government, Pope Francis, Ban Ki Moon, and the Red Cross helped set the tone for the conference, and the damning testimony of scientists, medical doctors, and emergency responders from around the world made it clear that nothing less than the future of human life on earth was in jeopardy.
The most remarkable part of the conference, the segment I heard discussed most often--- over coffees and on twitter and in the statements of the nations--- was the testimony of four powerful, ordinary women. Setsuko Thurlow, a survivor of the bombing of Hiroshima, Abacca Anjain Madison, a survivor of US nuclear tests in the Marshall Islands, Michelle Thomas, a survivor of US nuclear testing in Nevada, and Sue Coleman Haseldine, a survivor of British and French testing in Australia, all bore witness to the tragic unfolding of the nuclear world in their communities. Four women from four opposite parts of the globe, each sharing remarkably local and astonishingly similar tales of betrayal, contamination, and perseverance. Each argued eloquently, from the ground of her own experience and the context of her own place, for an end to nuclear weapons technology worldwide. Diplomats from dozens of nations picked up Setsuko Thurlow's eloquent plea: Let 2015, the 70th anniversary of the invention of nuclear weaponry, mark the moment humanity unites to say goodbye to nukes.
Read transcripts of many of the statements and reports presented at HINW14 Vienna here. Recordings of the entire conference proceedings are posted on youtube, where you can navigate between different portions of the conference. Visit the International Campaign Against Nuclear (ICAN) website to learn more about their role in the conference and the current state of the international nuclear disarmament campaign.