In Prague today before a 20,000 strong crowd US President Obama called for a world without nuclear weapons. There are currently 26,000 nuclear weapons held amoung nine countries. At the Palm Sunday rally in Melbourne Dr Ruth Mitchell from the Medical Association for the Prevention of War spoke detailing the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) and the need to keep the pressure on politicians and Governments on this issue. (Photos 1 | Melbourne Protests Photos | Youtube Video )
President Obama told the large crowd in Prague "I state clearly and with conviction America's commitment to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons. This goal will not be reached quickly -- perhaps not in my lifetime. It will take patience and persistence. But now we, too, must ignore the voices who tell us that the world cannot change."
Palm Sunday religous services and rallies were held around Australia. In Melbourne a religous service was followed by speakers and entertainment before a march around city streets, with a "die-in" at the Bourke Street Mall. Occasional showers brought smiles to faces - as raincoats and umbrellas proliferated while many ran for shelter under surrounding trees and the Library portico. In 2008 the rally persevered through 43 degree heat. The threat of rain may have deterred people from attending, but the rain couldn't deter those present in listening to the speakers, singing, praying, and then marching for peace against war.
The banner at the head of the march proclaimed: "Make Peace Possible - End the Waste of War".
- Takver's photos on Flickr: Palm Sunday Peace Rally 2009
- Youtube video: Dr Ruth Mitchell on the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN)
- Youtube video: Australian Army veteran opposes the war in Iraq and Afghanistan at Palm Sunday rally
Transcript of speech by Dr Ruth Mitchell
On Palm Sunday when we reflect on the idea of a radical, on a donkey entering a place of power. I think that is something we can all get excited about, as long as the donkey was treated well.
I think it is useful to think about the major problems with 26,000 nuclear weapons which are held by powerful people in nine countries. The threat of several thousand of these weapons still on hair trigger alert, which means they are available for immediate deployment by the US and Russia, really flies in the face of the idea we have been exploring of "loving your neighbour".
So nuclear weapons are still a major problem. Nuclear weapons make us vulnerable to terrorism, which everyone likes to talk about, in that fissile material left lying around can be used by anyone for any number of reasons. That is something we must take seriously.
Nuclear weapons make us vulnerable to more nuclear weapons. Once someone has got them, everyone wants them.
The threat of proliferation is a real one and we are seeing the impact of that everyday.
If people have nuclear weapons there is a risk they will be used. Intentionally or accidentally, the risk is there. Current estimates suggest there is greater than a one per cent chance we could have accidental or intentional use of nuclear weapons that exist in the next ten years. I am not very happy with that. I do not know how you feel.
Jessica [Morrison] has been exploring the theme of what a huge obscene waste of money war is. Nuclear weapons represent the pinnacle of the arrogance of the military industrial complex. If the US were to cancel their nuclear weapons program, there would be enough money to meet all the millenial development goals. ALL of THEM.
The environmental impact of nuclear weapons, even if they are not deployed, is staggering. The size of the installations, the carbon cost of keeping these weapon systems running and upgrading them is catastrophic.
And in Australia, even though we may not have nuclear weapons, we have to understand that we are part of the problem. We stand under the cold and much less friendly umbrella than this one, of the nuclear weapons that the United States has. We have to take responsibility for that fact. And as we allow Pine Gap to be used by the US in their training and surveillance, we participate in their nuclear weapons program. This has to stop.
There is hope. That is the good news. Weapons renewal programs around the world are being met with resistance. Perhaps the most striking example of this is Trident, which is the UK nuclear weapons system. And Scottish people are standing up saying "We are not having nuclear weapons on our soil. We are not having nuclear weapons in our waters."
The US and Russia have just announced that they will negotiate a new arms reduction treaty. We wish them Godspeed. And, later today in Hradcany Square which is just in front of the castle in Prague President Obama will lay out an agenda to seek a world without nuclear weapons, which I think we can agree is truly unprecedented.
Nuclear weapons numbers are down from a horrifying 68,000 at the height of the cold war to 26,000 presently. That is still 26,000 too many, but we are going in the right direction. Some countries have abandoned their nuclear weapons programs. We can hope that more would do so.
I think it is important to emphasise that none of these changes would have happenned without massive public pressure, and that is where we come in.
I am part of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, and it is a new campaign aimed at bringing together this groundswell of public opinion that nuclear weapons are horrible, wasteful, disgusting, immoral and have to be gotten rid of.
I am here because I am a doctor. Now what we know about nuclear weapons from what happenned in Hiroshma and Nagasaki, as well as much closer to home from nuclear tests at Maralinga and so forth is that nuclear weapons are really really bad for your health. Although in a major disaster doctors are often seen to be very helpful - I work at the Alfred Hospital - I have seen what happens when there are burns. The amount of burned people there would be after a nuclear explosion is so big that there wouldn't be a hospital able to deal with it. You add to that the impact of the loss of infrastructure, the loss of the hospital in which to treat patients, and we can't help you anymore.
So as a doctor I'm here to say that prevention is the only cure. We have to get rid of nuclear weapons. So what we are tryng to do is partner with other key organisations: with unions, churches, environmental groups and other existing peace and anti-nuclear groups and we are pressuring Governments for a new Nuclear Weapons Convention. Myself and a number of other people from Victoria will be going to the non-proliferation treaty convention where we will be pushing Governments to make ethical choices about what we do with resources and how we pull together to get rid of nuclear weapons.
I would like to invite you to please join us and let your voice be heard so we can have some peace this Palm Sunday.