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San Francisco Chronicle, Sunday, July 17, 2005

San Francisco Chronicle

SAN FRANCISCO
Monks, peace activists use walk to spotlight the horrors of war

Sixty years ago this weekend, the nuclear age began.

At a top secret test site near Trinity Site, N.M., scientists successfully exploded an atomic weapon for the first time -- paving the way for a pair of nuclear bombs to be dropped on Japan a month later to end World War II.

On Saturday, a small band of Zen Monks and peace activists began a 1,600- mile walk from San Francisco to the Trinity Test Site in New Mexico to remind the world of the horrors of nuclear war and to help ensure the weapons are never used again.

Some of the monks traveled from Japan aboard the Nippon Maru ship, carrying a lantern that was lit from a famous peace flame in Japan. The flame, in turn, was originally kindled from the embers of Hiroshima, after it was hit by a nuclear bomb in August 1945.

Kerrie Ann Garlick, 34, a peace activist from Melbourne, Australia, said she was one of about two dozen people who would make the entire journey. But she said hundreds more volunteers would walk short sections of the route. "We will never forget'' Hiroshima, she said. "That's why we walk."

The 25-day walk also comes at a time when many peace activists have been more focused on conventional violence and warfare, especially in the Middle East. With the end of the Cold War, most Americans have also been more concerned about the possibility of terrorism than a nuclear war.

But at a rally Saturday near Pier 39, some activists tried to tilt the spotlight back toward the potential for nuclear war.

"The hour is late. The danger is great," said Bruce Blair, a nuclear specialist with the Center for Defense Information, a nonprofit Washington, D. C., research organization. Blair served as a launch officer for the Minuteman intercontinental nuclear missile program in the 1970s.

Action movie star Steven Seagal also spoke briefly. He recently pledged $100,000 to pay for disarming a nuclear missile in Russia and said everyone must do what they can to fight nuclear weapons.

"We the people have to take responsibility for this, because if any of this goes awry, we will all suffer," Seagal said.

Takashi Tanemori, 67, of Lafayette gave an emotional account of how he was personally affected by the explosion when he was a boy in Hiroshima.

Tanemori said he had lost his parents, two of his grandparents and two of his sisters in the blast. Tanemori said the left side of his body was so badly seared from the blast that aid workers built a cremation box for him, figuring he wouldn't survive either.

Though Tanemori moved to the United States when he was 18 -- initially picking grapes in the Central Valley -- he said it had taken decades longer to truly forgive his adopted home for the bombing. He said his father finally appeared to him in a dream, warning him that revenge begets revenge.

This isn't the first time peace activists have carried the atomic flame from Japan to New Mexico.

Three years ago, the Hiroshima Flame Interfaith Pilgrimage group carried the flame to Los Alamos, where scientists developed the first nuclear weapons as part of the Manhattan Project.

On Saturday, the monks were scheduled to walk to SBC Park and then on to Palo Alto.

Stanford Memorial Church will host a service for the monks at 8 a.m. this morning before they continue on to San Jose, where a rally is a slated to be held in Japan Town at 7 p.m.

More information on the walk is available at www.gndfund.org.

E-mail Todd Wallack at twallack@sfchronicle.com.

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