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Fires Across the Landscape


I started this morning 4000 feet above daily life, on a high wilderness plain called Dolly Sods in West Virginia. From the northeastern ridge of this strangely beautiful place of streams and rocks and bogs (once part of a farm owned by a man named Dahle) a vision of the great Potomac Valley rolls across mountains and rivers and farmlands and small towns dotting the valleys of the Appalachian zone. The drive up the mountain to the top is tricky on twisting gravel roads; the peaceful view is a great reward. (Hardier, younger souls hike the distance straight up dry stream beds.)

While Dolly Sods appears to be as primitive a place as may exist on this planet, in fact, this landscape today is in a long period of recovery from the logging and burning that destroyed the mountaintop forest and peat floor more than a century ago. The area is now part of the Monongahela National Forest, maintained in a manner very similar to the “forever wild” lands of the Adirondacks. Dolly Sods is another reminder of the fact that deforestation and environmental destruction are not new, and wilderness renewal is possible.

Today, August 6, marks another anniversary of horrific destruction and, now, rebirth and renewal. Sixty-one years ago, on August 6, 1945, the United States dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, destroying the city and nearly 150,000 human lives. Three days later, Nagasaki suffered the same fate. World War II in the Pacific came to an immediate end, and Japan surrendered. Millions of lives were lost in the ravages of the Second World War; President Truman felt he had no choice but to drop the bomb to end the carnage. This difficult choice to use awesomely destructive power may well have saved millions of other lives; we will never know. We do know that this choice stands alone as the only use of nuclear weapons in human history.

Hiroshima today is a thriving new city, and Japan is a world power. Recovery, regeneration, renewal are possible even after terrible, deliberate destruction. (I wonder why there are so few news stories today about this anniversary. If we don’t tell the story, we will soon forget what happened.)

From the solitude and silence of my perch on that windswept mountain plain this morning, I could not help but think about how rare is the peace, how frequent the violence in the world beyond the view. Today the citizens of Haifa and Tyre and Beirut and Qana and Tel Aviv and Gaza mourn their losses and take cover from the bombs, just as human beings did a half century and more centuries ago in places all over the earth. The history of the Middle East tells us that after this latest violence there will be renewal and new growth, and Beirut will rise once more.

But new fears about old powers reveal the treacherous pathways in this moment of global crisis. The nuclear nightmare plays through human subconscious, raised to awareness in headlines from North Korea and Iran and tales of lost suitcases of nuclear material. The responsible leaders of the world must act even more quickly to extinguish the wildfires racing across the landscape, lest the next fire destroy even more than all of the previous catastrophes.

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Patricia A. McGuire, President, Trinity, 125 Michigan Ave. NE, Washington, DC 20017
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