Susan Strickler talks nuclear ‘Vow’ at Monadnock Summer Lyceum

Sunday morning’s Monadnock Summer Lyceum featured nuclear disarmament actvist and documentarian Susan Strickler. 

Sunday morning’s Monadnock Summer Lyceum featured nuclear disarmament actvist and documentarian Susan Strickler.  STAFF PHOTO BY JESSECA TIMMONS

The Peterborough Unitarian Universalist Church hosted the second Monadnock Summer Lyceum of the season Sunday. 

The Peterborough Unitarian Universalist Church hosted the second Monadnock Summer Lyceum of the season Sunday.  STAFF PHOTO BY JESSECA TIMMONS

Speaker Susan Strickler, left, and Carl Mabbs-Zeno, moderator of the Monadnock Summer Lyceum. 

Speaker Susan Strickler, left, and Carl Mabbs-Zeno, moderator of the Monadnock Summer Lyceum.  STAFF PHOTO BY JESSECA TIMMONS

​​​​​​By JESSECA TIMMONS

Monadnock Ledger Transcript 

Published: 07-09-2024 12:16 PM

Emmy Award-winning director Susan Strickler never intended to become a documentarian, but the experience of seeing Hiroshima survivor Setsuko Thurlow speak changed the course of both their lives. 

“Setsuko has dedicated her entire life to advocating for nuclear disarmament, but the first time I saw her speak, it was apparent she was becoming elderly, and I wondered how much longer she would be able to keep on doing this work, lecturing and touring the world,” Strickler recalled during her Monadnock Summer Lyceum presentation “‘The Vow from Hiroshima’: Advocacy for Nuclear Disarmament” Sunday at Peterborough Unitarian Universalist Church.

Strickler, whose career was spent directing soap operas such as “The Young and the Restless” and “General Hospital,” wondered how she could contribute to Thurlow’s cause, and asked Thurlow if she would be willing to be to the subject of a documentary. Thurlow agreed, and the result was “The Vow from Hiroshima,” released in 2020, which tells the story of Thurlow and other survivors, known in Japan as “hibakusha,” of the atomic bombings of Hiroshoma and Nagasaki.

The film won has won numerous awards globally, including at the Global Peace Film Festival, the Ojai Film Festival and the Sebastopol Documentary Film Festival. 

Thurlow, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2017, was a 13-year-old student when the atomic bomb dropped by the United States landed on her hometown of  Hiroshima on Aug. 6, 1945. Thurlow can still recall hearing 27 of her classmates screaming as they burned to death, and then saw her older sister and nephew die from burns on the street. Moments later, her family’s bodies were cremated by soldiers trying to stop the spread of disease in the aftermath of the bombing. 

Strickler asked the audience how many people had seen the 2023 film “Oppenheimer,” which depicted events around the creation of the American atomic bomb in  Los Alamos, N.M.

“‘Oppenheimer’ left out a lot of facts that the government covered up, but that we now know to be true,” Strickler said. “For example, the area around the the Trinity test site was not ‘uninhabited’ as the government has always claimed. There were people living just 12 miles away. There was even a girls’ summer camp close enough to the Trinity test site that the girls at the camp remember dancing in the fallout from the test, and rubbing the ashes on their faces.” 

Strickler noted that nearly all of the population in the 150 miles around Trinity were Latino or Indigenous. 

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“I was disappointed that ‘Oppenheimer’ didn’t include anything about the long-term effects of radiation on the victims, not just from Japan, but from the test sites around the world – and which are still happening,” Strickler said. “Entire island nations have been evacuated; entire populations, mostly Indigenous people, have been affected by radiation.”

Strickler spoke about the secondary effects of ongoing nuclear proliferation by the nine nations which possess nuclear weapons: the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Russia, Israel, India, China, Pakistan and North Korea – including the trillions of dollars spent on weapons.

“It would only take a few hundred weapons to destroy our planet and cause a famine great enough to kill 2 billion people,” Strickler said. “The fallout from bombings would actually blot out the sun, causing a nuclear winter and destroying food production for about half the planet.”

Despite the global situation, including the ongoing war between Russia and Ukraine, Strickler offered hope that nuclear disarmament is possible, thanks to the advocacy of over 500 groups, led by the doctor-founded International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons  (ICAN), working for disarmament worldwide.

“People always ask me, ‘What can we do?’ The first thing is vote. When you go into that voting booth, think about who will handle the nuclear situation better,”  Strickler said. “And get involved. We need to take to the streets.”

The July 14 speaker will be Leila Philip, presenting “How Beavers Made America and Now Fight Climate Change” at 11 a.m. For information about the Monadnock Summer Lyceum, go to monadnocklyceum.org