Why We Tell Our Stories: Speaking Truth to Power About the Realities of War
In the face of nationwide political crises, it can be hard to feel like the voices and actions of any one person—much less my voice, or my actions—can make a difference. But FCNL’s 75-year history of advocacy shows that in fact, it is the work of individuals, of constituents bringing their stories to their members of Congress’ offices, that make change in Washington possible.
Diana Roose, FCNL’s resident Friend in Washington for June-September 2018, knows firsthand the importance of telling stories. In 1980, as research director at the SANE Education Fund of Philadelphia, she traveled to Japan as a radio journalist to interview survivors of the atomic bombings in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. And when she got back, she couldn’t stop thinking about the stories they shared with her. Diana’s experience as a writer and researcher, and her feeling that the voices of the survivors she met in Japan must be heard, led her to return to Japan several times over the next ten years and write her book Teach Us to Live: Stories from Hiroshima and Nagasaki (Intentional Productions, 2007).
I asked Diana how she sees Teach Us How to Live fitting into the larger picture of her work as an advocate. She observed that members of Congress are the same as the rest of us who are privileged to live removed from war: many think of it only in the abstract, without truly understanding what violent conflict means.
“People don’t know about the effects of war,” Diana said. “It’s not enough to hear that the U.S. has so many nuclear weapons. The survivors’ stories give a feeling for the destruction those weapons can cause.”
As Friend in Washington, Diana’s presence at the FCNL office is a chance for staff to engage with a new perspective—and for her to focus her skills and energies on advancing FCNL’s mission. On Thursday, August 9, she will speak at the Quaker Welcome Center as part of FCNL’s program for Nagasaki Remembrance Day. Together, we will hold space for those affected by the United States nuclear attacks on Japan in August 1945—and look forward to a future free from war and the threat of war. Diana will share stories from Teach Us to Live, and FCNL’s nuclear disarmament lobbyist, Anthony Wier, will talk about the latest developments on the Hill and some strategic insights on the 116th Congress.
Diana’s advocacy has taken many forms, with the theme of peacebuilding threading through her work. During the Vietnam War, Diana worked at AFSC. There, she researched weapons and tactics used in Vietnam, connecting that information to the companies that manufactured those weapons to shed light on the truth of the military-industrial complex and paths of money that kept the war going.
War is hard to talk about—sugarcoated by those who benefit from it financially, traumatizing for those who have lived it. But weapons are being built, sold, used. The effects of those weapons are felt. We must tell those stories.
There is a connection between Diana’s work on Teach Us How to Live, amplifying the voices of survivors, and her work at NARMIC: truth-telling. Diana’s work is in shifting our national narrative around war and militarism. War is hard to talk about—sugarcoated by those who benefit from it financially, traumatizing for those who have lived it. But weapons are being built, sold, used. The effects of those weapons are felt. We must tell those stories.
I was struck by Diana’s interview in Teach Us How to Live with Mr. Sumitero Taniguchi, a man who lived through the bombing of Nagasaki. He was 16 years old when the United States dropped the bomb. “I immediately felt hatred for war,” he told Diana, recalling the moment of the explosion. He was out on his bicycle, delivering mail. “When I was little we were all told to glorify war. Everything connected with war was splendid… This experience of being hit by a bomb revived all the feelings against war that had been dormant in me.”
Mr. Taniguchi’s story—the stories of all who are affected by and see the effects of violence—is important for those in power to hear. Those stories can help shift the narrative around war—and move towards one of peace and justice. This happens slowly—but over time, we will make progress.
In her role as Friend in Washington at FCNL this summer, Diana is continuing her work of fact-gathering and truth-telling. She spent the first week of her time in the office conducting research on the issue of police demilitarization for FCNL’s 2018-2019 Advocacy Corps Washington Summer Intensive. The Advocacy Corps will spend this year organizing their communities to lobby against the 1033 program, through which the Pentagon provides free military equipment to local police forces. Diana compiled packets for each of FCNL’s nineteen 2018-2019 Advocacy Corps organizers with pictures and descriptions of what military equipment has been provided to their local police departments. These facts about what the 1033 program looks like in practice—the realities of something that to members of Congress and others removed from the situation are merely abstract—will help the Advocacy Corps impress the urgency of their cause on their members of Congress.
“When the issues are so large, it’s hard to feel like you’re making a difference,” Diana told me. “We have to go piece by piece.”