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Barbara and Earle Reynolds on their peace voyage with the Phoenix.

Barbara and Earle Reynolds on their peace voyage with the Phoenix.

When war inspired lives of peace

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This year marks the 70th year since the U.S. dropped the first and only atomic bombs in wartime history on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It is also the 50th anniversary of the World Friendship Center in Hiroshima and the 40th anniversary of the Wilmington College Peace Resource Center that were both founded on a commitment to stopping such devastating warfare. Antioch College has a connection to the stories of all three events, through Barbara and Earle Reynolds, who lived in Yellow Springs in the 1970s and are being remembered at the PRC’s 40th anniversary conference at Wilmington College next month.

The event, “Justice and Peace: a Call to Local and Global Communities,” takes place Thursday and Friday, Sept. 10 and 11, at the Peace Resource Center, directed by Yellow Springs resident Tanya Maus. Keynote speaker Norma Field, the Robert S. Ingersoll Distinguished Service Professor of Japanese Studies Emerita at the University of Chicago, will give the talk, “How Can We Say and Mean Peace Today?” at 6 p.m. at the Boyd Cultural Arts Center. The conference will also include plenary speakers and workshops on peace strategies and Kingian nonviolence, as well as a panel discussion on peace initiatives in local communities. For the schedule of events go to and search “PRC 40th.”

The actions for peace came out of the harrowing experience of war. In 1951 anthropologist Earle Reynolds, a research faculty member of the Fels Institute for the Study of Human Development established by Antioch College, went to Japan with the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission to study the effects of atomic radiation on humans. Barbara and their three children went with him, and according to Maus, were horrified by the experiences of the hibakusha, the Japanese term for atomic bomb survivor. The physical disfigurement and internal illnesses the survivors suffered, some in utero, were compounded by the emotional trauma of both the “unforgettable fire” and the discrimination by fellow citizens who didn’t know whether the radiation was still active and therefore refused many of them in work and marriage.

The Reynolds stayed for three years before choosing another path. Earle built a boat, the “Phoenix,” which they sailed with several hibakusha with the aim of educating people about the human face of war. They sailed to nuclear testing sites in Russia and the South Pacific, and confronted U.S. authorities who were testing weapons near the Marshall Islands. Earle was arrested but when his jail sentence was commuted in 1961, Reynolds told New York Times reporter Brooks Atkinson, “The moral question is the simplest. While the mass killing of civilians may be justified under the laws of war or from a military or political point of view, it cannot be justified morally.”

Barbara especially absorbed the victims’ stories, which racked her activist spirit. Though she and Earle divorced, Barbara continued to travel with hibakusha, encouraging them to share their stories. In 1965 she founded the World Friendship Center, a peace education retreat in Hiroshima that is still active today. Ten years later, she established the Peace Resource Center at Wilmington College, a Quaker school with a peacemaking and reconciliation mission. The center is believed to house the Western world’s largest collection of reference materials related to the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, including much of the Reynolds’ archives of their voyages, survivor testimonies, and material related to anti-nuclear peace activism, the impacts of nuclear testing and the stories of the Hiroshima Maidens, a highly publicized group of girlhood hibakusha who came to the U.S. in 1955 for reconstructive surgery.

Antioch College also has a history of peace activism, College Co-op Director Beth Bridgeman said in an interview this summer. And the period during World War II was no exception. When the U.S. government released all the Japanese-American citizens it had held in detention camps for several years during the international conflict, the college and its business affiliates sponsored many Japanese Americans as both students and employees in Yellow Springs. Later, Antioch developed a Japanese language department and a university exchange program, including co-op placements in Japan. Those co-ops continue today, according to Bridgeman, who recently established three co-op positions for students at the World Friendship Center in Hiroshima. One student has been there since March, and another is scheduled to start in October.

The PRC is here as a resource as well, not only for peace activities but also research on human radiation. As horrifying as the events that provided the data were, Bridgeman said, the research has led to greater understanding of how to treat victims from subsequent nuclear disasters, such as the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear power plant explosion and the 2011 Fukushima power plant disaster caused by an earthquake.

Maus hopes the the PRC anniversary celebration will connect people who are interested in peace issues and remind both students and residents of their access to a rare collection of primary documents. She also hopes the event will stimulate discussion about ways to translate the intention of peace to effective action in today’s world through a process known as “principled activism.”

“By sharing this [post-war] history with conference participants we will create a greater understanding of a history of peace that is both local and global in scope,” Maus wrote in a conference grant application. “We desire to foster an interest in our archives so that this history may continue to be studied and communicated to a greater number of people for the purpose of creating a just and peaceful future.”


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