The Trees and We Breathe Bombs Long Gone by Elisabeth Schilling

bikini atoll bombI wish that in our pursuit of finding cures for illnesses we would do more as a collective species to prevent the causes, sometimes environmental ones. Why do we vote for people to make decisions that represent us but that we would never in a million years agree to? Bombs and the consequences of them raise questions of health and power. In the Yoga Sutras, 2.30, we read that “Yama consists of non-violence, non-lying, non-stealing, appropriate use of vital energy, and non-possessiveness.” The yamas are our social restraints. They are a negation of behaviors we might usually partake in.

Ahimsā, or non-violence, is listed first. It is the first element of the first limb of yoga; it is the basis for every other ethical aspect of our lives. Bombs are an example of a common and frequent behavior of violence that make the land, water, and sky increasingly uninhabitable. According to Micah Zenko of the Council on Foreign Relations, in 2016 alone, the U.S. is estimated to have dropped 26,172 bombs. Zenko says that this estimate is “undoubtedly low.” (1) This is one year and the bombs from one nation. (2) What is the environmental impact of all of the bombs dropped from every nation since the beginning of bombing history?

When a bomb is detonated, there is not only harm to the immediate life in that vicinity but life in the future and far away. According to the International Campaign to Abolish Weapons (ICAN) website, “the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War has estimated that roughly 2.4 million people will eventually die as a result of the atmospheric nuclear tests conducted between 1945 and 1980, which were equal in force to 29,000 Hiroshima bombs.” (5)

According to a statistic updated March 2016 on the Ploughshares Fund website, nine countries in the world have a total of 14,900 nuclear weapons, the U.S. and Russia holding 93% of them. (3) They have been used twice, both times by the United States, in war, but additionally they have been used in tests over 2,000 times in more than 60 locations over the globe, according to ICAN. (4) There are already unavoidable consequences to the earth and humans because of this irresponsible behavior that is ongoing.  These tests occur in the atmosphere, under the earth, and under water. (6)

In April 2017, I read that satellite evidence revealed that North Korea would conduct a nuclear test, its sixth test in a decade. (7) The state of the world reminds me of the 100 series created by Jason Rothenberg about 100 “expendable” young persons who were sent back to Earth 97 years after a nuclear war destroyed civilization to test how survivable it is for the remainder of the human beings who have been living for generations in a space station. It is survivable, but they experience the effects of lingering radiation in acid fog storms and two-headed deer and future nuclear reactor meltdown. We do not need to imagine what it might be like to live on earth in post-apocalyptic times, for we were born into a bomb-soaked world already.

Every time I apply for an academic job (56 applications since January – can anyone beat that? Not that you would want to, but let me know), I do research on the university and end up looking at the city it is located in as well. My most recent application led me to a city in the Marshall Islands. Not-so-fun fact: from 1946 to 1958, the U.S. conducted 67 nuclear tests in this area. According to The Washington Post, “If their combined explosive power was parceled evenly over that 12-year period, it would equal 1.6 Hiroshima-size explosions per day.” (8) This is the air we breathe. The Islands are located between Hawaii and the Philippines. According to the same article, the fallout from Bikini Atoll, the site of 23 of these tests, including a 1954 hydrogen bomb, was detected in cattle in Tennessee. Now the Marshall Islands are predicted to disappear completely due to rising sea levels, already are regularly swamped, and many people who can have already left. They hope they have decades left. But that is a different story. Or is it?

The other place I was going to apply for was a university in Los Alamos. Looking for full-time work everywhere is an education in itself.

The question is what do we do? The spirituality or religion or ethics or philosophy (choose your poison) we need to teach our children, is that of non-violence so they do not grow up to be adults who have the power and the desire and the ignorance to believe bombs are a good idea. We need to calm the anger and dis-ease of ourselves and the people we encounter every day so that we can join together and refuse to contribute to the spirit of violence that supports nations who bomb. By abiding by one vow of one limb of yoga, humanity could create peace and healing to our bodies and that of the earth.

LaChelle Schilling, Ph.D., graduated in 2014 from the Women and Religion program at Claremont Graduate University. She teaches composition from a contemplative pedagogical approach at Oklahoma State University. Currently, she is working on a book project titled Minimalism, Mindfulness, and the Middle Way, incorporating guidance from sacred wisdom literatures. She is also working on certification as a yoga instructor.

(1) Micah Zenko, “How Many Bombs Did the United States Drop in 2016?” Politics, Power, and Preventive Action. Blog. Council on Foreign Relations. January 5, 2017. Accessed April 19, 2017. in-2016/.

(2) The U.S. keeps seemingly clear records of the number of bombs dropped since World War I, while statistics on other nations are difficult to find. Does this indicate something of the bold attitude the United States has about its participation in war?

(3) “World Nuclear Weapon Stockpile.” Ploughshares Fund. March 2, 2016. Accessed April 19, 2017.

(4) “The Legacy of Nuclear Testing.” International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons. Accessed April 19, 2017. testing/.

(5) Ibid.

(6) “General Overview of the Effects of Nuclear Testing.” CBTO Preparatory Commission. Accessed April 19, 2010. effects-of- nuclear-testing/general- overview-of-the-effects-of-nuclear-testing/.

(7) William Broad, Kenan Davis, and Jugal Patel. “North Korea May Be Preparing Its 6th Nuclear Test.” The New York Times. April 12, 2017. Accessed April 19, 2017. nuclear-test.html?_r=0.


Author: Elisabeth S.

Elisabeth S. has a Ph.D. in Religion from Claremont Graduate University (2014) and teaches philosophy, literature, creative writing and composition in Colorado.

3 thoughts on “The Trees and We Breathe Bombs Long Gone by Elisabeth Schilling”

  1. In 2016 alone, the U.S. is estimated to have dropped 26,172 bombs.

    I don’t know about you, but I voted for Obama because I thought he would restrain the US military and the US military industrial complex. Instead he gave in to both.

    And what happened to second wave feminism’s commitment to end war? Well, Barbara Lee is still carrying the torch, but she is all too often a voice crying in the wilderness.


    1. Thank you, Carol. You always bring new information to light for me. I would say I hope for a pacifist government someday, but I’m a bit unsure ethical visions can be sustained when one’s environment is power, wealth, and privilege. Thank you for the link for Barbara Lee.


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