The ringing of the seventeen bells, the largest of which is 13 tons, was done to highlight the risks of a nuclear war and the importance of reconciliation and peace, especially between USA and Russia. The growing tension between USA and Russia – and between Russia and Central Europe – threatens not only to escalate into full-scale war, but also into a nuclear catastrophe by accident or miscalculation.
"The largest bell, which you can hear at the end of the recording, is called 'Mother Earth' says Professor Elaine Scarry from Harvard University. “This name is appropriate -- the whole earth calls out for the elimination of nuclear weapons."
The bells were rung at 1pm as one of a wave of over 100 actions sweeping around the world on April 26 and 27 calling for nuclear abolition as world leaders gathered at the United Nations in New York for a month-long conference on nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament.
As the governments gave their opening statements, it was clear that many of them had heard the call of the bells, and they urged nuclear-armed States to reduce tensions, halt nuclear threats and take significant steps toward nuclear disarmament.
However, the United States and Russia did little to ease the knife-edge tensions between them. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry condemned Russia for violating the Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty and the Budapest agreement, which had guaranteed the sovereignty and borders of Ukraine (See John Kerry’s speech to the NPT Review Conference). Mikhail I. Uliyanov, Head of the Russian Delegation, condemned USA for developing and deploying missile defence systems (which Russia perceives as offensive, not defensive), for opposing the Russian proposal to ban the placement of weapons in outer space, and for sharing nuclear weapons with NATO countries in violation of the NPT (See Russian opening presentation to the NPT Review Conference).
The USA and Russia maintain approximately 1800 nuclear weapons on high operational readiness on launch-on-warning policies. This means that the nuclear weapons are primed and ready to be launched with minutes if there is a belief of an incoming nuclear attack. A new report by Global Zero released at the United Nations on April 30 highlights the risks of this policy, especially in times of increased tensions between the nuclear States. The report also notes the increased possibility of cyber-attack on nuclear command and control systems resulting in an inadvertent nuclear strike.
The ringing of the Russian bells in Harvard, and other similar actions urging a reduction in nuclear risks, is thus vital. See, for example, Prague: 1800 steps to a nuclear-weapon-free world (a Global Wave action calling for de-alerting the remaining 1800 nuclear weapons on alert) and Nuclear weapons on hair-trigger alert must end! (a de-alerting campaign).
The bells have an intriguing history. From 1930 to 2008, the Lowell House tower housed one of the most famous Russian bell sets in the world, rescued from certain destruction in Stalin's Russia and donated to Harvard. In the summer of 2008, these famous old bells were returned to their historic home at the Danilov Monastery in Moscow and a new set of 17 bells, cast in one of Russia's finest new foundries, was hoisted into the bell tower.
The tune played on April 26, ‘Morning has Broken’, is a traditional Christian hymn made famous by singer and peacemaker Yusuf Islam (formerly known as Cat Stevens). Sophomore Jeffrey Durand played the bells with graduating senior Virginia Marshall recording them. Virginia Marshall and Professor Elaine Scarry chose the melody specific to the Global Wave. House Master Diana Eck helped arrange for the April 26 dedication of the bells to nuclear disarmament.
There were other bell-ringing events for Global Wave 2015, including at Bethlehem Christmas Church in Palestine, a very significant church in the Christian faith as Bethlehem is believed to be the birth-place of Jesus Christ. See Bethlehem Christmas Church wave goodbye nukes with church bells.