Welcome to this 16th annual commemoration held in Sadako Peace Garden. This garden – a project of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation and La Casa de Maria – is made sacred by your presence; by your willingness to look back at the tragedies of Hiroshima and Nagasaki; and, most of all, by your commitment to building a more peaceful and decent world, free of nuclear threat.
On this day 65 years ago, a single atomic bomb destroyed the city of Hiroshima, killing some 90,000 people by blast, fire and radiation. By the end of 1945, some 140,000 victims of the bombing were dead and another 70,000 had died from the Nagasaki bombing.
Hiroshima ushered in the Nuclear Age. It was a tragic beginning that pointed toward the possibility of an even more tragic ending. In the excitement that marked the end of World War II, the atomic bombings cast a dark shadow over the future of civilization and the human species.
In the past 65 years, we have witnessed a truly mad nuclear arms race between the US and Soviet Union, based on the principle of Mutually Assured Destruction. We have ascribed god-like characteristics of power and protection to bombs that have no purpose other than the threat of massive annihilation and the carrying out of that threat.
At its peak in 1986, there were some 70,000 nuclear weapons in the world. Today there are still more than 20,000 of these weapons in the arsenals of nine countries: the US, Russia, UK, France, China, Israel, India, Pakistan and North Korea. Without a plan of action to eliminate these weapons, they will continue to proliferate and will be used by accident, miscalculation or intention.
Over the past 65 years, the United States alone has spent more than $7.5 trillion on nuclear weapons and their delivery systems. We still spend more than $50 billion annually on these weapons. What a terrible waste of resources and opportunity!
The possession of these weapons challenges our humanity and our future. We are here to remember what these bombs have done in the past, to imagine what they are capable of doing in the future, and to reinvigorate our commitment to ending the nuclear weapons era.
Imagination is the creative beginning of change. If we can imagine that a world with zero nuclear weapons it is possible to achieve such a world. President Obama says, “America seeks the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons.” But he also says that he is not naïve and doesn’t see it happening in his lifetime.
Perhaps I am naïve, but I can imagine achieving this goal in a far more urgent timeframe. Over 4,000 Mayors for Peace throughout the world – mayors of cities large and small – believe the goal can be achieved by the year 2020. Why not? It is within our human capacity, if we will join together.
To achieve a world free of nuclear weapons will require serious leadership from the US. To achieve US leadership the people will need to lead their leaders. That is our challenge and it is the daily work of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation. We thank you for caring and for joining us in this most critical work.
I’d like to end with a poem from my new book, God’s Tears: Reflections on the Atomic Bombs Dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The poem tells the story of Shoji Sawada, a young boy at the time of the bombing of Hiroshima.