's 1998 World Citizenship Award Acceptance Speech:
"We Should Get Rid of Nuclear
The 1998 World Citizenship Award
was presented to Ted Turner by David Krieger, President
of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation for Turner's outstanding
and inspiring actions as a world citizen. In 1987 Ted
Turner received the NAPF Distinguished Peace
Below is Turner's acceptance speech on November
6, 1998 for the World Citizenship Award at the award dinner
held in Santa Barbara, California, following Turner's
one billion dollar contribution to the UN.
"This is really a fantastic honor,
and I'm really touched. I've known David Krieger and this
organization for a long time, back when I really started
becoming a do-gooder. I use the phrase with pride, better
a "do-gooder" than a "do-badder,"
right? It helps to maintain a sense of humor about it,
particularly with all the problems that there are, many
of which were not even mentioned by our two previous speakers,
and which I will try to mention the whole litany of before
I leave --if I start now I think I can cover about half
of them before the time's over, just describing them with
My Personal Development
First, I want to go back and tell you how and why I developed
the way I did, and why I was interested in this organization
from its very beginning. CNN began in 1980. Prior to CNN,
I was a good person, basically. I wasn't a saint. I was
a little bit wild, but basically pretty responsible, hardworking.
I was racing sailboats and really having quite a good
time. I was trying to be a pretty good father and a pretty
good businessman. I paid my taxes, and I made some contributions.
I had volunteered my time to raise money for a number
of charities, like most young businesspeople.
But I didn't really have much in the way
of influence. All the money that we had up until 1980
went into Braves games and reruns of Andy Griffith and
trying to license a few movies. Then when I decided to
start CNN because nobody else did it. I thought of it
many years before I finally did it, but nobody else stepped
forward. NBC, ABC, and CBS, who had the infrastructure
to do it, didn't want to go over and help the cable industry.
Either that or they just didn't have very much vision,
probably a combination of the two. They didn’t do
it, so I just saw a gaping hole there that there was a
need for a 24-hour news service. Even though I had not
worked one day in my life as a journalist, I figured I'd
just do it.
I hired some journalists to run it and
set it up, but I set the policy. I did want the policy
to be very fair internationally. If we were going to get
the Israeli position, I wanted the Palestinian position,
as well. I wanted us to show what was happening as much
as we could behind the Iron Curtain, and present opposing
viewpoints, diverging viewpoints. Then, hopefully, in
a well-educated democracy like our country, the people
would make the right decisions of what to believe in,
rather than turning to the editorial pages or listening
to Walter Cronkite, whom I happen to love. But he always
used to present everything with his opinions. I can remember
him coming on one night after the President had made the
State of the Union speech, and he said, "Now what
did the President really mean when he made this speech?"
I was disgusted, because who is anybody to come on --
the President didn't invite him to do that -- and tell
us what the President meant? Who's he? He was just an
employee of CBS.
So I felt insulted by that and told our
people that we were not going to do that. We were not
going to editorialize and second-guess with our newsreaders.
Most of these news people are just sitting there and reading
the teleprompter, anyway. They don't have a clue what
the hell is going on. They don't know better than you.
Who are they to tell you what you should believe?
But even more than that, I figured that
I'd better find out what the big problems are in the nation
and the world. I didn't have to worry about Atlanta because
we were not going to be a local news organization. So
I started studying. I started reading vociferously and
asking people and trying to learn as much as I could about
Clearly, the greatest problem was the same one that David
saw. That was the danger of the Cold War and nuclear annihilation,
which we were just one button away from. By 1980 when
we started, Reagan was President, and he was already pretty
old. My concern was that I knew he had this little box
by his bed with a red button on it. I wasn't worried about
Alzheimers, but I was worried about stroke. I could just
see him taking his slippers off to go to bed and having
a stroke and hitting his head on the red button. That's
a real nightmare! We wake up in the morning, and there's
nothing. I just decided, like David did, that was just
too much power to be in any one place.
But then I went beyond that, and I realized
that the human population was growing and that development
was gobbling up the environment. The planet wasn't getting
any bigger, but the human race was by leaps and bounds.
The growing population was probably the next biggest problem.
The third one was what was happening to the environment
by the ever-increasing number of human beings and the
For instance, when I was born in 1938,
there were just a little over two billion people on the
planet. Next year there'll be six billion, and by the
time I'm 80, there'll be probably about eight billion.
So the population of humans in one lifetime in 80 years
will have quadrupled. Not only that, the amount that we
use, particularly in the rich world, where about a fifth
of the people live -- Western Europe, Japan, the United
States -- has increased dramatically. We're utilizing
four times as much water as we were 60 years ago, four
times as much energy. When I was born there was no air
conditioning, hardly any automobiles, and no televisions.
So we have a lot more people using a lot
more stuff. We're just sucking the world dry like you
would with a couple of straws in a chocolate soda. We're
just sucking it dry. We're leaving nothing for the other
little critters. We're right in the midst of one of the
five periods of extinction. We're losing hundreds of species
every day. We're headed for a train wreck. One out of
four human beings is literally starving to death. We have
new and old diseases stalking all over the world. Any
living thing that gets out of control as far as its numbers
are concerned is always brought back into line by nature
by two things: by starvation and by disease, and that's
what humanity is facing.
The Edge of Greatness
I don't know how many of you have ever seen Road Warrior.
It's a Warner Brothers movie. It's in my library. It was
about these real brutish guys. Civilization has broken
down. They're out in the desert driving around fighting
over the last few gallons of gasoline and the last tins
of food. Where conditions get too difficult, like in Somalia,
where the circumstances are really abominable, civilization
does break down. You go back to gangs. It's like L.A.
You've got the gangs, overcrowding. That's a terrible
scenario to see for the human race, because while we’re
poised on the edge of disaster on the one hand, we're
also on the edge of greatness.
If we just had another
Things have happened so fast, we really
haven’t had a chance. It's not all our fault, because
really all we are is monkeys without tails. Father, I
hate to tell you that. We are. Gorillas don't have tails,
either. Sometimes we act worse than moneys, too. I never
saw a monkey do a genocide on six million other monkeys.
You never saw monkeys with nuclear weapons.
Robert Muller worked at the UN for years.
I love what he said: If there were people on another planet
that looked down at the earth and saw the human race and
what they were doing on this planet, they would give us
an "F" for planetary management if we were getting
That doesn't mean it has to be that way,
because we have all the technology. We have CNN, we have
instantaneous global communications. Within 24 hours of
Princess Diana dying, 98 percent of the people on this
planet knew that she had died. A hundred years ago it
would have taken months for people to find out, and a
lot of people never would have known. So we don't really
have any excuse other than we are a little bit lazy and
a little bit stuck in our ways. We kind of take the easy
But with these circumstances, it's too important. That's
why I come out here and support David, because he's out
here, working to rid the world of nuclear weapons. We're
all Don Quixote tilting at windmills. We should get rid
of nuclear weapons. That's an easy thing to do, too. We
could just go to the UN. The United States is the one
that doesn't want to get rid of nuclear weapons. You know
why we don't want to get rid of them? Because somehow
they think we're going to be able to use nuclear weapons
to save ourselves from the starving masses of the Third
World when they come to our doorstep. But they aren't
going to come in an army! They're coming across the Mexican
border right now. They'll walk in one or two at a time.
They'll come on steamships. They'll come from Saudi Arabia
when they run out of oil over there, they're not going
to have water. Right now a gallon of water costs more
than a gallon of oil. Nobody drinks tap water anymore.
Even the water's not fit to drink most places. That's
a problem in the world. One out of four people doesn't
have access to clean drinking water.
Nuclear weapons will not protect us from
that. Only a more equitable world will protect us from
where the real threat is. The real threat is no longer
an army marching on us. It's people infiltrating us who
are starving. And what are you going to do, shoot them
when they come? You can't shoot them. We been doing enough
shooting over the past two thousand years, and what has
that gotten us? You don't really do much to change somebody's
mind by shooting them. It's certainly not the civilized
way to do things.
So basically we need a whole new economic
system right now. The G.P. means the higher the crime
rate, the more money is generated by building new prisons
and hiring more policeman. The higher crime rate and the
more drugs, that puts more money in circulation, too.
But when you chop down the forest, they don't debit it.
There's no debit for destruction of the environment. We're
cookin' the books. We've got cooked books. We need a new
auditor for keeping score of how we're doing! We think
we're doing' great, and we're doing lousy! It's kind of
like the Braves versus the Padres. We thought we were
real good until we faced them in the playoffs, and God
knows we didn't even get to see the Yankees. The Padres
got smashed by them. We think we're great, but we're not
so good. We're leaving a lot on the table.
But we are capable. The guy that runs the
Turner Foundation, which I give $25 million a year away
for environmental and population causes -- that's my private
foundation, I give $100 million away to the UN Foundation,
which is a public foundation -- used to run Greenpeace,
and he's wonderful. He stays hopeful. He says, "The
situation is hopeless, but I might be wrong." I kind
of liken it to a baseball game. It's the seventh inning,
and humanity is down by five runs. We're down by five,
but we still have six at bats. We can still turn it around.
The odds are against it, but we can still do it.
Let's Get to Work and Turn It
Now, the way that we're going to have to do it is get
off our duffs and really go to work. We have to put our
money and our souls and our hearts and into our actions.
There were some good things happen in this election. We
can turn it around, and we will turn it around if we start
acting like intelligent, well-educated, civilized, kind-hearted
human beings. Thank you very much."