Tag Archives: sunflower

Sunflowers: The Symbol of a World Free of Nuclear Weapons

by David Krieger
PrintFacebookTwitterGoogle+Share

Sunflowers are a simple miracle. They grow from a seed. They rise from the earth. They are natural. They are bright and beautiful. They bring a smile to one’s face. They produce seeds that are nutritious, and from these seeds oil is produced. Native Americans once used parts of the sunflower plant to treat rattlesnake bites, and sunflower meal to make bread. Sunflowers were even used near Chernobyl to extract radionuclides cesium 137 and strontium 90 from contaminated ponds following the catastrophic nuclear reactor accident there.

Now sunflowers carry new meaning. They have become the symbol of a world free of nuclear weapons. This came about after an extraordinary celebration of Ukraine achieving the status of a nuclear weapons free state. On June 1, 1996, Ukraine transferred to Russia for dismantlement the last of the 1900 nuclear warheads it had inherited from the former Soviet Union. Celebrating the occasion a few days later, the Defense Ministers of Ukraine, Russia, and the United States met at a former nuclear missile base in the Ukraine that once housed 80 SS-19 missiles aimed at the United States.

The three Defense Ministers planted sunflowers and scattered sunflower seeds. Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma said, “With the completion of our task, Ukraine has demonstrated its support of a nuclear weapons free world.” He called on other nations to follow in Ukraine’s path and “to do everything to wipe nuclear weapons from the face of the Earth as soon as possible.” U.S. Secretary of Defense William Perry said, “Sunflowers instead of missiles in the soil would ensure peace for future generations.”

This dramatic sunflower ceremony at Pervomaisk military base showed the world the possibility of a nation giving up nuclear weapons as a means of achieving security. It is an important example, featuring the sunflower as a symbol of hope. The comparison between sunflowers and nuclear missiles is stark — sunflowers representing life, growth, beauty and nature, and nuclear armed missiles representing death and destruction on a massive, unspeakable scale. Sunflowers represent light instead of darkness, transparency instead of secrecy, security instead of threat, and joy instead of fear.

The Defense Ministers were not the first to use sunflowers in 1980s a group of brave and committed resisters known as “The Missouri Peace Planters” entered onto nuclear missile silos in Missouri and planted sunflowers as a symbol of nuclear disarmament. On August 15, 1988, 14 peace activists simultaneously entered ten of Missouri’s 150 nuclear missile silos, and planted sunflowers. They issued a statement that said, “We reclaim this land for ourselves, the beasts of the land upon which we depend, and our children. We interpose our bodies, if just for a moment, between these weapons and their intended victims.”

Which shall we choose for our Earth? Shall we choose life or shall we choose death? Shall we choose sunflowers, or shall we choose nuclear armed missiles? All but a small number of nations would choose life. But the handful of nations that choose to base their security on these weapons of genocide threaten us all with massive uncontrollable slaughter.

In the aftermath of the Cold War, many people believe that the nuclear threat has ended, but this is not the case. In fact, there still more than 20,000 nuclear warheads in the arsenals of the nuclear weapons states. These states have given their solemn promise in the Non-Proliferation Treaty, which entered into force in 1970, to negotiate in good faith to achieve nuclear disarmament, but they have not acted in good faith. It is likely that until the people of the world demand the total elimination of nuclear weapons, the nuclear weapons states will find ways to retain their special status as nuclear “haves”. Only one power on Earth is greater than the power of nuclear holocaust, and that is the power of the people once aroused.

A Break in the Clouds

by David Krieger

It is a great joy for my wife and I to return to Nagasaki. It has been more then 30 years since we last visited your beautiful city.

I have often thought of the irony that Nagasaki should have entered the Nuclear Age as the second city to be bombed by an atomic weapon. When the U.S. B-29, Bock’s Car, left Tinian Island carrying its deadly cargo in the early morning hours of August 9, 1945, it was headed to another target, the city of Kokura. Were it not for the weather conditions that day — specifically, the cloud cover over Kokura — it would have been that city and not Nagasaki on which the bomb would have been dropped.

Not being able to bomb Kokura, the pilot of the B-29 headed toward his secondary target, Nagasaki. Even here, there was cloud cover, and only a small opening in the clouds allowed the pilot to release that second atomic bomb, causing such destruction to your city and its people. Were it not for the clouds over Kokura and the small opening in the clouds over Nagasaki, your city would have been spared, at least for that day. I can’t help thinking that even gentle, ephemeral clouds could prevent an atomic bombing from occurring. We humans are not so powerful as we might think — when we compare ourselves with the power of nature. Yet, we are capable of doing great harm to each other — as we have witnessed at Nagasaki and on occasions too numerous to mention.

The bombings of both Nagasaki and Hiroshima have taught us a simple lesson, perhaps the most basic lesson of the Nuclear Age: This must never happen again. Cloud cover must never again be the sole factor to save a city, or a break in the clouds provide an opening for nuclear devastation. Today’s missile technology, in fact, makes cloud cover irrelevant. Our task must be to make nuclear weapons — and all weapons of mass destruction — irrelevant. The only way to do this is to ban these weapons and abolish them forever.

The evil that occurred at Nagasaki and Hiroshima must never be repeated. No city and its people must ever again be subjected to attack with a nuclear weapon. Such an attack would exceed all bounds of morality. It would undermine every precept of human decency and human dignity.

Nuclear weapons, in the words of a former president of the International Court of Justice, are “the ultimate evil.” The description echoes Josai Toda’s reference to them more than forty years ago as “an absolute evil.”

In the past few years there has been a growing chorus of voices to abolish nuclear weapons. When a former commander of the U.S. Strategic Command, General Lee Butler, can join the call for abolition, we are making progress. General Butler, who retired from the U.S. Air Force in 1994, has stated, “I think that the vast majority of people on the face of this earth will endorse the proposition that such weapons have no place among us. There is no security to be found in nuclear weapons. It’s a fool’s game.”

General Butler is not alone among military leaders calling for nuclear weapons abolition. Many generals and admirals from around the world have done so as well. In 1996 some 60 retired generals and admirals from 17 countries joined General Butler in stating:

“We have been presented with a challenge of the highest possible historic importance: the creation of a nuclear-weapons-free world. The end of the Cold War makes it possible.

“The dangers of proliferation, terrorism, and new nuclear arms races render it necessary. We must not fail to seize our opportunity. There is no alternative.”

The Canberra Commission on the Elimination of Nuclear Weapons, composed of a distinguished group of experts, including General Butler, Joseph Rotblat and the late Jacques Cousteau, issued a report in 1996 that said: “The proposition that nuclear weapons can be retained in perpetuity and never used — accidentally or by decision — defies credibility. The only complete defence is the elimination of nuclear weapons and assurance that they will never be produced again.”

The International Court of Justice has also spoken on the issue of eliminating nuclear weapons. In issuing an opinion on the illegality of these weapons in 1996, the Court made clear that there is an obligation under international law to proceed with good faith negotiations for their elimination.

At the end of 1996 and again at the end of 1997 the United Nations General Assembly called upon all states to commence negotiations on a treaty to eliminate nuclear weapons.

In February 1998 a statement calling for the elimination of nuclear weapons was released at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. The statement was signed by 117 leaders from 46 countries, including 47 past or present presidents or prime ministers. Among the signers were former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, and five former prime ministers of Japan. The Statement concluded: “The world is not condemned to live forever with threats of nuclear conflict, or anxious fragile peace imposed by nuclear deterrence. Such threats are intolerable and such a peace unworthy. The sheer destructiveness of nuclear weapons invokes a moral imperative for their elimination. That is our mandate. Let us begin.”

The governments of some nuclear weapons states have been moving slowly in the direction of reducing the nuclear threat, but they have not yet demonstrated that they are committed to eliminating their nuclear arsenals. They treat their nuclear arsenals like security blankets when, in fact, they provide no security — only threat.

There is no security in threatening the mass annihilation of civilians. In truth, it is not only cowardly, but foolish beyond words. It places the population of the country possessing nuclear weapons in danger of retaliation.

It is important to keep in mind, that nuclear holocaust could occur not only by intention, but by accident or miscalculation as well. As recently as 1995 the Russians were poised to launch a nuclear response when they mistakenly believed that a missile launched from Norway was a nuclear attack aimed at Russia.

Nuclear holocaust could also occur if terrorists came into possession of a nuclear weapon, and we know that some nuclear weapons are small enough to be carried by a single individual in a large backpack.

We will be free of the threat of nuclear holocaust only when we are free of nuclear weapons. No group of people knows this better than the people of Nagasaki and Hiroshima. It is the hibakusha, the survivors of Nagasaki and Hiroshima, that remind us that the pain of nuclear weapons lingers. Radiation causes pain and suffering that continues to kill for decades, and genetically affects new generations.

I am convinced that if we want a world at peace, we must create it. There is no other choice. Governments will not succeed on their own in creating such a world. The power of the people must push governments — or, more accurately, the power of the people must lead governments. We will have a peaceful and just world when enough people are willing to commit themselves to creating such a world, and will make their voices heard.

The same is true of a world free of the threat of nuclear holocaust. We will have such a world when the people demand it. This process has begun. Here in Japan you have raised your voices, and the chorus of your voices will be heard around the world. I am overwhelmed that more than 13 million signatures for nuclear weapons abolition have been gathered in Japan in only a few months time. These signatures represent the power of an idea whose time is now. They also demonstrate the power of the people when they join together in common cause.

These signatures represent 13 million voices of hope for a world free of the threat of nuclear annihilation. These voices of hope have unleashed a power that will not be stopped until the goal of a world free of nuclear weapons is achieved.

I congratulate you on what you have accomplished. These signatures are enough to inspire, enough to move people everywhere to greater commitment. President Ikeda must be very proud of you, and I can only imagine how proud Josai Toda would be to know that you are working to carry out his vision of a nuclear weapons free world.

The more than 13 million signatures you have gathered are an important step on the road to abolition. But we must not rest. We must commit ourselves to continuing our activities to achieve the abolition of nuclear weapons until the goal is accomplished and the last nuclear weapon in the world is destroyed. Will you join me in making this commitment?

The Abolition 2000 International Petition calls for three outcomes. First, ending the threat. Second, signing a treaty to eliminate nuclear weapons. Third, reallocating resources from military purposes to assuring a sustainable future.

Isn’t it crazy that the Cold War ended many years ago, and yet the nuclear weapons states continue to keep their nuclear arsenals on hair-trigger alert? There is no reason to continue this threat. These weapons must be taken off alert status immediately! There must be time to sort through all the facts, to consider the full consequences of what is being contemplated, and to avoid acting in a moment of passion.

Warheads can be separated from delivery vehicles. A no-first-use agreement can be achieved, in which each nuclear weapons state agrees that it will never under any circumstance be the first to use nuclear weapons. These steps will make the world far safer. They can be taken immediately, and will have a profound effect on the way nuclear weapons are viewed by their possessors.

The petition calls for signing a treaty by the year 2000 to eliminate all nuclear weapons within a fixed time period. This is the treaty called for by Abolition 2000, by the World Court, and by most nations in the world. It is absolutely reasonable that we should enter the 21st century with such a commitment in place.

The petition calls for reallocating resources from military purposes to meeting human needs. It says a great deal about our priorities that we are spending more for military forces in our world than we do for healthcare and education of our youth. We live in a world in which many thousands of children under the age of five die daily from starvation and preventable diseases. This totals to millions of children a year. It is outrageous, unacceptable, and must be ended. We must change our priorities.

What is at stake is no less than the future of humanity. Each of you who has signed the petition has taken a first step, but you must not stop with this step. You must continue to speak out and demand greater action from your own government, and from other governments of the world.

You can also help by asking the council of the municipality where you live or the student government where you go to school to support an Abolition 2000 Resolution. There are currently over 185 municipalities that have gone on record in support of Abolition 2000, but we need to increase this number to thousands around the world.

I urge you to continue to press the Japanese government to take a more responsible position on eliminating nuclear weapons. The Japanese government has not kept faith with the people of Japan on this issue. The government has placed Japan under the U.S. nuclear umbrella, and reached secret nuclear agreements with the U.S. The Japanese government has also imported many tons of reprocessed plutonium 239, material suitable for making nuclear weapons. In fact, Japan could become a major nuclear weapons state in only a matter of days or weeks if it chose to do so.

The future of humanity demands that we succeed in ridding the world of nuclear weapons. If these weapons remain in the arsenals of the nuclear weapons states, there will be a time in the future when they will be used again. The retention of these horrible weapons provides an example that other states will look to and that will eventually lead to the proliferation of nuclear weapons. This, too, will make the world more dangerous.

Because we must succeed, we will succeed. But it will not be easy. There are still many obstacles to overcome. We must be strong in our dedication, unwavering in our commitment. I am heartened to know of your dedication and commitment. I will let others throughout the world know of your great accomplishment, and your continuing efforts.

I plan to inform the top leadership of the United Nations of your achievement. The United Nations Charter begins, “We, the Peoples….” We must put the people back into the United Nations. The elimination of nuclear weapons is too important to be left only to politicians and diplomats. They must hear the voices of the people — your voices.

In April, I will share with the delegates to the Non-Proliferation Treaty Conference in Geneva your achievement in gathering more than 13 million signatures for nuclear weapons abolition. I will also do everything I can to bring your message to President Clinton, who has the power — but thus far has lacked the vision — to lead the way to fulfilling the goals of the petition. I will also work with other citizens groups in Abolition 2000 to see that your message is brought to the leaders of all nuclear weapons states.

Let me conclude with a story about the sunflower. When Ukraine gave up the last of the nuclear weapons that it had inherited when the former Soviet Union split apart, there was an unusual celebration. The defense ministers of the U.S., Russia and Ukraine met at a former Ukrainian missile base that once housed 80 SS-19 nuclear armed missiles aimed at the United States. The defense ministers celebrated the occasion by planting sunflowers and scattering sunflower seeds. Former U.S. Secretary of Defense William Perry said, “Sunflowers instead of missiles in the soil will ensure peace for future generations.”

Later I learned that protesters in the United States many years before had illegally entered missile sites in the U.S. and planted sunflowers above the missile silos. These protesters had been imprisoned for their courage.

Sunflowers have become the symbol of a nuclear weapons free world. They are bright, beautiful, natural, and even nutritious. They stand in stark contrast to nuclear armed missiles, which are costly, manmade instruments of genocide. Let us choose what is natural and healthy. Let us restore our Earth, our decency, our humanity.

We need to control our darker impulses. Nothing could be more representative of this than replacing missiles with sunflowers. If Ukraine can accomplish this, so can the rest of the world.

Please make the sunflower your symbol of a world free of nuclear weapons. In doing so, you will also make it a symbol of a better humanity, of bringing forth a greater humanness in each of us. Let the sunflower also symbolize your own deeper humanity as you continue to work for the elimination of nuclear weapons.

Thank you for caring. Thank you for what you have done. Thank you for all you will do in the future to create a safer and more decent world. I look forward to sharing the day with you when we have succeeded in creating a world without nuclear weapons. Please never lose hope that such a world is possible, and never stop working and speaking out to create such a world.