I’m honored to receive this Earth Charter Award from Citizens for Peaceful Resolutions, and particularly an award presented in memory of two dedicated and lifelong peace makers, Bill Hammaker and Betty Eagle.
The Earth Charter is a great collaborative and visionary document. Its words are both poetic and inspirational. It opens we this passage: “We stand at a critical moment in Earth’s history, a time when humanity must choose its future. As the world becomes increasingly interdependent and fragile, the future at once holds great peril and great promise. To move forward we must recognize that in the midst of a magnificent diversity of cultures and life forms we are one human family and one Earth community with a common destiny.”
How succinct. How beautiful. How true.
I believe we should all strive to live as world citizens. I believe strongly in the principles embodied in the Earth Charter, including those for which this award is given: democracy, nonviolence and peace. They are, at the same time, both goals to achieve and maintain, and a way to live our lives.
Democracy, from my perspective, means the opportunity for all members of a society to participate fully and fairly in the political process. That possibility has been usurped in our political process by the power of money to buy candidates, legislators and legislation. Regardless of what they may rule at the Supreme Court, as they did in Citizens United, money cannot be allowed to equate to free speech in democratic elections. We can do far better than we have in making our institutions and political process open and fair.
It concerns me greatly that our democracy, such as it is, has become so militarized. We now spend more than half of the discretionary funds in our national budget on the military, some $700 billion annually. This does not include the tens of billions of dollars we also spend for nuclear weaponry through the Department of Energy, or the budget of the Department of Veterans Affairs, or the interest on the national debt to pay for our foreign wars. We spend more on our military than all other countries in the world combined.
We also have more than 700 military bases and our powerful naval fleets spread throughout the world. We are the only country on Earth that does this. We are an empire without formal subjects, but we bind countries and leaders to us by our economic power to reward and punish and by the implied threat of our military might.
A militarized democracy with global reach becomes a militarized empire. It fights wars of its choosing, despite its obligations under international law, and its people are easily manipulated and lied into war. The US is now fighting wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya, and something less than wars in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia. We are developing a new technology of warfare, based on sanitized long-distance killing with drones and a Global Strike Force that allows the US to attack with no risk of taking casualties. Recently we have assassinated two American citizens in Yemen using drones. President Obama signed off on these assassinations. So much for due process of the law!
The Global Strike Force plans to replace nuclear warheads with powerful conventional warheads on some inter-continental ballistic missiles, making it possible to attack any target on the globe in under an hour. Drones and the Global Strike Force make long-distance killing more possible, but no more palatable.
Nonviolence is a strategy for social change. It is more powerful than weapons of war. These can kill and maim, but they have far less power to influence the human heart than techniques of nonviolence. The world moves in strange ways. Gandhi was the great leader of a nonviolent movement to end colonialism in India. He was influenced by Thoreau and Tolstoy, and in turn he influenced Martin Luther King, Jr. and many other leaders of nonviolent revolutions.
Nonviolence is the means to bring about a new world order, one based upon peace and justice. We have seen it again show its remarkable power during the Arab Spring. We are witnessing it show its power now on Wall Street in what will hopefully become an American Fall.
A.J. Muste said this about peace: “There is no way to peace; peace is the way.” Without achieving peace in the Nuclear Age, we are all – wherever we live on the planet – potential victims of nuclear annihilation. Nuclear weapons go beyond the homicide and genocide of warfare, and make possible omnicide, the death of all.
The Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, which I helped found three decades ago, works to abolish nuclear weapons. It is a stretch even to call them weapons. They are the ultimate long-distance killing devices, making the destruction of our world, including all that we hold dear, all too possible.
By our capacity for destruction, we have reached a point in our societal evolution at which peace is not only desirable but necessary for our survival – peace is an imperative of the Nuclear Age. The questions I ask myself are these: Will humanity choose peace? Will we grow up and put away our adolescent resort to violence as a means of resolving conflicts? Will we awaken in time to avert catastrophe?
The answers to these questions remain unclear, but it is clear that we are at a point of decision. Everything begins with choice and intention. We need to make the right choices and we need to set our intention to build a new world on a foundation of peace. We need to stop wasting our resources on war and its preparation. We need to find news ways to appreciate the miracle of life – our own and others. We need to become planetary patriots, replacing the acronym MAD (Mutual Assured Destruction) with a new acronym: PASS (Planetary Assured Security and Survival). It is our job to pass the planet on intact to new generations.
Our world badly needs peace leadership if we are to create peace. I urge each of you to be a peace leader by speaking out and acting for peace. There are many areas of study and training, but a critical one that is often overlooked is peace leadership. This training is one of our most important projects at the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation. I hope you all will join in this essential effort, keeping in mind the final words of the Earth Charter: “Let ours be a time remembered for the awakening of a new reverence for life, the firm resolve to achieve sustainability, the quickening of the struggle for justice and peace, and the joyful celebration of life.”
There is so much left to do. How can we not commit to this beautiful struggle?
None of us should be content to sit on the sidelines when there is so much to be done. Despite all the world’s serious problems, and there are many, we must choose hope, for it is hope that propels us to action. The opposite of hope is despair, which leads to indifference and inaction. So, I urge you to see hope as a choice, and choose it and live as though we can and will change the world.