Welcome to Sadako Peace Garden.  On this day, August 6, we remember Hiroshima, Sadako of the 1,000 paper cranes, and all innocent victims of war.

Today we commemorate the 68th anniversary of the first use of an atomic weapon.  The weapon was created by the United States and was dropped on the Japanese city of Hiroshima.  It killed some 90,000 people that day and some 145,000 by the end of 1945.  Three days later another atomic weapon was dropped on the Japanese city of Nagasaki, taking another 70,000 lives.

The creation and use of these weapons, said Albert Einstein, “has changed everything save our modes of thinking, and thus we drift toward unparalleled catastrophe.”  The Nuclear Age Peace Foundation exists to change those modes of thinking and assure a human future.

The 68 years of the Nuclear Age is but a blip in geological time or even in the human record on Earth, but it is a critical period of time because within it we have achieved the technological capacity to destroy ourselves and most complex life.  It is a peril that confronts humanity daily, constantly present, whether we choose to recognize it or not.

Many leaders of nuclear-armed states believe that security can be built on the threat to annihilate other countries.  This is a highly dangerous and unreliable approach to security.  Nuclear policies, like other policies based upon high technologies, are subject to human fallibility and system failures.  That there are not foolproof humans, nor human systems, should be clear to any observer.

The good news is that the number of nuclear weapons in the world has been reduced by over 53,000 weapons, from over 70,000 in 1986 to about 17,000 now.  This is cause for gratitude, as is the fact that nuclear weapons have not been used in warfare since Nagasaki, but the job of ending the nuclear weapons threat to humanity remains unfinished.

There is the only one safe number of nuclear weapons in the world, and that is zero.  Zero must be our goal.  Not a distant goal, as some leaders of nuclear-armed states would have it, but an urgent goal.  No country – not the US, not any country – has the right to hold the world hostage with nuclear weapons.

As the first country to create nuclear weapons, the first country to use them, and the country with the most sophisticated nuclear arsenal, the US should be the country to lead the way out of the Nuclear Age.  To accomplish this, the people will need to lead their leaders.  That is why the role of each of us is so important.

Today, at the close of our ceremony, we will plant a tree for peace, a sapling from a survivor Ginkgo biloba tree from Hiroshima.  Thank you to Nassrine Azimi, a founder of Green Legacy Hiroshima, for bringing this remarkable sapling to us for planting in Sadako Peace Garden.

Thank you to each of you for taking this time to reflect upon the meaning of nuclear weapons for our world and our common future.  Close your eyes for a moment and imagine the immense and terrible power of a nuclear blast.

Now imagine the power of people everywhere coming together and saying a resounding No to these weapons until we have succeeded in eliminating them from the planet.

This is not just an exercise.  It is a possibility that we can choose to make happen.  We who are here on our planet now have the opportunity to contribute to ending the nuclear era, preserving our humanity and exercising responsible stewardship of the only planet we know of in the universe capable of supporting and nurturing life.

David Krieger is President of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation.