Good evening and thank you for being part of this Evening for Peace. It is a privilege to share this evening with all of you.
Will all the students in the room please stand. The work of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation is for you and the generations to follow you. Peace matters, and we’d like to help you all to become Peace Leaders.
We live in a time of war, and in a world that sacrifices its children at the altar of violence. There are children growing up today who have never known peace. Can you imagine what that must be like?
Within the living nightmare of war, some of these children may dream of peace. While their dreams may be beautiful, peace must be more than a dream.
There are many perspectives on peace. Here is mine. Peace is a dynamic balance in which human needs are met and human rights are upheld. Peace is not the absence of conflict, but the commitment to resolving conflict without resort to violence.
At the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, we believe that peace is an imperative of the Nuclear Age. We believe it is beyond reason to threaten each other with nuclear weapons – weapons of indiscriminate mass slaughter. Civilization and complex life hang in the balance.
We believe it is not reasonable to prepare for war and, at the same time, to expect peace. If we want peace, we must prepare for peace. And we must be willing to stand up for peace. We cannot sit back and expect that war and preparations for war will diminish. The world is too small and too dangerous for such complacency.
We believe that the United States, rather than leading the world in the modernization of nuclear weapons and their delivery systems, should be engaged in negotiating the abolition of these weapons, as it is required to do under international law. That is why we are consulting with the Republic of the Marshall Islands, a courageous small Pacific Island country, in their lawsuits against the nine nuclear-armed countries.
Rather than planning to spend $1 trillion over the next three decades on modernizing its nuclear arsenal, the US should be using those funds to meet human needs and uphold human dignity. That is the kind of peace leadership that is called for in our time.
On this, the occasion of our 31st annual Evening for Peace, we come together to celebrate all that peace means to each of us and to honor a courageous Peace Leader. Among the many outstanding Peace Leaders we have honored over the years are the XIVth Dalai Lama, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Mairead Corrigan Maguire, Jody Williams, Jacques Cousteau, Daniel Ellsberg, Walter Cronkite and Helen Caldicott.
Tonight we honor a woman who stands solidly for peace, a woman who lives peace and breathes justice. Where peace needs an advocate, she is there, whether it be in the sweatshops of Asia, the streets of the Middle East or the halls of the US Congress. She has won victories from corporations on fair trade, human rights and human dignity. She has challenged Presidents, Secretaries of Defense and Secretaries of State. She has protested war-making on a bipartisan basis, protesting against leading figures in Republican and Democratic administrations, arguing that the US had no legitimate justification for invading Iraq or for continuing the war against Afghanistan.
She holds two Master’s degrees, one in public health from Columbia University and one in economics from The New School. She has worked in Africa and Latin America for the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization and for the World Health Organization. She is the co-founder of two important civil society organizations, Global Exchange and CODEPINK. She is the author of eight books, the latest being, Drone Warfare: Killing by Remote Control.
She has received many awards, including the Martin Luther King, Jr. Peace Prize from the Fellowship of Reconciliation and the Gandhi Peace Award from Promoting Enduring Peace.
On May 23, 2013, she interrupted a foreign policy speech by President Obama. Her comments as she was forcibly led out of the room were recorded by Slate Magazine. She asked the President a series of questions:
“Can you tell the Muslim people their lives are as precious as our lives?
“Can you take the drones out of the hands of the CIA?
“Can you stop the signature strikes that are killing people on the basis of suspicious activities?
“Will you apologize to the thousands of Muslims that you have killed?
“Will you compensate the innocent family victims?”
She also shouted out: “I love my country.”
When she had been removed from the room, President Obama said, “The voice of that woman is worth listening to.”
That woman, Medea Benjamin, is our honoree this evening, and her voice is indeed worth listening to. I am very pleased, on behalf of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, to present her with the Foundation’s 2014 Distinguished Peace Leadership Award.
David Krieger is President of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation (www.wagingpeace.org).