This speech was delivered to the youth of Soka Gakkai International in Japan on February 8, 2010.
I want to talk with you as youth, as a group of youth who care about our world. One thing is certain: You will inherit the world. It will not be either the strong or the meek who will inherit the Earth; for better or for worse, it will be the youth. You will inherit what we, the older generation, leave to you, and you will hopefully do better than we have done in preserving this beautiful planet and the diversity of its life forms. You will hopefully do better in achieving and maintaining peace on our planet. You will also have the eventual responsibility, as each generation does, to pass the world on in tact to the next generation.
New generations of youth keep coming, like waves against the shore. Now it is your turn to reach the shore. As animals once left the sea for the land, you now come of age to take responsibility in the world. And you come of age at a time of great challenge. The generations of your parents and grandparents have left you a world that is fraught with dangers and inequities. The test of your generation will be in the way you create a more just and decent world. But you will have another challenge as well. You will have to navigate the dangers of nuclear weapons – weapons capable of ending civilization and destroying most life on Earth.
The human future is not guaranteed. That is the most profound meaning of the Nuclear Age. It is an era in which we have created weapons that are capable of omnicide, the destruction of all. Omnicide is an extension of suicide and genocide to the entire world. We live in a time when it is possible to destroy everything. We have proven our cleverness in creating tools of destruction. Now it is up to us, and to you as youth in particular, to find the means to assure that these tools are not used and are abolished.
How will you do this? To start with, you must recognize the nature of the problem. This is no ordinary problem that can be left to work itself out. It requires a plan. Who will create and implement such a plan? Who will take the lead in assuring that we are progressing toward zero nuclear weapons? The problem could become much worse than it is today. Instead of nine nuclear weapon states, imagine a world in which there are 20 or 50 or 100. What kind of world would that be?
We have a Non-Proliferation Treaty that seeks to prevent the further spread of nuclear weapons. That treaty has a provision for nuclear disarmament, so that there will not be permanent classes of nuclear “haves” and “have-nots.” Everyone recognizes that such a world would not be fair, so Article VI of the treaty requires that the nuclear weapon states engage in good faith negotiations for nuclear disarmament. The International Court of Justice interpreted this clause in its 1996 Advisory Opinion on the illegality of the threat or use of nuclear weapons. They said, “There exists an obligation to pursue in good faith and bring to a conclusion negotiations leading to nuclear disarmament in all its aspects under strict and effective international control.”
I would like to share with you some additional reasons to abolish nuclear weapons:
1. They are long-distance killing machines incapable of discriminating between soldiers and civilians, the aged and the newly born, or between men, women and children. As such, they are instruments of dehumanization as well as annihilation.
2. They threaten the destruction of cities, countries and civilization; of all that is sacred, of all that is human, of all that exists. Nuclear war could cause deadly climate change, putting human existence at risk. Here is what one researcher, Steven Starr, concluded from reviewing the recent literature on nuclear weapons and climate change: “The detonation of a tiny fraction of the operational nuclear arsenals within cities would generate enough smoke to cause catastrophic disruptions of the global climate and massive destruction of the protective stratospheric ozone layer. Environmental devastation caused by a war fought with many thousands of strategic nuclear weapons would quickly leave the Earth uninhabitable.”
3. They threaten to foreclose the future, negating our common responsibility to future generations.
4. They make cowards of their possessors, and in their use there can be no decency or honor. This was recognized by most of the leading US generals and admirals of World War II, including Dwight Eisenhower, Hap Arnold, Omar Bradley, and William Leahy. Admiral Leahy, chief of staff to President Truman, said: “The lethal possibilities of atomic warfare in the future are frightening. My own feeling was that in being the first to use it, we had adopted an ethical standard common to the barbarians of the Dark Ages. I was not taught to make war in that fashion, and wars cannot be won by destroying women and children.”
5. They divide the world’s nations into nuclear “haves” and “have-nots,” bestowing false and unwarranted prestige and privilege on those that possess them.
6. They are a distortion of science and technology, siphoning off our scientific and technological resources and twisting our knowledge of nature to destructive purposes. On the 50th anniversary of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, a senior Manhattan Project scientist, Hans Bethe, called upon “…all scientists in all countries to cease and desist from work creating, developing, improving and manufacturing further nuclear weapons – and, for that matter, other weapons of potential mass destruction such as chemical and biological weapons.”
7. They mock international law, displacing it with an allegiance to raw power. The International Court of Justice has ruled that the threat of use of nuclear weapons is generally illegal and any use that violated international humanitarian law would be illegal. It is virtually impossible to imagine a threat or use of nuclear weapons that would not violate international humanitarian law by failing to discriminate between soldiers and civilians, causing unnecessary suffering or being disproportionate to a preceding attack.
8. They waste our resources on the development of instruments of annihilation. The United States alone has spent over $7.5 trillion on nuclear weapons and their delivery systems since the onset of the Nuclear Age.
9. They concentrate power in the hands of a small group of individuals and, in doing so, undermine democracy. They give over to a few individuals, usually men, greater power of annihilation than at any previous time in history.
10. They are morally abhorrent, as recognized by virtually every religious organization, and their mere existence corrupts our humanity. If we are willing to tolerate these weapons and their indiscriminate power of annihilation, then who are we? What do these weapons say about our humanity, our human decency?
I think it should be clear that one primary goal for youth should be to act and to lead in abolishing nuclear weapons.
Later this year, in May, there will be an eighth Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference. This is the only treaty that has provisions requiring the nuclear weapon states to pursue the goal of nuclear disarmament. It will be an important meeting after the failure of the last NPT Review Conference in 2005. To give you an idea of how much there is to accomplish, I want to share with you the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation’s priority recommendations for the conference:
1. Each signatory nuclear weapon state should provide an accurate public accounting of its nuclear arsenal, conduct a public environmental and human assessment of its potential use, and devise and make public a roadmap for going to zero nuclear weapons.
2. All signatory nuclear weapon states should reduce the role of nuclear weapons in their security policies by taking all nuclear forces off high-alert status, pledging No First Use of nuclear weapons against other nuclear weapon states and No Use against non-nuclear weapon states.
3. All enriched uranium and reprocessed plutonium – military and civilian – and their production facilities (including all uranium enrichment and plutonium separation technology) should be placed under strict and effective international safeguards.
4. All signatory states should review Article IV of the NPT, promoting the “inalienable right” to nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, in light of the nuclear proliferation problems posed by nuclear electricity generation.
5. Each nuclear weapon state should comply with Article VI of the NPT, reinforced and clarified by the 1996 World Court Advisory Opinion, by commencing negotiations in good faith on a Nuclear Weapons Convention for the phased, verifiable, irreversible and transparent elimination of nuclear weapons, and complete these negotiations by the year 2015.
The problems may seem complex, but the bottom line is this: Nuclear weapons threaten the human future, and they must be abolished. This is a human issue that is every bit as consequential as was the movement to abolish slavery in the 19th century. There are some acts that cannot be tolerated, and slavery and the threat of nuclear omnicide are among them.
You can be a voice for abolition by learning more, supporting the hibakusha, and speaking out for a treaty to abolish nuclear weapons. Don’t be satisfied with anything less than a clear commitment to a world with zero nuclear weapons, and demand more from political leaders who say that the goal is too difficult or cannot be achieved within their lifetime.
In addition to working for the abolition of nuclear weapons, your generation faces many other challenges as well. There is no major international problem in our world that does not require international cooperation to solve. Thus, we need to work together. With modern communications and transportation, your generation is well equipped to cooperate across all borders. Really, borders exist primarily in our minds. They are not drawn upon the Earth, only on maps. And all borders are permeable to ideas and trade, as well as to pollution and disease. The bottom line is that we live in a single unitary world. We all share one Earth, and we can make of it a paradise or a nightmare. We choose – by our actions or inaction.
We live in a world of some 200 nation states. Most of these spend far too much on their military forces, so that in total the world spends some $1.5 trillion a year on its militaries. We know that for a relatively small proportion of this amount – five or ten percent – it would be possible to make enormous progress on the eight United Nations Millennium Development Goals. These goals include ending poverty and hunger, universal education, gender equality, child health, maternal health, combating HIV/AIDS, environmental sustainability and developing a global partnership for development. The achievement of these goals would reflect real advances in human security, and with relatively small reductions in global military expenditures we could make them happen.
As you go through life, you will have many challenges. Each of you will have to find your own way in the world. I want to share with you 12 ideas on how to meet these challenges. These involve using all your miraculous gifts to live to your full capacity as human beings.
1. Learn from others, but think for yourself. (Use your mind and judgment.)
2. Decide for yourself what is right or wrong. (Use your conscience.)
3. Speak out for what you believe in. (Use your voice.)
4. Stand up for what is right. (Use your power as an individual.)
5. Set goals and be persistent in working for them. (Use your vision and determination.)
6. Live by the Golden Rule. That is, do unto others as you would have them do unto you. (Use your feelings as a point of reference.)
7. Recognize the miracle that you are. You are unique in the universe. (Be spiritually aware.)
8. Never harm another miracle. Choose to solve conflicts without resort to violence. (Be nonviolent.)
9. Believe in yourself. (Be trustworthy, even to yourself.)
10. Help others. (Be giving.)
11. Be a citizen of the world. (Be inclusive and embrace all life.)
12. Be a force for peace and justice. (Be courageous and committed.)
I hope you will find joy in life and also contribute to creating a more just and decent world. If you care about life and recognize its preciousness, you are needed to create a better future. Albert Camus, the great French writer and philosopher, said: “Real generosity toward the future lies in giving all to the present.”
Camus responded to the first atomic bombing in this way: “Our technical civilization has just reached its greatest level of savagery. We will have to choose, in the more or less near future, between collective suicide and the intelligent use of our scientific conquests. Before the terrifying prospects now available to humanity, we see even more clearly that peace is the only battle worth waging. This is no longer a prayer but a demand to be made by all peoples to their governments – a demand to choose definitively between hell and reason.” I stand with Albert Camus in choosing to wage peace. I hope you will as well.
As you may know, I engaged in a dialogue with SGI President Daisaku Ikeda. We espoused the principle of choosing hope, rather than succumbing to ignorance, apathy or despair. Hope gives rise to action, and action, in turn, gives rise to hope. Our shared hope includes the goal of building a more peaceful world, free of nuclear weapons – a daunting but essential goal. I stand with Daisaku Ikeda in choosing hope. I’m sure that you stand with him as well.
You are the future. May each of you choose hope, wage peace, and live your lives fully and with a full measure of joy. I wish you all much success.
Let me conclude with a poem that I wrote for a Soka High School graduation some years ago. I think its message remains valid today.
ADVICE TO GRADUATES
Always remember this:
You are a miracle
Made up of dancing atoms
That can talk and sing,
Listen and remember, and laugh,
At times even at yourself.
You are a miracle
Whose atoms existed before time.
Born of the Big Bang, you are connected
To everything – to mountains and oceans,
To the winds and wilderness, to the creatures
Of the sea and air and land.
You are a member of the human family.
You are a miracle, entirely unique.
There has never been another
With your combination of talents, dreams,
Desires and hopes. You can create.
You are capable of love and compassion.
You are a miracle.
You are a gift of creation to itself.
You are here for a purpose, which you must find.
Your presence here is sacred – and you will
Change the world.