“Ordinary people can and must guide their leaders to create a future free from a nuclear menace.” This is the theme of Choose Hope, published this month by Middleway Press. It is a dialogue between Soka Gakkai International president, Daisaku Ikeda and Dr. David Krieger, founder of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation.

This dialogue reveals how the development of true peace can grow only when narrow national loyalties are surpassed by a shared global vision. Inspiring examples of individuals working for an end to the nuclear threat showcase the role everyday people can play in the quest for peace. Living Buddhism interviewed Dr. Krieger about the book, which is available at leading bookstores and online.

Living Buddhism: The title of your new book is Choose Hope. How do you define hope and what does it have to do with the seemingly intractable problems of war and the nuclear threat?

David Krieger: The title of the book reflects our belief that hope must be a conscious choice. It is possible also to choose hopelessness or, in other words, to believe that nothing or not much is possible in the way of positive change. This is a formula for giving up and withdrawing into complacency and apathy, which are pervasive malaises of our time.

I define hope as the belief that we can realize our dreams by our efforts. I don’t see hope as being wildly detached from reality and certainly not detached from our own efforts. I don’t think that hope is a magic wand that by itself can change the world, but it can certainly give direction and energy to one’s intention.

Related to problems of war and nuclear threat, hope is a starting point for seeking change. War is our most destructive means of attempting to resolve human conflicts and, in fact, doesn’t resolve them. When nuclear weapons are added into the mix, war could result in the annihilation of large populations, even of the human species. Of course, we should not give up hope that we can make a difference on issues of such importance. Without hope, we are, in a sense, giving up on humanity and we simply can’t do this. We owe it to all previous generations and to all whom will follow us on Earth, to maintain our hope and to work for a world without nuclear weapons and without war.

LB: The book’s subtitle is “Your Role in Waging Peace in the Nuclear Age.” Weapons policy, international relations and the nuclear threat seem very far removed from most people’s daily life concerns. With all the problems ordinary people have to deal with, what role are you urging people to take on? Can these efforts truly effect change?

Krieger: It’s true that problems of a global scope may appear removed from our daily lives, but, of course, they are not. Finding solutions to these great global problems may be the most significant challenge of our time. The future of humanity rides on how we deal with these problems. If citizens opt out, decisions on weapons and warfare will be made by leaders whose interests are not necessarily aligned with the best interests of humanity and of future generations. These problems are far too important to be left to political or military leaders. I’m urging ordinary citizens throughout the world to engage in issues of war and peace because their voices and their efforts are needed. We all need to engage as if our very lives depended upon it because they do.

I remember being with Jacques Cousteau, a man deeply committed to the welfare of future generations, when he said: “The time has come when speaking is not enough, applauding is not enough. We have to act.” It is time to act. I’d like to see ordinary citizens become change makers for a world free of nuclear weapons. One concrete action they can take is to sign, circulate and spread the word about our Foundation’s Appeal to End the Nuclear Weapons Threat to Humanity and All Life, which they can find on our web site at www.wagingpeace.org. The principles in this Appeal can help guide their actions.

It is difficult to know if our efforts will bring about the change we desire. We can’t be certain, but we must proceed as if they will bring about this change because the alternative of giving up hope and doing nothing is unacceptable.

LB: In the book, you and Mr. Ikeda advocate abolishing nuclear weapons. With the chance of nuclear weapons falling into the hands of terrorists and so-called rogue states, wouldn’t the United States be making itself vulnerable and weak if it gave up its nuclear stockpiles?

Krieger: We’re not advocating that the US alone give up its nuclear arsenal. The elimination of these weapons would be done multilaterally and in phases and with verification and confidence-building measures to assure that all nuclear-armed nations were also eliminating their nuclear arsenals. In a world without nuclear weapons, the US would remain a very powerful nation. Giving up its nuclear arsenal would certainly not make the US vulnerable and weak.

Mr. Ikeda and I agree strongly on the need to abolish nuclear weapons. This is a position nearly uniformly supported by the people of Japan where they know first-hand the terrible effects of the use of nuclear weapons. The truth is that nuclear weapons make a country more vulnerable rather than less so. If you have nuclear weapons, you must rely upon nuclear deterrence, the threat of nuclear retaliation, for security. But deterrence cannot provide security against terrorists, who do not fear retaliation, or against accidental launches.

The more reliance there is by some states on nuclear weapons, the more likely it is that these weapons will proliferate to other countries and find their way into the hands of terrorists. That is why the United States, which now possesses overwhelming military force, should lead the way toward achieving the phased, verifiable and irreversible elimination of nuclear weapons. That would require wisdom and compassion. Such leadership is unlikely to come from political leaders. It is far more likely to originate from the people; ordinary people like you and me.

LB: Through dialogue with Mr. Ikeda and association with SGI, have you learned anything that helps you in your own work?

Krieger: I am very taken with Mr. Ikeda’s focus on “human revolution.” I share his belief that each of us has the power to make a difference far beyond our imaginations. Mr. Ikeda himself is an example of a single individual who has made an enormous difference in our world. Through his vision and perseverance, he has created a wide array of noble institutions that educate young people and contribute to the common good. I am also impressed by Mr. Ikeda’s tremendous commitment to dialogue and the open and flexible mind that he brings to solving problems. His annual peace proposals are among the most thoughtful and useful contributions to the global dialogue on bettering humanity’s future.

I am also very appreciative of the positive spirit of the members of the SGI who I have met. As individuals and as an organization, there seems to be a deep concern in the SGI for embracing the world and all of its inhabitants. There is also a “can do” attitude, a willingness to roll up one’s sleeves and work, which I appreciate very much.

LB: What are your long-term goals for this book?

Krieger: One of my goals for this book is to help awaken people to action to create a better world, a world in which people are valued for what they contribute of themselves, not what they possess. I would be very pleased if this book helped people to see that hope is indeed a conscious choice and a starting point for committed action. I’d be delighted if Choose Hope encouraged more young people to become involved in the great issues of our time, engaging with compassion, commitment and courage. I hope that the book will contribute to realizing the dream of a world free of nuclear weapons.
*David Krieger is president of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation.