We’ve stumbled into war before. We could certainly do it again. But doing it in a world with nuclear weapons could be even more devastating than World War I or, for that matter, World War II.
I wrote the short poem below to mark the 100th anniversary on June 28th of the assassination that set in motion what became known as the “Great War” and later came to be referred to as World War I. The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand should remind us how easy it is for leaders of countries to stumble into wars that no one seems to want, and the grave and unforeseen consequences of doing so. The U.S. wars in Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq also serve as good reminders, as should the civil wars now going on in Syria, Iraq and elsewhere. We should also not be complacent about the U.S.-Russia standoffs that occurred over the country of Georgia in the past and the one now unfolding over Ukraine.
Since the possibility of stumbling into war is always with us, it seems foolish in the extreme to fail to do all in our power to eliminate nuclear weapons – as soon as possible. The national leaders of nuclear-armed states are failing badly in this regard, despite their obligations under international law. There is one country, however, that is doing all it can to move forward on fulfillment of the unkept promises and unmet obligations to achieve a Nuclear Zero world: that is, the small Pacific Island country of 70,000 inhabitants, the Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI), whose people still suffer from 12 years of nuclear testing (1946 – 1958) and whose land remains contaminated by radioactive fallout.
The world owes a collective debt of gratitude to the people and government of the RMI for bringing lawsuits against the nine nuclear-armed countries in the International Court of Justice, and a separate lawsuit against the United States in U.S. Federal District Court. The RMI is acting on behalf of humanity. It is not seeking monetary compensation for itself, but rather to assure that no other people now or in the future suffer as it has. This small island country seeks to hold the nuclear-armed states accountable for breaching their obligations under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and customary international law to pursue and complete negotiations in good faith for an end to the nuclear arms race and for nuclear disarmament. The Republic of the Marshall Islands deserves our support. More information on these Nuclear Zero lawsuits can be found at www.nuclearzero.org.
We have not had a nuclear war since nuclear weapons were used at the end of World War II, but that is no guarantee that there will not be one in the future. So long as nuclear weapons exist, they pose a threat to the future of civilization and the human species. The possession of these weapons of mass annihilation is premised on nuclear deterrence, the threat of nuclear retaliation, but nuclear deterrence is not a law of nature. It is a construct of humans, and it is subject to human failure in the same way that fallible humans have experienced major technological failures of nuclear reactors and have stumbled into past wars. We are fallible creatures and we would be wise to eliminate nuclear weapons before they eliminate us.
ARCHDUKE FRANZ FERDINAND
Archduke Franz Ferdinand
with no troops at his command
was brought down by an assassin’s hand.
That’s how the war began.
No one thought it would last long,
but they were all sadly wrong,
as with alliances and patriotic song
they moved the war along.
From the very start
the men in trenches did their part
until shot through the head or heart
to be taken away on a medic’s cart.
As history has taught before
the fighting gave us only blood and gore.
If not to stop the next great war,
what are lessons for?
One wonders if in time we’ll learn
to put away our weapons, to discern
the true value of a human life, to turn
from war to peace before we burn.
A century past the Archduke’s time
the game of war is still a crime.
A century past the Archduke’s time
The arts of peace are still sublime.
David Krieger is president of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation (www.wagingpeace.org). He is the author of ZERO: The Case for Nuclear Weapons Abolition. He has written or edited many other books on achieving Nuclear Zero and several books of peace poetry.