It is with profound appreciation and gratitude that I return to this city of peace, this sacred city of Hiroshima. This city was made sacred not by the tragedy which befell it, but by the rebirth of hope which emerged from that tragedy. From the ashes of Hiroshima, flowers of hope have blossomed, bringing forth a renewed spirit of possibility, of peace, to a world in which hope has been too often crushed for too many.
The massive destruction that was visited upon this city on August 6, 1945 gave birth to the Nuclear Age, an age in which our species would move from the too often practiced power of genocide to the potential of omnicide, the destruction of all humanity and perhaps all life. The devastating power of nuclear weapons, as manifested first at Hiroshima and then at Nagasaki, has made peace not only desirable but imperative.
Through the memories of the survivors, the hibakusha, we may learn of the horror they experienced so that we may act to prevent that horror from ever recurring anywhere again. The scenes etched in their memories can pierce us to the marrow of our bones. Sumie Mizukawa, a young girl at the time of the bombing, remembered the sight of a blinded young mother. She wrote:
Her eyes blinded
her dead infant in her arms
with tears streaming
from those sightless eyes
that would never see again.
I saw this in my childhood
as my mother led me by the hand.
That image will never leave
my memories of that dreadful time.
Kosaku Okabe described a scene of misery with “countless bodies of men, women, and children” floating in the river. “It was then,” he wrote, “that I first began to understand the brutality of war.” He continued, “Burned into my memory is the sight of a young mother, probably in her twenties, a baby on her back and a three- or four-year-old child clasped tightly in her arms. Caught against a girder on a bridge her body bobbed idly in the gentle current.”
How could these images not be seared into memory? And how vitally important it is that such images be shared with others throughout the world so that this pain will not again be inflicted on young mothers and their children in other cities at other times. As Akihiro Takahashi, a former director of the Hiroshima Peace Culture Center, wrote, “‘Hiroshima’ is not merely a historic fact in the past. It is an alarm bell for the future of humankind.”
I have had the great privilege of knowing Miyoko Matsubara, who was a twelve year old child when the bomb fell on Hiroshima. Miyoko struggled to learn English so that she could tell the story of what she witnessed and experienced — including her own injury, pain and disfigurement — to young people throughout the world. She was only a child, but she has carried the pain throughout her life. She also carries hope, and her courage gives hope to others.
Miyoko’s message is the message of Hiroshima: “Never again! We shall not repeat the evil.” This message is a clarion call to sanity. It is a cry to the human species to remember our humanity. If we fail to do so, the consequences will be severe. We run the risk of destroying ourselves and much of life. Our capacity for destruction tests our wisdom. The most important issue of our time, although not widely viewed as such, is that of assuring that the evil is not repeated.
I would like you to know that the message of your city awakened me. I first visited Hiroshima when I was 21 years old. At the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, I learned of the human cost of nuclear destruction, of the tragedy and suffering caused by that single bomb. The spirit of Hiroshima entered my soul. I had no choice but to find a way to work for peace and an end to the threat of future nuclear holocausts.
A second experience solidified my commitment to peace. Returning from Japan in 1964, I found that I had been called into the army. Not realizing the full range of my options, I joined a reserve unit rather than serve on active duty. However, four years later this reserve unit was called to active duty, and I received orders to go to Vietnam as an infantry officer. At that time I believed, and continue to believe today, that this was a war both immoral and illegal. I knew that if I went to Vietnam I would be forced to kill and order others to do so. I, therefore, as a conscientious objector, refused the order to go to Vietnam, and ended up fighting the army in federal court.
It was a great awakening for me to realize that my power as an individual was greater than that of the United States Army. The army had the power to give me an order, but I had the power to say No to their order. I might have gone to jail for doing so, but that was my choice. I had a choice, as we all do, to do what I believed was right. To exercise that choice is tremendously empowering. It is the power of conscience, which is a defining human characteristic, one that separates us from all other forms of life.
Above all else, I consider myself to be a citizen of Earth. I believe that the bonds of our common humanity uniting us are far stronger than the artificial boundaries that divide us. I am also a citizen of the United States, having been born in Los Angeles three years before the Nuclear Age began. Speaking as a single individual, but I’m sure representing millions of others throughout the world, I deeply regret the crime against humanity that occurred here. As an American, I apologize to you, although I know from Miyoko and other hibakusha that your forgiveness came long ago.
I apologize because my government has not yet done so. I apologize because my government has not yet heard the message of Hiroshima, nor learned its foremost lesson — “Never again!” I apologize because my government still bases its national security on the threat to use nuclear weapons. I apologize because your pain and your suffering should not be borne by you alone.
What happened here affects us all. If we can find it in ourselves to share in your tragedy — a tragedy that for most people on Earth today is only of historical memory — we may be capable of sharing in your hope. And, if we can do that, we may be capable of bringing forth a new world in which the ever present threat of nuclear holocaust is ended for all time.
Just over 40 years ago, Josei Toda, your second president, called for the abolition of all nuclear weapons, and called upon the youth of Soka Gakkai to help lead the way. Five months ago I was in Tokyo and Yokohama for the commemoration of that fortieth anniversary. In the short time since that fortieth anniversary, the youth of Soka Gakkai, beginning here in Hiroshima, have gathered over 13 million signatures for the abolition of nuclear weapons. I am in awe of your effort and your accomplishment. I know that President Ikeda is as well. I can only imagine how proud Josei Toda would have been to know of your effort. Your effort inspires and motivates. It is a source of hope.
In your effort to gather signatures you have become educators and activists. You have brought this critical issue of nuclear weapons abolition to the attention of over 13 million people, and have obtained their affirmation of the need to end this nuclear weapons era which threatens the future of humanity and, indeed, all life.
The petition on which you gathered signatures was prepared by Abolition 2000, which is a global network of over 1000 citizens organizations in some 75 countries working for the abolition of nuclear weapons. Abolition 2000 draws its strength from the grassroots, from the people. In this respect, it is similar to the International Campaign to Ban Landmines. When the landmines campaign succeeded in having a treaty banning anti-personnel landmines signed in Ottawa, Jody Williams, the coordinator of the campaign, said, “Together we are a superpower. It’s a new definition of superpower. It’s not one of us; it’s all of us.” In Abolition 2000, as in the landmines campaign, we are not alone, and together we can become the most powerful grassroots movement in the history of humankind.
The Abolition 2000 International Petition asks for three actions. First, end the nuclear threat by such reasonable steps as withdrawing all nuclear weapons from foreign soil and international waters, separating warheads from delivery vehicles, and committing to unconditional no-first-use of nuclear weapons. Second, sign an international treaty — a Nuclear Weapons Convention — by the year 2000, agreeing to eliminate all nuclear weapons within a fixed period of time. Third, reallocate resources from military purposes to assuring a sustainable global future.
Each signature you have gathered represents a voice of hope. Together they represent a chorus of hope that can move the world. We don’t know with certainty what forces you have set in motion by your effort, but we do know that you have touched many lives and that they in turn will touch more lives. If other concerned citizens throughout the world will follow your lead, we can achieve our goal of a world free of nuclear weapons.
You have concluded your petition campaign, but please don’t consider your task finished until the last nuclear weapon is removed from the world. This will not happen overnight. It will take sustained effort and commitment. It will require the often under-appreciated virtue of perseverance. All that is truly worth achieving requires perseverance — loving relationships, healthy communities, and a decent world.
I will take the message of your achievement to the leaders of the United Nations, to the delegates preparing for the Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference, to non-governmental organizations working for nuclear weapons abolition throughout the world, and to the leaders of my own country and other nuclear weapons states.
I urge you to take the message of these 13 million voices to your own government, which has not been true to the people of Japan in its nuclear policies. Your government has not only been content to rely upon the U.S. nuclear umbrella, but — by its accumulation of reprocessed plutonium — has become a virtual nuclear weapons power capable of assembling hundreds of nuclear weapons in days or weeks. If we are to have a world free of nuclear weapons, we must convince our respective governments to change their policies. You must help to convince your government and I must help to convince mine that reliance upon nuclear weapons for defense is an act of folly that endangers our future and undermines our decency as well as our security.
Sometimes we cannot see the full fruits of our efforts during our lifetimes. This has been true of many great peace leaders, including Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. It is also true of Josei Toda whose vision forms the foundation for your effort. It is true for all of us — if our vision is great enough. I believe, however, that a world free of nuclear weapons can and will be achieved within our lifetimes.
I urge you to dream of what can be, and to always hold fast to your dreams. I beseech you never to lose the dream of a world free from the threat of nuclear holocaust. I implore you to listen to your conscience, and to act courageously upon it. I encourage you to walk the path of peace, which is also the path of justice. I call upon you to follow President Ikeda’s sage advice, “Continue to advance, step-by-step! Never, ever, give up hope.”
If we follow our dreams, if we listen to our consciences, if we act courageously, if we walk the path of peace, if we never give up hope, we will rise to our full stature as human beings. We will live lives that are rich and full. We will make a difference and, by our examples, we will influence others to live such lives. I promise you that I will do my utmost to join you in living such a life and will encourage others to join us as well.
I would like to conclude by sharing with you a poem of hope written by Sadako Kurihara just after the bombing of Hiroshima.
WE SHALL BRING FORTH NEW LIFE
It was night in the basement of a broken building.
Victims of the atomic bombing
Crowding into the candleless darkness,
Filling the room to overflowing —
The smell of fresh blood, the stench of death,
The stuffiness of human sweat, the writhing moans —
When, out of the darkness, came a wondrous voice
“Oh! The baby’s coming!” it said.
In the basement turned to living hell
A young woman had gone into labor!
The others forgot their own pain in their concern;
What could they do for her, having not even a match
To bring light to the darkness?
Then came another voice: “I am a midwife.
I can help her with the baby.”
It was a woman who had been moaning in pain only moments before.
And so a new life was born
In the darkness of that living hell.
And so, the midwife died before the dawn,
Still soaked in the blood of her own wounds.
We shall give forth new life!
We shall bring forth new life!
Even to our death.
To find such hope in the darkness of that awful night is a triumph of the human spirit. In remembering Hiroshima, let us dedicate ourselves to bringing forth new life. Let us dedicate ourselves to building a world in which even the threat of nuclear devastation is not a possibility. Let us dedicate ourselves to bringing forth a new world in which no child ever again must suffer the pain of war or hunger or abandonment. Let us dedicate ourselves to building a world in which there is liberty, justice and dignity for all who share this extraordinary planet that gave birth to life. Let us walk the path of peace, and be active participants in the pursuit of peace!