David Krieger delivered this speech on May 25, 2013 in Hiroshima, Japan.

David KriegerI am honored to be back in Hiroshima with you for this occasion, and I congratulate the Chugoku Shimbun on the fifth anniversary of its Hiroshima Peace Media Center.  I am a strong supporter of this Center, and of other efforts to use the media to awaken people to the necessity of achieving a durable peace in the Nuclear Age.

I extend a special greeting to former Mayor Tadatoshi Akiba, who did such important work in building the Mayors for Peace into a global organization of more than 5,000 members.  He currently serves as the chair of the Middle Powers Initiative, a coalition of eight international civil society organizations that work with middle power countries in seeking to apply pressure for the abolition of nuclear weapons.

The room we are in today is called “Himawari,” which means sunflower.  This is an appropriate place to meet, since sunflowers are the symbol of a world free of nuclear weapons.  What could stand in starker contrast than natural, beautiful, brightly-colored sunflowers, which, bursting with life, grow toward the sun, and the metallic, manmade instruments of massive murder that are nuclear weapons and their delivery systems?

Hiroshima is a place made sacred by pain, suffering, forgiveness and perseverance in the cause of peace of its hibakusha (survivors of the atomic bombing).   I would like to say to the hibakusha at the symposium that your efforts and your messages matter, that your words and deeds have touched people’s hearts throughout the world, including my own, and continue to do so.  You have the power of truth and compassion on your side.

To the young people at the symposium, I want to stress how important it is to have hope and to carry on working for peace and a world free of nuclear weapons in the spirit of the hibakusha.  I would like to impress upon you that Hiroshima is a city of hope and it is, at least in part, your responsibility to carry forward that hope.  Without hope, our way would be lost and our future bleak.


The bombing of Hiroshima was the kind of atrocity that can only be created in the cauldron of war, a human institution that has become totally dysfunctional.  The destruction of Hiroshima split the 20th century nearly in half and, more importantly, provided a dividing line in human history.  Before Hiroshima, nearly all of human experience and history unfolded.  Much of it was creative and beautiful – the beauty of song, art, literature, friendship and love – but there were certainly grave atrocities and vivid examples of man’s inhumanity to man.

After the bombing of Hiroshima, man’s inhumanity to his fellow man took on a deeper and darker meaning, as it became possible to destroy everything.  With the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, genocide gave way to the potential for omnicide, the death of all.  Genocide – the destruction of a people based upon race, religion or ethnicity – was bad enough, but omnicide made possible the end of human and other complex life on the planet.  We humans must rapidly increase our capacity for learning, tolerance and love, or face the dire and devastating consequences of nuclear war.

Hiroshima is both a city and a symbol.  It is a modern city and one that is quite beautiful.  But it is also a city recognized throughout the world as a universal symbol of the strength of humans to overcome adversity.  The hibakusha of Hiroshima have said clearly: “Nuclear weapons and human beings cannot co-exist.”  This is a deep insight that we need to collectively internalize.  Those of us alive on the planet today must decide whether we continue to tolerate nuclear weapons and those who promote them, or whether we draw the line at the potential for human extinction and work to abolish these weapons.

I have had the opportunity in my life to meet many of the hibakusha of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  I have found that their lives are filled with purpose, that is, to assure that their past does not become someone else’s future.  The hibakusha have been to the depths of Hell and survived to reflect upon and share what they experienced on the fateful day of the bombing of Hiroshima and during the days, weeks, months and years of suffering that followed the bombing.  They returned from that place of horror with hope in their hearts.  By their willingness to forgive and by their constant efforts to end the nuclear weapons era, they have nurtured hope and kept it alive for all these years.


Over the years, I have written a number of poems and reflections about Hiroshima and the hibakusha.  These have been published in Japan by Coal Sack Publishers in a book in Japanese and English entitled God’s Tears, Reflections on the Atomic Bombs Dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  I would like to share two of these poems with you.  I share them because I want to reach your hearts.  Logic is not enough.  The heart must be engaged to save our world.  The first poem is dedicated to Miyoko Matsubara, a very committed hibakusha of Hiroshima who came to Santa Barbara and worked with us at the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation in developing her presentation skills in English.

for Miyoko Matsubara

She bowed deeply.  She bowed deeper than the oceans.  She bowed from the top of Mt. Fuji to the bottom of the ocean.  She bowed so deeply and so often that the winds blew hard.

The winds blew her whispered apologies and prayers across all the continents.  But the winds whistled too loudly, and made it impossible to hear her apologies and prayers.  The winds made the oceans crazy.  The water in the oceans rose up in a wild molecular dance.  The oceans threw themselves against the continents.  The people were frightened.  They ran screaming from the shores.  They feared the white water and the whistling wind.  They huddled together in dark places.  They strained to hear the words in the wind.

In some places there were some people who thought they heard an apology.  In other places there were people who thought they heard a prayer.

She bowed deeply.  She bowed more deeply than anyone should bow.

The plane flew over Hiroshima and dropped the bomb
after the all clear warning had sounded.

The bomb dropped far slower than the speed of light.
It dropped at the speed of bombs.

From the ground it was a tiny silver speck
that separated from the silver plane.

After 43 seconds, the slow falling bomb exploded
into mass at the speed of light squared.

Einstein called it energy.  Everything lit up.
For a split-second people could see their own bones.

The pilot always believed he had done the right thing.
The President, too, never wavered from his belief.

He thanked God for the bomb.  Others did, too.
God responded with tears that fell far slower

than the speed of bombs.
They still have not reached Earth.

The Nuclear Dilemma

Nuclear weapons create a dilemma.  If some countries continue to rely upon nuclear weapons for their perceived security, sooner or later these weapons will be used again.  The use of nuclear weapons could result in the extinction of the human species and other forms of complex life.  Nuclear weapons place humans on the Endangered Species list.

And yet, although we humans should be mobilizing against the threat posed by these weapons of mass annihilation, we remain remarkably indifferent to them.  This suggests one of four possibilities or some combination of them:

1. we are ignorant of the destructive power of nuclear weapons;
2. we don’t believe that the weapons will actually be used;
3. we have fear fatigue;
4. we believe that there is little that can be done by individuals to influence nuclear policy.

It is unlikely that many of us are actually ignorant of the destructive power of nuclear weapons.  Most people on the planet know what happened at Hiroshima and Nagasaki with the relatively small nuclear weapons of the time.  In each case, one bomb destroyed one city.  The terrible destructive power of these bombs has been vividly conveyed by the hibakusha.

It is possible that, having lived with nuclear weapons for more than two-thirds of a century, many individuals believe they will not be used again.  But this is a denial of possibilities.  So long as the weapons exist in the arsenals of some nations, neither their use nor their proliferation can be ruled out.  Martin Hellman, a professor emeritus of electrical engineering at Stanford University, finds there is a one-in-six chance of a child born today dying of nuclear war during his or her 80-year lifespan.  This is the equivalent of playing Nuclear Roulette with the life of that child – and all children.  Psychologically, it may be more comfortable to live in denial, but it is not more secure.

When one is fearful for a long period of time, fatigue sets in.  A person may be viewed as a prophet at a later time for having given warnings about survival threats in his or her own time, but in one’s own time one may be seen as crazy for continuing to shout warnings about such threats.  For most people, fear fatigue sets in and they move on to take care of other areas of life.  Thankfully, this isn’t the case for the hibakusha and for many abolitionists who continue to fight for a world free of nuclear weapons.

There are few people who can influence the course of human events by themselves, but collectively we can wield considerable influence.  To assure that nuclear weapons are not used again, they must be abolished.  We must join with others to achieve this goal – in the largest coalitions possible.  I am deeply grateful to the hibakusha for their leadership in this effort.

Nuclear weapons are a technological triumph of the worst possible sort.  We humans must triumph over our destructive technologies.  We have created ever more powerful tools and these tools exert power over us.  Our tools must be designed to aid us constructively rather than to threaten our very existence.

We must regain power over our tools if humankind is to survive.  We can only do this collectively.  We must unite rather than divide.  We must cross borders in our minds and in our hearts.  We must care for each other, and we must begin by eliminating the overriding threat of nuclear annihilation.  The solution is not technological; it is human.  It requires us to think about what really matters to us and to act accordingly.

We Must Change our Thinking

Albert Einstein was one of the greatest scientists of the 20th century.  He changed the way we look at the universe.  His theories described the relationship between energy and matter that led to releasing the power of the atom.  Einstein was not only intelligent; he was wise.  Early in the Nuclear Age, he pointed out, “The splitting of the atom has changed everything save our modes of thinking and thus we drift toward unparalleled catastrophe.”  He saw clearly that the Nuclear Age had opened a new era in human history, an era in which the destructive power of nuclear weapons made peace an imperative.

The opening curtain of the Nuclear Age, which occurred here at Hiroshima, started the clock ticking on a race between finding new ways to forge friendships across borders and succumbing to the old patterns of war, but now with weapons incapable of being controlled in time or space. Bertrand Russell, Albert Einstein and 9 other prominent scientists issued the Russell-Einstein Manifesto on July 9, 1955.  It is one of the most important documents of the 20th century and now for the 21st century.  It states, “Here, then, is the problem which we present to you, stark and dreadful and inescapable: Shall we put an end to the human race; or shall mankind renounce war?  People will not face this alternative because it is so difficult to abolish war.”

Yes, it is difficult to abolish war, but it is made necessary by the terrible devastation that occurred here in Hiroshima on August 6th, 1945, and that occurred again at Nagasaki three days later.  Nuclear weapons have made possible the extinction of the human race and other forms of complex life.  In this sense, they have made us one world, a global Hiroshima, uniting us in danger and in the opportunity to change.

The Russell-Einstein Manifesto concluded: “There lies before us, if we choose, continual progress in happiness, knowledge, and wisdom.  Shall we, instead choose death because we cannot forget our quarrels?  We appeal as human beings to human beings: Remember your humanity, and forget the rest.  If you can do so, the way lies open to a new Paradise; if you cannot, there lies before you the risk of universal death.”

Nuclear Age Peace Foundation

The organization that I founded and where I have served as president for the past 30 years is called the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation.  The name means that peace is an imperative of the Nuclear Age.  I hope that we are carrying on in the tradition of Russell and Einstein.  Our mission is “to educate and advocate for peace and a world free of nuclear weapons and to empower peace leaders.”

We are motivated in our efforts by the spirit of Hiroshima and its hibakusha. In Santa Barbara, we have created a peace garden named for Sadako Sasaki.  Each year on or around Hiroshima Day we hold a ceremony of remembrance with music, poetry and reflections in this beautiful and tranquil garden.  Sadako’s paper cranes have indeed flown all over the world.

Each year we give a Distinguished Peace Leadership Award to an outstanding peace leader.  Recipients have included the Dalai Lama, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Mairead Maguire, Jody Williams and Dr. Helen Caldicott.  Two years ago, our award was presented to Mayor Akiba and, at the same time, we presented a World Citizen Award to Shigeko Sasamori on behalf of all hibakusha of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty

Article VI of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) requires the parties to the treaty to pursue negotiations in good faith for a cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date, for nuclear disarmament, and for a treaty on general and complete disarmament.  Such negotiations have not taken place.  The International Court of Justice in interpreting the treaty stated, “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.”  This obligation has existed since the NPT entered into force in 1970.  For 43 years, this obligation has been largely ignored by the five nuclear weapon states that are parties to the treaty (US, Russia, UK, France and China).  In addition, the negotiations have been ignored by three states not parties to the treaty that have developed nuclear arsenals (Israel, India and Pakistan), and by North Korea, which withdrew from the Non-Proliferation Treaty and also developed and tested nuclear weapons.

Each day the nuclear weapon states act illegally under international law by failing to fulfill their obligations to engage in good faith negotiations for nuclear disarmament and to bring these negotiations to a conclusion.  In addition to acting illegally, they are behaving in a way that threatens the human future.  Their inaction is intolerable and unworthy of the responsibility they have accepted.

I was recently in Geneva at the Second Preparatory Meeting of the parties for the 2015 NPT Review Conference.  I found the conference to be notable for five reasons:

First, there was virtually no progress on the nuclear disarmament goal of the treaty.

Second, there was enthusiasm among the non-nuclear weapons states that carried over from the Oslo conference on the humanitarian consequences of nuclear war.  In relation to this, 80 countries signed on to a Joint Statement introduced by South Africa to underline the severe humanitarian consequences of nuclear war and to call for a ban on nuclear weapons.  Unfortunately, Japan was not one of these 80 countries.  This statement said in part, “The only way to guarantee that nuclear weapons will never be used again is through their total elimination.”  I think this is a statement that would resonate with the hibakusha of Hiroshima.  Nonetheless, the Japanese government continues to support US nuclear policy rather than the reasonable aspirations of the hibakusha for significant progress toward a world without nuclear weapons.  The Japanese government needs to bring its policies in line with the spirit of the hibakusha.

Third, the failure to hold a conference, as promised, on the establishment of a Weapons of Mass Destruction-Free Zone in the Middle East became a point of serious contention.  The Egyptian Ambassador to Geneva, Hisham Badr, walked out of the conference expressing disappointment with the failure of the parties to the Non-Proliferation Treaty to convene the conference, which had been scheduled to be held in Finland in December 2012.  He stated, “Egypt and many Arab countries have joined the NPT with the understanding that this would lead to a Middle East completely free of nuclear weapons.  However, more than 30 years later one country in the Middle East, namely Israel, remains outside the NPT.”  The Secretary-General of the Agency for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in Latin America and the Caribbean (OPANAL), described the postponement of the conference, along with the lack of progress on nuclear disarmament, as “alarming factors.”  She called for replacing “nuclear deterrence doctrines with more effective measures, with truly safe measures for humanity as a whole.”

Fourth, the US and Russia were busy patting themselves on their respective backs for their 2010 New START agreement to reduce the number of their deployed strategic nuclear weapons to 1,550 on each side by 2018.  However, when asked whether their new relationship made possible a pledge of No First Use of nuclear weapons, both countries had little to say.

Fifth, despite claims to the contrary, all of the NPT nuclear weapon states continue to be engaged in modernizing their respective nuclear forces.  The US, for example, said in its Working Paper for the conference, “On modernization, the 2010 Nuclear Posture Review made clear that the United States will not develop new nuclear warheads nor will its Life Extension Programs support new military missions or provide new military capabilities.”  However, the US is planning to spend upwards of $10 billion for upgrading its B61 gravity bombs that are now stockpiled in Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Italy and Turkey and giving them new tailfins that will turn them into guided weapons.

East Asia

The situation in East Asia remains dangerous.  North Korea joined the nuclear weapons “club” in 2006.  Other nuclear weapon states active in the region are the US, Russia and China.  Japan, although not a nuclear weapon state, has enough reprocessed plutonium to become a nuclear-armed state within months and to make a few thousand nuclear weapons in a relatively short time.  While Japan has consistently said that it will not do this, it must be viewed as a virtual nuclear weapon state.  At the same time, Japan has placed itself under the nuclear umbrella of the United States and has tended to support US nuclear policy in international forums.  Japan’s dependence upon the US for nuclear deterrence seems likely to be the reason that Japan has been supportive of US nuclear policy and has not been more supportive of the position of the hibakusha of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Most Americans are not attentive to the position of the Japanese government on nuclear issues.  However, US leaders view Japan as an important element in its security plan for East Asia.  Because Japan is a close ally of the US, Japan could potentially assert an influence over US nuclear policy if Japan were to support the position of the hibakusha, take a strong stand for nuclear weapons abolition, and step out from under the US nuclear umbrella.  It would have to do so while at the same time assuring the world that it would continue its policy of renouncing war and not itself developing a nuclear arsenal.  Japan would be the most appropriate country to lead the world, including the US, toward good faith negotiations for nuclear disarmament.  In doing so, it would be keeping faith with international law as well as with the hibakusha.

A Time for Boldness

The nuclear weapon states have put off their obligations to negotiate in good faith for nuclear disarmament for too long.  They have proven that they are not serious about fulfilling their obligations under international law.  The non-nuclear weapon states have warned of the dangers of continuing with the status quo, but to no avail.  Meek warnings have not been sufficient and are no longer acceptable.  It is a time for boldness and an assertion of hope that change is possible.

There have been no good faith negotiations for nuclear disarmament – only excuses.  Enough is enough.  It is time for action to end the nuclear weapons threat to humanity – action reflecting that nuclear deterrence is a hypothesis about human behavior rather than a reliable defense.  It is not a defense at all.

Action is needed that ends the two-tier structure of nuclear haves and have-nots.  The Non-Proliferation Treaty calls for leveling the playing field by eliminating all existing nuclear weapons.  If the nuclear weapon states fail to fulfill their obligations, the playing field may well be leveled in the wrong direction by the widespread proliferation of nuclear weapons.

Examples of Bold 

One possibility would be a boycott of the 2015 Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference if the nuclear weapon states have not yet begun to fulfill their obligations for good faith negotiations for nuclear disarmament called for in Article VI of the Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Another possibility would be for countries to set a deadline for withdrawal from the Non-Proliferation Treaty if sufficient progress toward nuclear disarmament obligations is not achieved.

Still another bold move would be for non-nuclear weapon states to begin negotiating among themselves for a Nuclear Weapons Convention for the phased, verifiable, irreversible and transparent elimination of nuclear weapons – and call upon the nuclear weapons states to join them.  This is the call of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), and I strongly endorse it.


Despair is a recipe for giving up, while hope keeps us energized to achieve what may seem like impossible goals.  Hope is a choice.  It keeps us going to achieve what is necessary.  Nuclear weapons have had their day, and it has been a dangerous and destructive day.  That day is over, both because these weapons are inequitable and because they are cruel and indiscriminating as between civilians and combatants.  They are 20th century dinosaurs.

Hope is related to boldness.  It gives us the power to think in a new way, to speak truth to power, and to act resolutely, as the circumstances require.


Over the years, the US and Russia relied upon a strategy of Mutual Assured Destruction with the acronym MAD (meaning crazy).  Now, it has become clear that with the use of nuclear arsenals there is also the possibility of Self-Assured Destruction with the acronym SAD.  It is Self-Assured Destruction because the attacking side, even without retaliation from the other side, may destroy its own side due to nuclear famine and nuclear winter.  But SAD has another meaning as well.  It can also stand for Stupid Arrogant Denial.  This may be said of leaders and countries that do not take seriously their obligations for nuclear abolition.

Our greatest challenge now is to move from MAD and SAD (in both its meanings) to PASS, which stands for Planetary Assured Security and Survival.  This is the path that the hibakusha have walked and they have led the way in making Hiroshima a city of hope.  Now, it is up to us to join the hibakusha in carrying forward the torch of truth that will end the nuclear weapons era.  Our task is to assure human survival and that of other creatures on the only planet we know of in our vast universe that supports the miracle of life. This remains the greatest challenge of our time.

It is a noble challenge and an urgent one.  It demands our best efforts.  We must act as though the very future depended upon our compassion, commitment and courage.  It does.  Let us follow the path of the hibakusha.  I will end with a final poem.

Hibakusha Do Not Just Happen
For every hibakusha
there is a pilot
for every hibakusha
there is a planner
for every hibakusha
there is a bombardier
for every hibakusha
there is a bomb designer
for every hibakusha
there is a missile maker
for every hibakusha
there is a missileer
for every hibakusha
there is a targeter
for every hibakusha
there is a commander
for every hibakusha
there is a button pusher
for every hibakusha
many must contribute
for every hibakusha
many must obey
for every hibakusha
many must be silent

We must respect and honor the existing hibakusha with our voices and our acts of peace.  The best way we can do this is by assuring that no new hibakusha are created.  The best way we can do this is by achieving a world free of nuclear weapons.

David Krieger is President of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation.