NAPF President David Krieger delivered this speech at Soka University of America on November 16, 2013.
I’m very pleased to be back at Soka University of America. I have high respect for educational institutions, such as yours, that promote world citizenship. I’ve also witnessed the outstanding efforts that have been made in the past by the youth of Soka Gakkai International.
A Journey of Hope
In 1997, I spoke in Tokyo to an international group of Soka Gakkai youth. In doing so, I told them about an Abolition 2000 International Petition to Abolish Nuclear Weapons. The petition called for ending the nuclear weapons threat by, for example, de-alerting nuclear arsenals; signing an international treaty by the year 2000 to eliminate nuclear weapons within a time-bound framework; and reallocating resources from military purposes to assuring a sustainable future.
A few days after my talk to the Soka Gakkai youth, I was told that, led by the youth of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, these young people and their friends were determined to gather one million signatures on the Abolition 2000 Petition. I thought this was a large and ambitious number and was very happy that they had made this commitment. By the time they were finished, though, they had vastly exceeded their initial goal, gathering over 13 million signatures in a matter of only a few months.
On that trip to Japan, I had the pleasure of meeting Soka Gakkai International President Daisaku Ikeda in Yokohama. It was a memorable meeting, as we watched together a most impressive cultural festival with performers from many countries. The next year I was invited back to Japan to symbolically accept the 13 million signatures for transmittal to the United Nations. On that trip, I visited Tokyo, Hiroshima, Nagasaki and Okinawa. I had the chance to personally thank the young people who had participated in the signature-gathering campaign. I called my trip through Japan a “Journey of Hope,” hope because of the diligent efforts and promising action of young people.
At the end of that trip, when meeting with President Ikeda in Okinawa, we decided to do a dialogue on choosing hope. The dialogue took over a year to complete. It was published in Japanese in the year 2000, and two years later in English with the title, Choose Hope, Your Role in Waging Peace in the Nuclear Age. In that dialogue, President Ikeda and I exchanged ideas about peace, nuclear weapons and hope. Among the areas of our agreement are the following:
Peace is an imperative of the Nuclear Age. The creation, possession, modernization, testing, proliferation, threat and possible use of nuclear weapons make peace essential. Nuclear weapons have the potential to destroy civilization and end complex life on Earth, including human life.
Nuclear weapons are an absolute evil and must be abolished. This conclusion builds on the 1957 Declaration of Josei Toda, the second president of Soka Gakkai. Nuclear weapons kill indiscriminately. They are illegal and immoral. Their effects cannot be contained in time or space. They threaten the human future.
Peace must be pursued actively. It must be waged with a similar intensity, commitment and courage as the waging of war. The nonviolence of peace does not imply passivity.
To achieve peace and abolish nuclear weapons, young people must lead the way. Today’s youth are the future of humanity. If they desire peace and a future free of nuclear threat, they must stand up, speak out and demand peaceful solutions to conflict and the abolition of nuclear weapons.
Choosing hope is critical to any great goal, including the abolition of nuclear weapons. We all have a choice. We can choose hope or allow ourselves to fall into despair. Hope gives rise to action, and action reinforces hope. The opposite of hope is despair, which gives rise to inaction. Thus, we encourage all people, and particularly young people, to choose hope and act upon it.
There are three important C’s: compassion, commitment and courage. Meaningful change in our world requires individuals who live lives of compassion, commitment and courage.
One must never give up. All difficult goals require perseverance. Giving up on peace, nuclear weapons abolition, or any difficult goal is not an option if we want to create a more decent and loving world.
To achieve the goal of a nuclear weapons-free world will require all of the above and more. It will also require: understanding what nuclear weapons really are and the danger they pose to humanity; delegitimizing nuclear weapons for all countries of the world with no exceptions; recognizing the important role of the survivors of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the hibakusha; and developing a new universal ethic for the 21st century.
Understanding What Nuclear Weapons Really Are: Nukes Are Nuts
They are not ordinary weapons of war. They are insanely powerful devices of mass annihilation. They cannot distinguish between civilians and combatants, making them both immoral and illegal. Further, they do not protect their possessors; they only make possible mass murder of innocent people. Nuclear weapons are the ultimate suicide note to the planet. They are uncivilized tools of vengeance that have no place in a civilized world. Nukes are nuts.
Delegitimizing Nuclear Weapons
Political and military leaders of some countries believe that nuclear weapons have legitimate military purposes. They are short-sighted and mistaken. Weapons of mass annihilation can have no legitimacy. A simple test is this: If nuclear weapons are legitimate for one country, why shouldn’t they be considered legitimate for all countries? The same leaders who advocate legitimacy of these weapons for their own countries would be horrified at the prospect of doing the same for all countries.
Importance of Hibakusha
No group of people can reach the hearts of their fellow humans and make clearer what these weapons really are than the hibakusha, the survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. That is why their words and their pleas are so important. They have lived with the pain of those fateful and deadly bombings. They have sounded the warning. Because hibakusha are growing older and becoming fewer, their message to the world, and particularly to young people, is even more precious and comes with a greater sense of urgency. I urge young people to reach out to hibakusha, learn from them, and help in conveying their message to the world; make their understanding about the need to abolish nuclear weapons also your own message to the world.
Nuclear weapons endanger all of us. In the crisis of shared danger, comes the opportunity for shared action to overcome that danger. The hibakusha and civil society organizations are helping to lead the way out of the Nuclear Age. They are leading, but the leaders of the nuclear weapons states are not yet demonstrating the political will to follow or to lead themselves.
New Universal Ethic
Nuclear weapons could render the planet uninhabitable for humans and other complex forms of life, but the planet itself would survive the worst we could do. It is not the planet that is endangered; it is we humans.
I believe we humans need a new ethic to see us safely through and out of the Nuclear Age. For me, this new universal ethic would have the following elements:
Reverence for life. This is the central philosophy of Albert Schweitzer. It requires us to care for our fellow humans and for all creatures. We must be kind and good stewards of the planet.
Earth citizenship. We owe our allegiance to the Earth and to people everywhere. Our problems are global and our solutions must be global as well.
Universal human rights, including the sacred right to peace. All humans are entitled by virtue of being human to the basic rights set forth in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. As the United Nations has declared, there is also a sacred right to peace.
Universal human responsibilities. With rights come responsibilities, including each generation’s responsibility to pass the planet on intact to new generations.
Nuclear weapons are incompatible with these ethical foundations. As the ultimate mass killing device, they are the antithesis of reverence for life. They divide countries and their inhabitants into nuclear haves and have-nots. They are an assault on human rights and life itself, and their possession and threat of use are a violation of our responsibilities to humankind as a whole and to future generations.
In 1945 the first nuclear weapon was tested by the United States. Within a few weeks the US then used two nuclear weapons on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, destroying those cities and killing and injuring their inhabitants. This was followed by a nuclear arms race, which reached its peak by 1986 with 70,000 nuclear weapons on the planet. Since then, the numbers have declined significantly, and today there are just over 17,000 nuclear weapons in the world, mostly in the arsenals of the US and Russia. This is still far too many, since one nuclear weapon can destroy a city and only 100 nuclear weapons used in a regional war between India and Pakistan could cause a Nuclear Famine leading to two billion deaths worldwide. The only number of nuclear weapons on the planet that makes sense is Zero. Our urgent goal must be a safe passage from where we are to Nuclear Zero.
On the path to Nuclear Zero, I would encourage bold actions to engage the nuclear-addicted states (those with nuclear weapons) and the nuclear-dependent states (those that rely upon the nuclear umbrella of nuclear-addicted states). The concerned citizens of these states, along with the citizens of the nuclear-free states, must form a bond to push for change. The status quo is no longer acceptable. The sense of urgency and the speed of change toward Nuclear Zero must intensify for the common good.
A Summit of Youth
I believe it must be young people, following in the moral footsteps of the hibakusha, who must lead the way. How are you to do it? I can only point you in the direction that you need to travel. You must forge a new path, one not yet cleared in the Nuclear Age. The path must be forged in the belief that nuclear weapons are an absolute evil and in the spirit of waging peace. It must be traveled boldly and with the confidence that the future belongs to those who follow their dreams for a better tomorrow.
I strongly support Daisaku Ikeda’s proposal for a Nuclear Abolition Summit in Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 2015. It is a bold and hopeful proposal. If the nuclear weapon states (the nuclear-addicted states) and the nuclear-dependent states won’t participate, though, I suggest making it a Summit of Youth from around the world to come together to join forces for a world free of nuclear weapons. Invite the non-nuclear weapons states (the nuclear-free states) to come to the Summit to initiate negotiations for a Nuclear Weapons Convention for the phased, verifiable, irreversible and transparent elimination of nuclear weapons.
Let’s get to work banning nuclear weapons, with or without the nuclear weapon states. They cannot hold out indefinitely when confronted with the energy and passion of the youth of the world. One thing that seems certain to me is that the youth of the world are a more powerful force than even the most powerful nuclear warheads. Let the young people of Nagasaki and Hiroshima lead the way, starting with a Youth Nuclear Abolition Summit in 2015.
Our Best Hope
Our best hope for the human future is to unite in our support of the abolition of nuclear weapons. National security must give way to planetary security through the acts of individuals joining together with compassion, commitment and courage. To these we can add two more C’s – creativity and cooperation. We need to awaken from our slumber and be the noble people we are capable of being. We need leadership from the survivors of the atomic bombings and from the youth of Nagasaki and Hiroshima who support them. We actually need leadership from all youth of all countries. When nuclear weapons are abolished, it will be time for a new “C” – celebration. We can celebrate our gift to ourselves and to the future of humankind.
Why Work to Abolish Nuclear Weapons
I will conclude with 12 reasons for working to abolish nuclear weapons.
We can change the world in important and necessary ways.
We can take a giant step forward for humankind.
We can join with others in demonstrating good stewardship of the planet.
We can take control of our most dangerous technology.
We can help shape a more decent common future.
We can end the threat of omnicide posed by nuclear weapons.
We can uphold international law for the common benefit.
We can lead the way toward ending war as a human institution.
We can meet the greatest challenge confronting our species.
We can put compassion into action and action into compassion.
We can help to protect everything in life that we love and treasure.
We can pass on a more secure world to our children and grandchildren and all future generations.
David Krieger is President of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation.