I am very happy to be here with you. I want to thank the organizers of this conference and the members of the Youth Peace Conference.
I feel a great sense of hopefulness in this room, coming from your hearts. I know you have accomplished great things in the past and I know of your commitment to continue to meet the challenges that confront humanity.
I hold your president, Daisaku Ikeda, in the highest regard, and consider him to be one of the true world citizens and peace leaders of our time. It was my great privilege last year to present him with our Foundation’s World Citizen Award. It was also my privilege to engage in a dialogue with him, which was published this year on August 6th under the title, Choose Hope.
In our dialogue we discussed the route to achieving a world free of nuclear weapons and a world at peace. We also looked at the role of education, literature and poetry in shaping our lives. There was nothing we agreed upon more strongly than the importance of hope and of youth in shaping our common future. We share the belief that it is indeed possible to shape a peaceful future, and that youth must help lead the way.
The title for this talk was chosen in the aftermath of the September 11th terrorist attacks in New York and Washington. Those attacks were meticulously planned. They were attacks against symbols of US economic and military power, but they were far more than symbolic. They took some 3,000 to 4,000 innocent lives. The intentional taking of innocent lives is a mark of darkness on our planet.
Each life is a miracle. Each of us is a miracle. We cannot explain by logic or experience where we come from before birth or where we go after death. We have no way to comprehend the mystery of life or the mystery of our universe. We can only appreciate that we exist on this Earth at this time in this vast and expanding universe, and try to use our precious lives for good purposes.
As shocking as terrorism may be, it is far from our only problem or even our major problem. We still live in a world in which some 30,000 children die daily from starvation and preventable diseases.
We live in a world in which the richest 20 percent control 80 percent of the resources. Some 450 billionaires have combined incomes equal to over half of the world’s population. While some on our planet live in lavish abundance with every material advantage imaginable, others live in abject poverty, lacking even the basic resources needed to survive.
The world spends some $750 billion annually on military forces and weapons, while for a fraction of this amount everyone on the planet could have clean water, adequate food, health care, education, shelter and clothing.
There are some 30 to 40 wars going on at any given time. Injustice, disparity and old and new hatreds give rise to these wars. The vast majority of the casualties are civilians. In these wars, some 300,000 child soldiers participate. These wars destroy the environment, the infrastructure in already poor countries, and produce new masses of refugees.
In many parts of the world, people suffer from massive human rights abuses. These abuses fall most heavily on women and children.
As a species, but particularly in the developed world, we are using up the resources of our planet at a prodigious rate. In doing so, we are robbing future generations of their ability to share in the use of these resources.
We are also polluting our land, air and water – our most precious resources that we need for survival – with chemical, biological and radiological poisons.
If all of this were not enough, we have developed and deployed tens of thousands of nuclear weapons capable of destroying humanity and most of life. Many people think that this problem has ended, but it has not. There are still more than 30,000 nuclear weapons in the world and some 4,500 of them are on hair-trigger alert.
We have reached a point where all of us should be concerned and responsive. Things could grow still worse, however. Nuclear, chemical or biological weapons in the hands of terrorists would multiply the dangers. Instead of buildings being destroyed, nuclear weapons could cause the destruction of whole cities. Imagine the damage that could be done if terrorists had nuclear weapons. This danger cannot be dismissed.
Humanity can no longer afford or tolerate the damage that hatred can cause. Nor can humanity afford or tolerate the suffering and premature death that has been the lot of the poor.
Far too many people on this Earth live in despair and hopelessness. These are afflictions of the soul that go beyond physical pain.
Others, who should know better, live in selfishness, ignorance and apathy. In many ways, these are even crueler afflictions of the soul. They are symptoms of the disease of selfishness of the Roman Emperor Nero, who fiddled while Rome burned.
It is not always easy to have hope in the face of darkness, but it is necessary. If we give up hope for bringing about change, we give away our power and diminish the possibilities for change.
Hope must be a conscious choice. There are always reasons for giving up and retreating into selfishness, ignorance and apathy. If you want hope, you must choose it. It will not necessarily choose you. The way to choose hope is by your actions to achieve a better world.
There are important reasons, though, to have hope.
The most important reason for me is the power of the human spirit. The human spirit is amazing. It is capable of achieving sublime beauty and overcoming tremendous obstacles. All greatness – in art, music, literature, science, engineering and peace – is a triumph of the human spirit. But the greatest triumph of the human spirit comes from choosing a compassionate goal and persisting in overcoming obstacles to achieve this goal. All worthy goals require persistence to achieve. They will not happen overnight.
We should celebrate the spirit of the hibakusha, the survivors of the atomic bombings. They are fighting for a better world, a world in which nuclear weapons will never again be used. They have been proposed to receive the Nobel Prize for Peace. I would strongly support their nomination for this recognition and high honor.
Miyoko Matsubara was a young girl when the bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. She has had a dozen or more surgeries and has suffered from breast cancer, but her spirit is indomitable. She learned English and has traveled throughout the United States and Europe to tell her story to young people in the hope that they will understand nuclear dangers and not suffer her fate. When I think of Miyoko, I think of her humble but determined spirit. She is a woman who has suffered and who bows deeply.
Sadako Sasaki was two years old when the bomb fell on Hiroshima. When she was 12 years old she suffered from leukemia as a result of her exposure to radiation, and was hospitalized. She folded paper cranes with the wish of being healthy again. She folded some two-thirds of the 1000 paper cranes that she hoped would make her wish come true. On one of these cranes she wrote, “I will write peace on your wings and you will fly all over the world.”
After Sadako died, her classmates finished folding the cranes. Today Sadako’s statue stands in Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park. The base of the statue is always covered in thick layers of folded cranes that have been placed there by children from throughout Japan and from throughout the world. Children all over the world know of Sadako’s story and her courage.
Nelson Mandela fought for the rights of his people and an end to apartheid in South Africa. The government of South Africa put him in prison, where he remained for 27 years. Despite his imprisonment, he was able to maintain his spirit and his hope. When he was finally released from prison, he became the first black president of his country. Instead of seeking vengeance, he presided over a peaceful transition of power in South Africa, appointing a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to offer pardons to all who confessed their misdeeds during the period of apartheid.
The first two presidents of Soka Gakkai went to prison rather than fight as soldiers in a war they thought was wrong. I admire their spirits. Mr. Makiguchi died in prison, and Mr. Toda came out to re-build this organization dedicated to applying Buddhist principles to social action. Mr. Toda left a lasting legacy to Soka Gakkai when he called nuclear weapons an “absolute evil,” and called upon the youth of Soka Gakkai to join in ending this evil.
You responded magnificently to this challenge when you gathered more than 13 million signatures on the Abolition 2000 International Petition calling for ending the nuclear threat, signing a treaty to eliminate nuclear weapons and reallocating resources from nuclear weapons to meeting human needs. This petition was presented to the United Nations, but much more needs to be done.
There are so many people whose lives reflect the best of the human spirit. Another is Hafsat Abiola, who was one of our Foundation’s honorees for our 2001 Distinguished Peace Leadership Award. Hafsat’s father was the first democratically elected president of Nigeria, but he was not able to serve even one day because he was imprisoned by the military. When Hafsat’s mother fought for democracy in her country and for her husband’s release from prison, she was assassinated. On the day before Hafsat’s father was to be released from prison, he, too, was killed.
Despite the pain of losing her parents, Hafsat is without bitterness or rancor. After graduating from Harvard University, she started an organization named for her mother, the Kudirat Initiative for Democracy (KIND). Hafsat works for democracy and for the rights of women and children throughout Africa.
One other example of the power of the human spirit is found in Nobel Peace Laureate Mairead Corrigan Maguire. Mairead was a young woman working as a secretary in Northern Ireland when disaster struck her family. Mairead’s sister and her sister’s three young children were hit by an out of control car when British forces shot an IRA getaway driver. Two of the children died and the pain was so great that Mairead’s sister later committed suicide.
Mairead debated what she should do. She considered taking up arms against the British, but she instead choose the course of non-violence. Mairead and another woman, Betty Williams, organized peace gatherings in Northern Ireland. They brought together hundreds of thousands of ordinary people calling for peace. The important thing for you to note is that Mairead herself was a very ordinary person, who became extraordinary because of her choices that reflected courage, compassion and commitment. Today she is the most active of the Nobel Peace Laureates, and often brings them together to speak and act on important peace issues.
A second reason for hope is that even improbable change does occur. Changes that no expert could predict sometimes occur with incredible speed. Relationships change and new possibilities for peace open up, such as occurred in US-China relations in the early 1970s. The Cold War ended after more than four decades of tension and conflict between East and West. This was symbolized by the fall of the Berlin Wall, which opened the way for a reunited Germany. Pieces of that wall with their graffiti are now souvenirs sold to tourists. I have such a small piece of the wall in my office. It reminds me that great barriers can come down.
Nelson Mandela went from being a prisoner of a repressive government to becoming president of South Africa. Similar stories mark the lives of Lech Walesa of Poland and Vaclav Havel of the Czech Republic. These changes are not predictable, and are usually the result of efforts that have been taking place over a long period of time by committed individuals, generally outside the glare of the media spotlight.
A third reason for hope is the Power of One. Individuals can and do make a difference in our world. The second person our Foundation honored with our 2001 Distinguished Peace Leadership Award was Craig Kielburger. Craig is 18 years old, but he is already an old hand at social change. What changed Craig’s life was reading about a 12-year-old Pakistani boy, Iqbal Masih, when Craig was himself only 12 years old. Iqbal had been sold into bonded labor as a carpet weaver and had been virtually a slave, chained to his carpet loom for 14 to 16 hours a day. Somehow he had been able to get free, and began speaking out against child labor. Iqbal was given the Reebok Human Rights Award, but when he returned to Pakistan he was murdered by the “Carpet mafia.”
Craig thought about Iqbal being the same age as he was. When Craig went to school that day, he told his friends about Iqbal and insisted that they do something to further the cause of children’s rights for which Iqbal had been fighting. That was the beginning of a new organization, Free the Children, founded by Craig Kielburger at the age of 12.
Today, six years later, Craig’s organization has grown to over 100,000 members. It is the largest organization of children helping children in the world. They have been responsible for freeing thousands of children from bonded labor, and they have built hundreds of schools in places where children were previously not able to obtain a basic education. Craig travels throughout the world to learn and to inspire young people to get involved and make a difference.
Let me review. Three important reasons to have hope are: the power of the human spirit; the fact that improbable change does occur; and the Power of One. The most important reason, though, is that hope is needed to change the world, and you cannot leave this job to others. Your hope and your help are needed.
The greatest enemies of change are selfishness, apathy and ignorance. These are the enemies of hope. I urge you to resist these at all costs.
Selfishness is a narrow way to live. It is about what you have, not what you do. Rich lives are not about the money we accumulate, but about the ways in which we interconnect and help others. The antidote to selfishness is compassion, built upon helping others.
Apathy is about not caring about others. It is a lack of interest and a failure to engage in trying to make a difference. The antidote to apathy is caring and commitment.
Ignorance in the midst of information is also about not caring – not caring enough to find out about the problems that confront us. I recently visited Sadako Peace Garden, the small garden that we created in Santa Barbara on the fiftieth anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima. Each year on August 6th we hold a commemoration at the garden for all who died and suffered in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
It is a very beautiful natural garden. It has many wonderful trees, but there is one immense and dramatic eucalyptus tree at one end of the garden that is called the Tree of Faith. The garden also has large rocks in which cranes have been carved.
In that garden, people sometimes leave folded paper cranes and short messages hanging from the oak trees. On the day I visited, I found this message: “There are many things here I do not know, the knowing of which could change everything.” What a powerful message. The antidote to ignorance is knowledge.
We must be seekers of knowledge, not for its own sake but to better understand our world so that we can engage in it and break our bonds of selfishness with a compassionate response to life. I don’t think this is asking too much of ourselves or each other. It is the essence of being human.
Don’t be constrained by national boundaries. Recognize the essential equality and dignity of every person on the planet. This is the basic starting point of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Don’t expect to change the world overnight. Change seldom occurs that way. Trees grow from seeds. They all begin small, and some grow large. Sometimes they become magnificent. Often they need care and nurturing. Most of what we do to achieve a better world will require patience and persistence.
I encourage you to plant seeds of peace by your engagement in issues of social justice, by your efforts to create a more decent world in which everyone can live with dignity.
I have with me a seed from the Tree of Faith in Sadako Peace Garden. It has within it all that is necessary to become a great magnificent tree, just as you have within you all that is needed to become a great human being and a leader for peace.
I want to conclude by asking you to take three specific actions.
First, take the pledge of Earth Citizenship: “I pledge allegiance to the Earth and to its varied life forms; one World, indivisible, with liberty, justice and dignity for all.” That is the world we need to create. I also want to encourage you to study two very important documents, The Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Earth Charter. Please be an active and responsible citizen of our planet. Nothing less will do.
Second, help to build schools in areas of great need. We have joined with Free the Children to raise funds to build schools in post-conflict areas, such as Chiapas, Mexico and Sierra Leone in Africa. For between $5,000 and $10,000 dollars a school can be built and a teacher provided for students who would otherwise not get a primary education. Free the Children has already built over 100 of these schools in poor countries. This is one of the best ways I can think of to make a difference in our world.
Third, make a commitment to work for a nuclear weapons free future. Recognize the essential truth that human beings and nuclear weapons cannot co-exist. Choose life and a human future. In the past you helped gather 13 million signatures on the Abolition 2000 International Petition. Today I’d like to ask you to do even more.
Work to make your school, your community, your nation and our world nuclear weapons free zones.
Organize letter writing and petition campaigns to the media and to government leaders.
Promote the idea of a Nobel Peace Prize for the hibakusha of Hiroshima and Nagasaki to bring global attention to their cry of “Never Again!”
Use the sunflower as the symbol of achieving a nuclear weapons-free world.
I urge you also to join us in also gathering support for the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation’s Appeal to End the Nuclear Weapons Threat to Humanity, and sending it to leaders of your country and other countries throughout the world. The Appeal, which has already been signed by some of the great peace leaders of our time, asks the leaders of the nuclear weapons states to take five critical actions for the benefit of all humanity. These are:
– De-alert all nuclear weapons and de-couple all nuclear warheads from their delivery vehicles. – Reaffirm commitments to the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty and ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. – Commence good faith negotiations to achieve a Nuclear Weapons Convention requiring the phased elimination of all nuclear weapons, with provisions for effective verification and enforcement. – Declare policies of No First Use of nuclear weapons against other nuclear weapons states and policies of No Use against non-nuclear weapons states. – Reallocate resources from the tens of billions of dollars currently being spent for maintaining nuclear arsenals to improving human health, education and welfare throughout the world. – Not one of these critical actions was even addressed by Presidents Bush and Putin at their summit in Crawford, Texas in November. Their pledge to unilaterally reduce their arsenals of strategic nuclear weapons to between 2,200 and 1,700 over a ten-year period is inadequate and represents their desire to continue to rely upon their nuclear arsenals. We must ask that these leaders take up again the issue of nuclear disarmament in a far more serious way when they meet again in Moscow next March. If they do not, they and we will face the risk that terrorists will be able to purchase, steal or develop nuclear weapons and destroy our cities.
I would encourage delegations of youth representatives to travel to Washington, Moscow, Tokyo and other key capitals to make the case for ending the nuclear weapons threat to humanity. We cannot rely upon the leaders of the nuclear weapons states to solve the problems themselves. They need the help and encouragement of all of us. This is part of our responsibility as citizens of planet Earth.
If serious progress on nuclear disarmament is not made soon, you will be inheriting the nuclear dangers that are left behind. Time is of the essence and we must approach nuclear disarmament now as if the future of civilization depended upon our success in convincing world leaders to adequately control and eliminate these weapons and the fissile materials needed to create them.
I hope that I have challenged you, particularly with the actions I have proposed. I have confidence that you will meet the challenge of being an active participant in creating a more just and decent future for humanity, a future you can be proud to pass on to your children and grandchildren.
I encourage you to choose hope and then never lose hope, even in the face of darkness. Your success in life will be something that only you can judge, but I believe the right criteria for you to use are compassion, commitment and courage. I hope that you will work to achieve a better world, and I know that you can and will make a difference.
*David Krieger is president of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation.