We are at the beginning of a new century and millennium. If there was ever a time for reflection, this should be it. In the spirit of Ernest Hemingway, who said that he always wrote about the truest things that he knew, I would like to make three points that I believe are true, obvious, and seriously under-appreciated.
First, the future matters. Life is not only for today. We are linked to all that has preceded us and to all that will follow. What we do today will affect the future. If we live only for ourselves, we cut off possibilities for the future. If we think only about ourselves, we will undoubtedly shortchange the future.
We cannot afford to leave decisions about the future to our political leaders. They are not wise enough. The system that puts them into positions of leadership is corrupted by money and power. Concern for the future is not the criteria of selection of our leaders.
If the future matters, we must live as though it matters. We must live with concern for those who will follow us on this Earth. We must be advocates for their rights. We must not plant landmines of destruction that will explode in the future.
We must live as if the future matters not only for our children and grandchildren and for all generations to follow us, but for ourselves as well. We have a responsibility to the future – I would say a sacred responsibility – to pass on a better world than we inherited to the next generation or, at a minimum, to pass the world on intact to the next generation. It is not assured that we will do this. In fact, unless we radically change our behavior, it is almost assured that we will not do so.
Second, nuclear weapons are an absolute evil. This is the truest thing that can be said about them. It was said by the president of the International Court of Justice when the court gave its advisory opinion on the illegality of nuclear weapons. These weapons are instruments of mass destruction. Their effects cannot be limited in time or space. The harm that they do goes on long after the explosions of the weapons. They affect the living and those yet to be born. They affect the genetic structure of life. They have the potential to destroy most of life on Earth, including the human species. These instruments of genocide are also illegal under international law because they cannot discriminate between civilians and combatants and they cause unnecessary suffering. The mere possession of nuclear weapons affects our souls.
To be silent in the face of evil is itself evil and also cowardly. In our own historical reckoning, we hold the Germans accountable for their silence in the face of the Nazi evil. Yet, we are unwilling to examine our own complicity with the evil of nuclear arms. This is an affront to the future. How do you imagine those of the future will judge us for our silence in the face of the evil of nuclear weapons?
We need to change our policy with regard to nuclear weapons. Rather than holding out the threat or use of these weapons as a cornerstone of our security, we should be leading the world toward their elimination. Anything less than this is an abdication of our responsibility to ourselves and to the future.
Third, life is a miracle. Each of us is a miracle. There is no other way to explain our existence. We don’t know where our lives come from or where we go when we die. Existence is a simple miracle, which we should appreciate more. How can we harm another miracle? How can we even threaten to harm another miracle? How can we tolerate policies of our government that threaten the wanton mass destruction of the miracle of life?
If we could live each day in the full understanding that life is a miracle, we would live differently. We would be more attentive and we would take less for granted. We would see more beauty and we would see greed for what it is. We would be more involved. We would care more. We would live as if the future mattered, and we would confront the evil of nuclear weapons more directly.
There has never before been a time in human history in which one species has had the ability to destroy all species. But this is the time, and we are the species. The question we face as we enter this new century and millennium is whether we can meet the unique challenge that confronts us: Can we come together to overcome nuclear arms, an evil of our own creation? This is a threshold challenge. If we can meet it, then we can go forward to meet the many other challenges confronting us of inequities, human rights abuses, overpopulation, environmental degradation, poverty, disease, managing our common heritage, and resolving our conflicts without violence.
*David Krieger is President of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation.