This speech was delivered by David Krieger to the 4th Nagasaki Global Citizens’ Assembly for the Elimination of Nuclear Weapons on February 6, 2010.

It is a great pleasure to be again in Nagasaki.  Thank you all for welcoming us so warmly to your beautiful city.  I have always been struck by the chance nature of the bombing of Nagasaki.  The target of the bomb that fateful day was another city, Kokura, but clouds prevented the bombing of that city.  If it hadn’t been for those clouds, Nagasaki might never have been bombed.  If there had not been a break in the clouds over Nagasaki, the city might never have been bombed.  Something as ordinary as clouds can change our lives in profound ways.  But so can our actions to build a world of peace and to eliminate nuclear weapons from our planet.  

Over the years I have written a number of poems about Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  I would like to share one of these, entitled Echoes in the Sky.  It begins with a quote by the former mayor of Nagasaki, Iccho Itoh.


Today the bells of Nagasaki echo in the sky…
— Mayor Iccho Itoh

The sky, bitter, blue, unyielding, holds promise.  The city, so welcoming,
deserved far better.  Clouds opened making space for devastation.  Before
anyone expected, the flowers returned.  Memories are painful, sometimes
unbearable.  Words of apology never came.  Survivors grow old and feeble. 
Generations pass.  The air above the sea is thick with sorrow.  The bells ring
out for peace, echo in the sky.

This is the first time I have been in Nagasaki since the tragic death of Mayor Itoh. I remember him vividly as a man of great charm and warmth.  He had a deep commitment to ending the nuclear weapons era and to assuring that Nagasaki’s past does not become any other city’s future.  Many of us throughout the world feel a debt of gratitude for the leadership he provided on this most critical issue of our time.

Nagasaki is a city at once magical and poetic.  From the ashes of atomic devastation nearly 65 years ago, Nagasaki has arisen to become a leading global city in the movement for a world free of nuclear threat.  These Citizens’ Assemblies are models of engagement to involve ordinary citizens in the task of abolishing nuclear weapons.  The bells of Nagasaki echo in the sky’s embrace.  These bells send forth a call to people everywhere to awaken to the spirit of peace, to global cooperation and the transformative powers of forgiveness and love.  Nagasaki has always been an entry point for foreigners into Japan.  It has also been a gateway outward to the world, and your message is one that is critical for the world to hear.  

I have worked for nuclear disarmament for four decades, and have done so with the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation since its founding in 1982.  Our first and most important goal at the Foundation is the abolition of nuclear weapons.  We also seek to strengthen international law and to empower new generations of peace leaders.  These goals go together hand-in-hand.  We will not achieve abolition without strengthening international law and empowering new generations of peace leaders.  So we need to be firm in our demands for the total abolition of these monstrous weapons in accord with international law, and new generations of peace leaders must join in this demand and stand with us shoulder-to-shoulder.  We need to educate and mentor young leaders to carry forward this struggle until the last nuclear weapon is dismantled and destroyed.  

I would like to talk to you about Omnicide and Abolition.  Omnicide is a term coined by the philosopher John Somerville.  It is an extension of the concepts of suicide and genocide.  It means the destruction of all, of everything.  Nuclear weapons have the potential for omnicide.  They could destroy everything — civilization, the human species, other forms of life, art, music, memory, poetry, literature, the past, the future.   Anything you can imagine can be destroyed by nuclear weapons, even imagination itself.  How clever we humans are.  We are a tool-creating species, and we have created tools with which we are capable of annihilating ourselves and other forms of life.  This should be a frightening thought to all of us.  

There is no doubt that the number of nuclear weapons on our planet is sufficient to end human life.  What can justify this risk?  Is it not insane to continue to run this risk?  Why does this seem to be something that our political leaders cannot see?  Where is the leadership for change?  

One ray of hope is Barack Obama assuming the presidency of the United States.  He seeks “the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons.”  But he tells us that he is not naive, and that this is not likely to be achieved in his lifetime.  He tells us we must be patient.  But if he knew that patience might make nuclear proliferation more likely and lead to further nuclear catastrophes, would he not instill his goal with a greater sense of urgency?

Another ray of hope is UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who has called for all parties to the Non-Proliferation Treaty “to pursue negotiations in good faith – as required by the treaty – on nuclear disarmament either through a new convention or through a series of mutually reinforcing instruments backed by a credible system of verification.”  This is important leadership coming from the top international civil servant.

Our task as global citizens is to become a strong enough voice that leaders seeking abolition, like President Obama and Ban Ki-moon, will feel a solid base of support behind them, providing them with the strength to seek to end the nuclear weapons threat to humanity with a sense of urgency.    

We have our work cut out for us.  There is no doubt it will be difficult to achieve our goal.  We face powerful forces.  We must make our demands heard.  As the 19th century anti-slavery abolitionist, Frederick Douglass, said: “Power concedes nothing without a demand.  It never has and it never will.”  

We must encourage President Obama to act with greater urgency, but we must also encourage Kim Jong-Il to come to the negotiating table, give up his nuclear weapons in exchange for security assurances and development assistance, and join a Northeast Asia Nuclear Weapons-Free Zone.  We must also bring the spirit of the hibakusha to the negotiating table.  If we can do this, we can use the transforming powers of forgiveness and love to infuse the negotiations with a new energy reflective of the changed “modes of thinking” that Albert Einstein saw as essential to avert “unparalleled catastrophe.”  

The hibakusha of Hiroshima and Nagasaki have given testimony to enough pain and suffering for many lifetimes.  Let their voices echo in the sky and throughout the Earth.  I would ask you to take five actions from this Citizens’ Assembly.  

First, invite President Obama and other world leaders to visit your city.  Help them to see at first hand the nature of the nuclear power of annihilation and compare that to the transformative powers of forgiveness and love.  

Second, send a strong delegation of hibakusha to the 2010 Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference and lobby each of the delegates to the conference, encouraging them to approach the elimination of nuclear weapons with a sense of urgency.  

Third, send delegations of hibakusha throughout the world to tell their stories to young people, to share with them the Appeal that will come from this Assembly, and to encourage their leadership in the struggle for a world without nuclear weapons.

Fourth, lobby the Japanese government to step out from under the US nuclear umbrella and to end its reliance on extended nuclear deterrence.  

Fifth, continue to lobby for a Nobel Peace Prize for the hibakusha of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  President Obama received the prize for what he might do; the hibakusha deserve the prize for what they have done in powerfully spreading the message, “Never again!”  

Now I would like to focus on the 2010 Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference, which will take place in May.  In their deliberations, states parties to the conference should bear in mind the following in seeking a comprehensive solution to the threat of nuclear weapons rather than narrow advantage:

  • Nuclear weapons continue to present a real and present danger to humanity and other life on Earth.
  • Basing the security of one’s country on the threat to kill tens of millions of innocent people, perhaps billions, and risking the destruction of civilization, has no moral justification and deserves the strongest condemnation.
  • It will not be possible to prevent proliferation of nuclear weapons without fulfilling existing legal obligations for total nuclear disarmament.  
  • Preventing nuclear proliferation and achieving nuclear disarmament will both be made far more difficult, if not impossible, by expanding nuclear energy facilities throughout the world.  
  • Putting the world on track for eliminating the existential threat posed by nuclear weapons will require new ways of thinking about this overarching danger to present and future generations.  

The Nuclear Age Peace Foundation supports the following five priority actions for agreement at the 2010 NPT Review Conference:

  1. Each signatory nuclear weapon state should provide an accurate public accounting of its nuclear arsenal, conduct a public environmental and human assessment of its potential use, and devise and make public a roadmap for going to zero nuclear weapons.
  2. All signatory nuclear weapon states should reduce the role of nuclear weapons in their security policies by taking all nuclear forces off high-alert status, pledging No First Use of nuclear weapons against other nuclear weapon states and No Use against non-nuclear weapon states.
  3. All enriched uranium and reprocessed plutonium – military and civilian – and their production facilities (including all uranium enrichment and plutonium separation technology) should be placed under strict and effective international safeguards.
  4. All signatory states should review Article IV of the NPT, promoting the “inalienable right” to nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, in light of the nuclear proliferation problems posed by nuclear electricity generation.
  5. All signatory states should comply with Article VI of the NPT, reinforced and clarified by the 1996 World Court Advisory Opinion, by commencing negotiations in good faith on a Nuclear Weapons Convention for the phased, verifiable, irreversible and transparent elimination of nuclear weapons, and complete these negotiations by the year 2015.

The most important action by the NPT Review Conference would be an agreement to commence good faith negotiations for a Nuclear Weapons Convention.  Such an agreement would demonstrate the needed political will among the world’s countries to move forward toward a world without nuclear weapons.  If the United States fails to lead in convening these negotiations, I would urge Japan to do so.  Regardless of which countries provide the leadership, however, I would propose that the opening session of these negotiations be held in Hiroshima, the first city to have suffered nuclear devastation, and the final session of these negotiations be held in Nagasaki, the second and, hopefully, last city to have suffered atomic devastation.

If agreement could be reached to begin these negotiations for a new treaty, a Nuclear Weapons Convention, we would be on a serious path toward a nuclear weapons-free world, one that would allow the hibakusha of Hiroshima and Nagasaki to know that their pleas have been heard.

I would like to conclude by sharing another poem, “The Bells of Nagasaki.”


The bells of Nagasaki
ring for those who suffered
and those who suffer still.

They draw old women to them
and young couples
with love-glazed eyes.

They draw in small children
walking awkwardly
toward the epicenter.

The Bells of Nagasaki,
elusive as a flowing stream,
ring for each of us, ring
like falling leaves.

Thank you, and let’s make sure that the echoes of the Nagasaki bells are heard throughout the world.  Never lose hope, and never give up the struggle for a safer and saner world, free of all nuclear weapons.