Acceptance speech for Alumnus of the Year award at Occidental College on June 14, 2008
Thank you. It’s great to be back at Oxy after these many years, and I am very honored to be recognized in this way. Being here brings back wonderful memories.
I’d like to begin by sharing a poem.
The one-hearted walk a lonely trail. They hold the dream of peace between the moon’s eclipse and the rising sun. They set down their weapons, carrying instead the spirits of their ancestors, a collection of smooth stones.
At night, they make fires, and watch the smoke rise into the starlit sky. They are warriors of hope, navigating oceans and crossing continents.
Their message is simple: Now is the time for peace. It always has been.
Since the Vietnam War, when I was a soldier by chance, not by choice, I have fought against militarism, against the needless slaughter of innocents in the false name of security, against the induction of young men, and now young women, into the military on the false premises of valor and necessity. I have fought for justice, for there can be no peace without justice, and I have fought for conscience, for conscience above all else makes us human, and no military machine has the right to dictate or suppress the conscience of any person.
During our lifetimes, our country has initiated aggressive war on far too many occasions, including the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, for which there has been no accountability. Even worse, if this is possible, our country and others have engaged in a mad nuclear arms race, preparing for omnicide, for the annihilation of all, in naïve reliance on the theory of deterrence. Even now, with the Cold War nearly two decades behind us, with no explanation but lethargy and inertia, leaders of the nuclear weapons states, and particularly leaders of the United States, continue to hold the world, including our own children and all future generations, hostage to the furious and untamed nuclear might we have created and unloosed upon the world.
There is no goal more worthy of our attention and action than that of ending the nuclear weapons threat to humanity. I have had the privilege of friendship with Joseph Rotblat, the only scientist to leave the Manhattan Project as a matter of conscience and the 1995 Nobel Peace Laureate. His great refrain until he died at the age of 96, echoed from the 1955 Russell-Einstein Manifesto, to which he was the youngest signer, was this: “Remember your humanity and forget the rest.”
I have had the privilege of knowing many hibakusha, survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, who have warned repeatedly that nuclear weapons and human beings cannot coexist. If we must choose, must we not choose humanity, the vitality of life, all the great accomplishments of the past and the future’s rich potential, over the raw, indecent and murderous power of nuclear arms?
What is it that breeds ignorance and apathy in our country, a country that claims to be the world’s greatest democracy? What is it in our makeup and education that allows us to remain complacent in the face of world-ending weapons of our own making? What is it that makes us celebrate our genius in creating the tools of our own demise? Are our imaginations too weak and our vision too blurred to understand the fate that awaits us if we do not control and eliminate this threat to our common future?
The Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, which I helped to found and have led for the past 26 years, works to abolish nuclear weapons, strengthen international law and empower a new generation of peace leaders. You can find out more at www.wagingpeace.org. I urge you to join us in this work to build a better future for humanity.
There is an Indian Proverb which states, “All of the flowers of all the tomorrows are in the seeds of today.” We must nurture, with all our human capacities, the seeds of peace and human dignity which have been tended so poorly for so long.
The time has come for new energy and leadership to end the nuclear weapons threat to humanity, to restore and maintain peace, to live up to the highest standards of human rights, and to repair America’s tattered image in the world. This is a moment of hope for our country and the world. Change is coming, if we choose it. Now is the time for the one-hearted: “Their message is simple: Now is the time for peace. It always has been.”
David Krieger is president of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation (www.wagingpeace.org). He was recognized on June 14, 2008 as the Occidental College Alumnus of the Year.