It is very special to be back in Nagasaki, a city dedicated to peace. In the Nuclear Age peace has become our most important challenge. Our task is to rise to that challenge. My hope is that each of you will become the peace leaders that our troubled world so badly needs.
Let me share with you a poem I wrote, which I believe describes, at least in part, the situation today.
War is Too Easy
If politicians had to fight the wars
they would find another way.
Peace is not easy, they say.
It is war that is too easy –
too easy to turn a profit, too easy
to believe there is no choice,
too easy to sacrifice
someone else’s children.
Someday it will not be this way.
Someday we will teach our children
that they must not kill,
that they must have the courage
to live peace, to stand firmly
for justice, to say no to war.
Until we teach our children peace,
each generation will have its wars,
will find its own ways
to believe in them.
War is Too Easy
If politicians had to fight the wars they would find another way. Peace is not easy, they say. It is war that is too easy – too easy to turn a profit, too easy to believe there is no choice, too easy to sacrifice someone else’s children. Someday it will not be this way. Someday we will teach our children that they must not kill, that they must have the courage to live peace, to stand firmly for justice, to say no to war. Until we teach our children peace, each generation will have its wars, will find its own ways to believe in them. As long as someone else’s children can be sacrificed on the altar of war, wars will continue. The US war in Iraq was not sanctioned by the United Nations and is outside the boundaries of international law. It was a war sold to the American people and the people of the world on the basis of the imminent threat of Iraq’s use of weapons of mass destruction, and yet no weapons of mass destruction have been found. Many more American soldiers have now died in Iraq since Mr. Bush announced the end of the major combat operations on May 1, 2003 than died in the so-called major combat phase of the war, and yet no weapons of mass destruction have been found. Thousands of innocent Iraqis have been killed and injured in the war, and perhaps tens of thousands of Iraqi soldiers. The web site Iraqbodycount.org, which provides information on reported civilian casualties, reports that some 7,900 to 9,700 Iraqi civilians have died in the war. That is some two-and-a-half to three times the number of innocent civilians that died in the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, and yet no weapons of mass destruction have been found in Iraq. Would you join me in a moment of silence for the innocent victims of this war and of all wars.
There is a Roman dictum, “If you want peace, prepare for war.” This has been diligently followed for over 2,000 years. It has always resulted in more war. We need a new dictum: “If you want peace, prepare for peace.” This is our challenge.
I’d like to share some ideas that I believe are important in a discussion about peace. These ideas can be organized using the letters that form the word “peace.”
The Nuclear Age began only 58 years ago, a mere nanosecond in geological time. Scientists tell us that the universe began 15 billion years ago, in the immensely distant past. We can conceive of the life of the universe as a 15,000 page book, with each page representing a million years. In this book, the “Big Bang” would occur on page one and then thousands of pages would represent the expansion of the universe and the creation of stars. The Earth would have been formed around page 10,500. The beginning of life on Earth, the first single-celled creatures, would have occurred on about page 11,000. And then over the next 4,000 pages, you could read about life developing. Only three pages from the end of this 15,000 page book would our human ancestors appear. It would not be until the last word on the last page of the book that human civilizations would appear. The Nuclear Age would fall in the period – the punctuation mark – of the last sentence of the last page of the history of the universe. So, in the development of the universe, of all that has preceded us in time and on this planet, the Nuclear Age is infinitesimally tiny, and yet it is incredibly important for it is the funnel through which we must pass to move into the future. For the first time in history, a species (homo sapiens) has developed technology capable of destroying itself and most of life on the planet. We need this perspective of our place in time and geological history to have a sense of how extraordinarily rare and precious we are.
We are all born as blank slates. We are unformed and uninformed. It is only by education that we develop our views and prejudices. It is only by education that we draw boundaries that include some and exclude others. Education shapes our view of the world. We can educate for peace or for war. We can educate to create critical thinkers or to create individuals who will charge into battle or support wars without thinking. Our education largely determines our willingness to fight in wars (or to send others to fight), or to fight for peace. At the outset of the Nuclear Age, Albert Einstein, the greatest scientist of the 20th century, observed, “The splitting of the atom has changed everything save our modes of thinking and thus we drift toward unparalleled catastrophe.” If we are to avoid this “unparalleled catastrophe,” which continues to hang over our heads, we must educate ourselves and in turn educate others about upholding human dignity for all and finding alternatives to violence. It is helpful in this sense to look to the lives of great peace heroes, such as Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., Nelson Mandela and Linus Pauling. Also among the great peace educators and leaders of our time is your president, Daisaku Ikeda. We must also educate for global citizenship, for the shared responsibility of passing on the planet and life on the planet intact to the next generation. Arundhati Roy, the great Indian writer and activist, has said this about nuclear weapons, whether or not they’re used: “They violate everything that is humane; they alter the meaning of life. Why do we tolerate them? Why do we tolerate the men who use nuclear weapons to blackmail the human race?” It is a question of education. These men and these weapons should not be tolerated.
We live in an amazingly beautiful world, and each of us is a miracle. Have you ever stopped to consider what a miracle you are? All the things that we take for granted are such miracles: that we can see this beautiful earth, its trees and streams and flowers; that we can hear songs, that we have voices to speak and sing; that we can communicate with each other; that we can form relationships and can love and cherish each other; that we can walk and breathe and do all the incredible things we take for granted. If we can learn to appreciate how miraculous we truly are, perhaps we can also appreciate that each of us is equally a miracle. How can one miracle wish to injure or kill another? The gift of life must be rooted in appreciation, which will give rise to compassion and empathy.
We all have a choice about what we do with our lives. We can devote our lives to accumulation of material things, which is culturally acceptable, or we can set our sights on fulfilling more compassionate goals aimed at building a peaceful world. The Earth Charter, a wonderful document that was created with input from people all over the world, begins with these words: “We stand at a critical moment in Earth’s history, a time when humanity must choose its future.” But humanity will not choose by a vote. The choice will be made by the individual choices of each of us. Each choice matters. The Earth Charter further states: “The choice is ours: form a global partnership to care for Earth and one another or risk the destruction of ourselves and the diversity of life.” In 1955, Albert Einstein and Bertrand Russell, a leading 20th century philosopher and social critic, issued a manifesto in which they concluded: “There lies before us, if we choose, continual progress in happiness, knowledge and wisdom. Shall we, instead, choose death, because we cannot forget our quarrels? We appeal as human beings to human beings: Remember your humanity, and forget the rest. If you can do so, the way lies open to a new Paradise; if you cannot, there lies before you the risk of universal death.” The two most powerful images that emerged from the 20th century were the mushroom cloud from a nuclear explosion and the view of Earth looking back from outer space. The mushroom cloud represents universal destruction, while the view of Earth from space represents the unique and solitary beauty of our planet, the only planet we know of that harbors life, in a vast, dark universe. These images represent polar opposite possibilities for humanity’s future. Which will we choose? We each have the power of choice.
We need to become personally involved in the issues of our time, and find our own ways to work for a peaceful future. Among the important ways in which we can engage are by speaking out and making our presence felt for a peaceful world. That means opposing policies of violence and war. It means standing up for the human dignity of everyone, everywhere. We must create a world that works for all and we must begin where we are, but our vision and our outreach must be global. We must ask more of our leaders, and we must demand better leaders. We ourselves must become the leaders who will change the world. The most important change has always come from below and from outside the power structure. We must become world citizens. This means citizens of a polity that does not yet exist. By our commitment and our vision we can create the structures and institutions that will give rise to a Federation of the Peoples of Earth. We must transform the United Nations into such a federation, and give life to the International Criminal Court, which will hold all leaders accountable for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. To fight for peace is to fight for life and the future of our species and our planet. Our engagement and our endurance are essential to our human survival.
My Hope for You
My hope for you is that you will choose peace in all of its dimensions. I believe that the place to begin is by choosing hope. It is your belief that you can make a difference that will allow you to make a difference. Put aside despair, apathy, complacency and ignorance, and simply choose hope. It is the first step on the path to peace. Saint Augustine said, “Hope has two beautiful daughters: anger and courage; anger at the way things are, and courage to change them.” There is nothing wrong with anger against injustice and you will certainly need courage to be a non-violent warrior for peace. You, the youth of Kyushu, and particularly of Nagasaki, have special responsibilities to fight for a nuclear weapons free world and to assure that no other city ever suffers the fate that this city suffered on August 9, 1945. You must go forth from Nagasaki and take the message of the hibakusha to the world: “Human beings and nuclear weapons cannot co-exist.” Today I visited the powerful peace statue, a symbol of Nagasaki, in which the right hand of a God-like figure points up toward the atomic bomb and the left hand is extended palm down in a gesture of peace. The sculptor, Seibo Kitamura, wrote these words: “After experiencing that nightmarish war, that blood-curdling carnage, that unendurable horror, who could walk away without praying for peace?” We need you to pray for peace and also to struggle for the triumph of humanity over these weapons of utter destructiveness. May you be bold, may you be creative, may you be persistent, and may you prevail!
David Krieger is president of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation. He is the co-author with Daisaku Ikeda of Choose Hope, Your Role in Waging Peace in the Nuclear Age and the editor of Hope in a Dark Time, Reflections on Humanity’s Future. This speech was delivered in Nagasaki to Soka Gakkai youth on November 25, 2003.