David Krieger delivered these remarks at the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation’s 29th Annual Evening for Peace on October 21, 2012.
I want to begin with a poem. I wrote this poem for the International Day of Peace, but I think it works well for our Evening for Peace.
On this day, like any other,
soldiers are killing and dying,
arms merchants are selling their wares,
missiles are aimed at your heart,
and peace is a distant dream.
Not just for today, but for each day,
let’s sheathe our swords, save the sky
for clouds, the oceans for mystery
and the earth for joy.
Let’s stop honoring the war makers
and start giving medals for peace.
On this day, like any other,
there are infinite possibilities to change
Peace is an apple tree heavy with fruit,
a new way of loving the world.
Our theme tonight is “Standing Together for Our Common Future.” We all share in the responsibility for our common future. Our challenge is to stand together to assure the best possible future for our children and grandchildren. This is a global challenge; and it should be a universal desire.
The Nuclear Age is just 67 years old. During this short time, we humans have created, by our technological prowess, some serious obstacles to assuring our common future. Climate change, pollution of the oceans and atmosphere, modern warfare and its preparations, and nuclear dangers are at the top of any list of critical global problems. None of these dangers can be solved by any one country alone. It no longer takes just a village. It takes a world. And within that world it takes, if not each of us, certainly far more of us.
Let me share with you how Archbishop Tutu, a Foundation Advisor and one of the great moral leaders of our time, describes nuclear weapons. He says, “Nuclear weapons are an obscenity. They are the very antithesis of humanity, of goodness in this world. What security do they help establish? What kind of world community are we actually seeking to build when nations possess and threaten to use arms that can wipe all of humankind off the globe in an instant?”
At the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, we work to abolish nuclear weapons – insanely destructive weapons that cannot be used, or even possessed, without violating the most basic legal and moral precepts. Nuclear weapons threaten civilization and our very survival as a species. And yet, 50 years after the Cuban Missile Crisis, and more than 20 years after the end of the Cold War, the US and Russia still keep some 2,000 of these weapons on high-alert, ready to be fired in moments of an order to do so.
The weapons have not gone away, nor have the dangers they pose to humanity. There are still 19,000 of them in the world. Ninety-five percent of these weapons are in the arsenals of the US and Russia. The remaining five percent are in the arsenals of seven more nuclear weapon states.
Nuclear weapons do not protect us. Nuclear weapons are not a defense; they are only good for threatening retaliation or committing senseless acts of vengeance.
The use of nuclear weapons is beyond the control of any country. Let me illustrate this by telling you about Nuclear Famine. Scientists modeled a relatively small nuclear war in which India and Pakistan were to use 50 nuclear weapons each on the other side’s cities. The result of this war would be to put enough soot from burning cities into the upper stratosphere to reduce warming sunlight to the point that we would experience the lowest temperatures on Earth in 1,000 years. This would result in shortened growing seasons and crop failures, leading to starvation and Nuclear Famine killing hundreds of millions of people, perhaps a billion, throughout the world.
Let me emphasize that this would be the consequence of a small nuclear war using less than half of one percent of the world’s nuclear explosive power. And, it would be a regional nuclear war, over which the US could not exert any control. It would nonetheless be a war with global consequences for all of us.
All of this is serious and sobering. But, you may ask, what can we do about it?
At the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, we are focusing on collective action and collective impact, in which the whole – each of us standing together – is greater than the sum of its parts.
We are also pursuing legal action related to breaches of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty by the US and other nuclear weapon states parties to the treaty. The treaty calls for the pursuit of negotiations in good faith for effective measures related to a cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date, to nuclear disarmament and for a treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control.
Since the Treaty entered into force in 1970, it would be hard to argue 42 years later that there has been a cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date. Nor has there been serious nuclear disarmament or a treaty on general and complete disarmament.
Our current education and advocacy work reaches and mobilizes our 57,000 members who join in taking action for our common future. We plan to expand this number exponentially across the world. We hope that you will all join us in this mission to assure the human future.
Tonight we stand together with the people of the Marshall Islands, a country that was part of the Trust Territory of the United States after World War II. The Marshall Islanders are easygoing and friendly people. They put their trust in the United States, but we abused that trust by testing nuclear weapons on their territory. We began that atmospheric nuclear testing in 1946, when we were the only country in the world with nuclear weapons, and we continued testing there for 12 years until 1958.
We tested 67 times in the Marshall Islands, using powerful nuclear and thermonuclear weapons – the equivalent explosive power of having tested 1.7 Hiroshima bombs each day for 12 years. On March 1, 1954, we tested our largest nuclear bomb ever, code-named Bravo, which had the power of 15 million tons of TNT.
We irradiated many of the people of the Marshall Islands, causing them death, injury and untold sorrow. Many had to leave their home islands and live elsewhere. Many have suffered cancers and leukemia, and the illness and death has carried over into the children of new generations of Marshall Islanders.
These are the tragic effects of a world that maintains, tests and relies upon nuclear weapons. In this world, our human rights are threatened and abused by nuclear weapons, as the Marshallese have experienced first-hand.
As a traditional island nation, the Marshallese enjoyed a self-sufficient sustainable way of life before nuclear weapons testing. Now, they struggle to uphold basic human rights:
- to adequate health and life.
- to adequate food and nutrition.
- to safe drinking water and adequate sanitation.
- to enjoyment of a safe, clean and healthy sustainable environment.
In September of this year, the Foundation’s representative in Geneva spoke to the UN Human Rights Council on behalf of the Marshall Islanders. He stated: “NAPF aligns itself with the UN Special Rapporteur’s suggestion that the international community, the United States, and the Government of the Marshall Islands must develop long-term strategic measures to address the effects of the nuclear testing program and specific challenges in each atoll. As such, it is imperative that the U.S. government and the international community implement human rights measures to provide adequate redress to the citizens of the Marshall Islands.”
In other words, it is the responsibility of the United States and other nuclear weapon states to clean up the radioactive trail of dangerous debris and redress the suffering and human rights abuses they have left behind in their pursuit of ever more powerful and efficient nuclear arms.
The man we honor tonight, Senator Tony de Brum, was a child when the US nuclear testing was taking place in his islands. Born in 1945, he personally witnessed most of the detonations that took place, and was nine years old when the most powerful of those explosions, the Bravo test, took place.
He went on to become one of the first Marshall Islanders to graduate from college and focused on helping his people to extricate themselves from the legacy of US nuclear testing in his island country. He has dedicated his life to helping his people and to working to assure they are fairly compensated for the wrongs done to them by nuclear testing. He has served his people in many ways – as a parliamentarian and former Minister of Foreign Affairs and Minister for Health and the Environment. He currently represents Kwajalein in the Parliament and is the Minister in Assistance to the President.
Like others who have suffered and witnessed the suffering caused by nuclear weapons, he has a larger vision: that what happened to his people should not happen again to any other people or country. I’ve known Tony de Brum for many years. He is an untiring leader of his people, deeply engaged in seeking justice. He is a man with a vision of creating a more decent and peaceful future for all humanity.
Senator Tony de Brum is a dedicated Peace Leader, and tonight we are pleased to stand with him and the people of the Marshall Islands as we honor him with the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation’s 2012 Distinguished Peace Leadership Award.