Sadako Sasaki died when she was 12 years old, a decade after the bombing that destroyed her home town. In her own way, she became a peace activist during those 10 years. Stories like hers have inspired groups like the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation to call on U.S. President Barack Obama and other international leaders to reduce weapons stockpiles and ban explosions of nuclear devices.
“Accidents, miscalculations and miscommunications have brought us to the precipice of nuclear disaster on many occasions,” said David Krieger, president of the Foundation. “What we don’t know is how long our good fortune of avoiding the use of these weapons can last. Given the uncertainties of living in a world with more than 20,000 nuclear weapons, many on hair-trigger alert, we would be wise to move rapidly toward the global abolition of these weapons.”
Dr. Krieger delivered the following remarks at the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation’s 15th Annual Sadako Peace Day commemoration in Santa Barbara, California on Aug. 6, 2009.
This is the 15th year that we have commemorated Sadako Peace Day in this beautiful garden created by the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation and La Casa de Maria. It is a garden inspired by a young girl, Sadako Sasaki, who was two years old when she was exposed to radiation from the atomic bomb that destroyed Hiroshima. Ten years later, Sadako succumbed to radiation induced leukemia.
Before she died, she inspired her classmates by her valiant attempt to fold 1,000 paper cranes – a symbol of long life in Japan. Sadako wrote on the wings of one of these paper cranes: “I will write peace on your wings, and you will fly all over the world.” Each year, students send colorful paper cranes that they have folded, some 10 million of them, to Hiroshima in honor of Sadako. There is a statue of her with outstretched arms in the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park.
Today we join with the people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and with people all over the world in remembering a somber and world changing day 64 years ago, when the first atomic weapon was used in warfare. We learned, or should have learned, that one bomb can destroy a city, that no longer would any city on the planet be safe from the threat of annihilation, and that we had created weapons capable of destroying humankind. This is a lot of information to take in, and I doubt that it has been fully absorbed by humanity even now.
I have been many times to Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and I have always been moved in these cities by the indomitable spirit of the survivors of the bombings. They express forgiveness and a personal desire to assure that no city ever again for any reason suffers their fate.
The simple facts about the Hiroshima bombing are these:
1. The United States created a nuclear weapon and dropped it on the center of the city of Hiroshima;
2. Some 90,000 people died immediately;
3. By the end of 1945, some 140,000 people had died;
4. Most of the victims were civilians;
5. Initial survivors of the bombing, such as Sadako, have continued to die as a result of cancers and leukemias caused by radiation; and
6. The world was introduced to a new weapon capable of ending human life on our planet.
Of all the comments made in the immediate aftermath of the bombing, I find those of Albert Camus most insightful: “Our technical civilization has just reached its greatest level of savagery,” he wrote. “We will have to choose, in the more or less near future, between collective suicide and the intelligent use of our scientific conquests.”
Today we mark the 64th anniversary of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I believe that humankind has survived for these past 64 years far more by good fortune than by the effectiveness of the theory of deterrence. Accidents, miscalculations and miscommunications have brought us to the precipice of nuclear disaster on many occasions.
What we don’t know is how long our good fortune of avoiding the use of these weapons can last. Given the uncertainties of living in a world with more than 20,000 nuclear weapons, many on hair-trigger alert, we would be wise to move rapidly toward the global abolition of these weapons.
To achieve this goal, only the US can lead the way. This has been the position of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation for many years. In March of this year, we delivered an Appeal to the White House with over 200,000 signatures calling for this leadership with a sense of urgency.
Needless to say, we were extremely pleased by President Obama’s speech on nuclear weapons delivered in Prague on April 5, 2009. He demonstrated that he has a firm grasp of the problem. “The existence of nuclear weapons is the most dangerous legacy of the Cold War,” he said. “No nuclear war was fought between the United States and the Soviet Union, but generations lived with the knowledge that their world could be erased in a single flash of light.”
President Obama did something startling for an American president. He recognized the moral responsibility of the United States to act and lead “as the only nuclear power to have used a nuclear weapon.” This is a great sign of hope and promise.
“I state clearly and with conviction,” President Obama said, “America’s commitment to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons.” More hope, but hope tempered with a call for patience: “I’m not naïve,” he said. “This goal will not be reached quickly – perhaps not in my lifetime.” The President is a young man, and we wish him a long life, but nuclear dangers require of us a sense of urgency.
What might the President do to express this sense of urgency?
First, visit Hiroshima and Nagasaki, just as he visited concentration camps in Europe. Be the first US President to take this step. Make the threat of nuclear war, nuclear terrorism and nuclear proliferation vivid to people everywhere.
Second, direct our negotiators to be bold in agreeing to reduce the number of nuclear weapons in the US and Russian arsenals, to de-alert these arsenals and to declare policies of No First Use of nuclear weapons.
Third, assure that the new US Nuclear Posture Review gives an accurate assessment of the risks of continuing to rely upon nuclear deterrence and the benefits of moving rapidly to achieve a world free of nuclear weapons.
Fourth, convene the leaders of the world to negotiate a new treaty for the phased, verifiable, irreversible and transparent elimination of nuclear weapons.
It has recently been announced that President Obama will personally chair a meeting the heads of state of United Nations Security Council members on nonproliferation and disarmament this fall. This is real cause for hope.
But we can expect opposition from those blind to the risks of continuing to threaten the use of nuclear weapons. President Obama needs our support. The world needs our engagement on this issue.
The most important thing we can do as planetary citizens is to pass the world on intact to the next generation. Ending the nuclear weapons era is a responsibility we owe to the future. We know you are here because you care. Please continue to take a stand and speak out as if the very future of humanity depended upon what you do. It does. The President needs your support and so do the children of the future.
*David Krieger* is President of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation and a councilor on the World Future Council