in the Face of Darkness
by David Krieger*, December 2001
I am very happy to be here with you. I want to
thank the organizers of this conference and the members of the
Youth Peace Conference.
I feel a great sense of hopefulness in this room,
coming from your hearts. I know you have accomplished great things
in the past and I know of your commitment to continue to meet
the challenges that confront humanity.
I hold your president, Daisaku Ikeda, in the highest
regard, and consider him to be one of the true world citizens
and peace leaders of our time. It was my great privilege last
year to present him with our Foundation's World Citizen Award.
It was also my privilege to engage in a dialogue with him, which
was published this year on August 6th under the title, Choose
In our dialogue we discussed the route to achieving
a world free of nuclear weapons and a world at peace. We also
looked at the role of education, literature and poetry in shaping
our lives. There was nothing we agreed upon more strongly than
the importance of hope and of youth in shaping our common future.
We share the belief that it is indeed possible to shape a peaceful
future, and that youth must help lead the way.
The title for this talk was chosen in the aftermath
of the September 11th terrorist attacks in New York and Washington.
Those attacks were meticulously planned. They were attacks against
symbols of US economic and military power, but they were far more
than symbolic. They took some 3,000 to 4,000 innocent lives. The
intentional taking of innocent lives is a mark of darkness on
Each life is a miracle. Each of us is a miracle.
We cannot explain by logic or experience where we come from before
birth or where we go after death. We have no way to comprehend
the mystery of life or the mystery of our universe. We can only
appreciate that we exist on this Earth at this time in this vast
and expanding universe, and try to use our precious lives for
As shocking as terrorism may be, it is far from
our only problem or even our major problem. We still live in a
world in which some 30,000 children die daily from starvation
and preventable diseases.
We live in a world in which the richest 20 percent
control 80 percent of the resources. Some 450 billionaires have
combined incomes equal to over half of the world's population.
While some on our planet live in lavish abundance with every material
advantage imaginable, others live in abject poverty, lacking even
the basic resources needed to survive.
The world spends some $750 billion annually on
military forces and weapons, while for a fraction of this amount
everyone on the planet could have clean water, adequate food,
health care, education, shelter and clothing.
There are some 30 to 40 wars going on at any given
time. Injustice, disparity and old and new hatreds give rise to
these wars. The vast majority of the casualties are civilians.
In these wars, some 300,000 child soldiers participate. These
wars destroy the environment, the infrastructure in already poor
countries, and produce new masses of refugees.
In many parts of the world, people suffer from
massive human rights abuses. These abuses fall most heavily on
women and children.
As a species, but particularly in the developed
world, we are using up the resources of our planet at a prodigious
rate. In doing so, we are robbing future generations of their
ability to share in the use of these resources.
We are also polluting our land, air and water -
our most precious resources that we need for survival - with chemical,
biological and radiological poisons.
If all of this were not enough, we have developed
and deployed tens of thousands of nuclear weapons capable of destroying
humanity and most of life. Many people think that this problem
has ended, but it has not. There are still more than 30,000 nuclear
weapons in the world and some 4,500 of them are on hair-trigger
We have reached a point where all of us should
be concerned and responsive. Things could grow still worse, however.
Nuclear, chemical or biological weapons in the hands of terrorists
would multiply the dangers. Instead of buildings being destroyed,
nuclear weapons could cause the destruction of whole cities. Imagine
the damage that could be done if terrorists had nuclear weapons.
This danger cannot be dismissed.
Humanity can no longer afford or tolerate the damage
that hatred can cause. Nor can humanity afford or tolerate the
suffering and premature death that has been the lot of the poor.
Far too many people on this Earth live in despair
and hopelessness. These are afflictions of the soul that go beyond
Others, who should know better, live in selfishness,
ignorance and apathy. In many ways, these are even crueler afflictions
of the soul. They are symptoms of the disease of selfishness of
the Roman Emperor Nero, who fiddled while Rome burned.
It is not always easy to have hope in the face
of darkness, but it is necessary. If we give up hope for bringing
about change, we give away our power and diminish the possibilities
Hope must be a conscious choice. There are always
reasons for giving up and retreating into selfishness, ignorance
and apathy. If you want hope, you must choose it. It will not
necessarily choose you. The way to choose hope is by your actions
to achieve a better world.
There are important reasons, though, to have hope.
The most important reason for me is the power of
the human spirit. The human spirit is amazing. It is capable of
achieving sublime beauty and overcoming tremendous obstacles.
All greatness - in art, music, literature, science, engineering
and peace - is a triumph of the human spirit. But the greatest
triumph of the human spirit comes from choosing a compassionate
goal and persisting in overcoming obstacles to achieve this goal.
All worthy goals require persistence to achieve. They will not
We should celebrate the spirit of the hibakusha,
the survivors of the atomic bombings. They are fighting for a
better world, a world in which nuclear weapons will never again
be used. They have been proposed to receive the Nobel Prize for
Peace. I would strongly support their nomination for this recognition
and high honor.
Miyoko Matsubara was a young girl when the bomb
was dropped on Hiroshima. She has had a dozen or more surgeries
and has suffered from breast cancer, but her spirit is indomitable.
She learned English and has traveled throughout the United States
and Europe to tell her story to young people in the hope that
they will understand nuclear dangers and not suffer her fate.
When I think of Miyoko, I think of her humble but determined spirit.
She is a woman who has suffered and who bows deeply.
Sadako Sasaki was two years old when the bomb fell
on Hiroshima. When she was 12 years old she suffered from leukemia
as a result of her exposure to radiation, and was hospitalized.
She folded paper cranes with the wish of being healthy again.
She folded some two-thirds of the 1000 paper cranes that she hoped
would make her wish come true. On one of these cranes she wrote,
"I will write peace on your wings and you will fly all over
After Sadako died, her classmates finished folding
the cranes. Today Sadako's statue stands in Hiroshima Peace Memorial
Park. The base of the statue is always covered in thick layers
of folded cranes that have been placed there by children from
throughout Japan and from throughout the world. Children all over
the world know of Sadako's story and her courage.
Nelson Mandela fought for the rights of his people
and an end to apartheid in South Africa. The government of South
Africa put him in prison, where he remained for 27 years. Despite
his imprisonment, he was able to maintain his spirit and his hope.
When he was finally released from prison, he became the first
black president of his country. Instead of seeking vengeance,
he presided over a peaceful transition of power in South Africa,
appointing a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to offer pardons
to all who confessed their misdeeds during the period of apartheid.
The first two presidents of Soka Gakkai went to
prison rather than fight as soldiers in a war they thought was
wrong. I admire their spirits. Mr. Makiguchi died in prison, and
Mr. Toda came out to re-build this organization dedicated to applying
Buddhist principles to social action. Mr. Toda left a lasting
legacy to Soka Gakkai when he called nuclear weapons an "absolute
evil," and called upon the youth of Soka Gakkai to join in
ending this evil.
You responded magnificently to this challenge when
you gathered more than 13 million signatures on the Abolition
2000 International Petition calling for ending the nuclear threat,
signing a treaty to eliminate nuclear weapons and reallocating
resources from nuclear weapons to meeting human needs. This petition
was presented to the United Nations, but much more needs to be
There are so many people whose lives reflect the
best of the human spirit. Another is Hafsat Abiola, who was one
of our Foundation's honorees for our 2001 Distinguished Peace
Leadership Award. Hafsat's father was the first democratically
elected president of Nigeria, but he was not able to serve even
one day because he was imprisoned by the military. When Hafsat's
mother fought for democracy in her country and for her husband's
release from prison, she was assassinated. On the day before Hafsat's
father was to be released from prison, he, too, was killed.
Despite the pain of losing her parents, Hafsat
is without bitterness or rancor. After graduating from Harvard
University, she started an organization named for her mother,
the Kudirat Initiative for Democracy (KIND). Hafsat works for
democracy and for the rights of women and children throughout
One other example of the power of the human spirit
is found in Nobel Peace Laureate Mairead Corrigan Maguire. Mairead
was a young woman working as a secretary in Northern Ireland when
disaster struck her family. Mairead's sister and her sister's
three young children were hit by an out of control car when British
forces shot an IRA getaway driver. Two of the children died and
the pain was so great that Mairead's sister later committed suicide.
Mairead debated what she should do. She considered
taking up arms against the British, but she instead choose the
course of non-violence. Mairead and another woman, Betty Williams,
organized peace gatherings in Northern Ireland. They brought together
hundreds of thousands of ordinary people calling for peace. The
important thing for you to note is that Mairead herself was a
very ordinary person, who became extraordinary because of her
choices that reflected courage, compassion and commitment. Today
she is the most active of the Nobel Peace Laureates, and often
brings them together to speak and act on important peace issues.
A second reason for hope is that even improbable
change does occur. Changes that no expert could predict sometimes
occur with incredible speed. Relationships change and new possibilities
for peace open up, such as occurred in US-China relations in the
early 1970s. The Cold War ended after more than four decades of
tension and conflict between East and West. This was symbolized
by the fall of the Berlin Wall, which opened the way for a reunited
Germany. Pieces of that wall with their graffiti are now souvenirs
sold to tourists. I have such a small piece of the wall in my
office. It reminds me that great barriers can come down.
Nelson Mandela went from being a prisoner of a
repressive government to becoming president of South Africa. Similar
stories mark the lives of Lech Walesa of Poland and Vaclav Havel
of the Czech Republic. These changes are not predictable, and
are usually the result of efforts that have been taking place
over a long period of time by committed individuals, generally
outside the glare of the media spotlight.
A third reason for hope is the Power of One. Individuals
can and do make a difference in our world. The second person our
Foundation honored with our 2001 Distinguished Peace Leadership
Award was Craig Kielburger. Craig is 18 years old, but he is already
an old hand at social change. What changed Craig's life was reading
about a 12-year-old Pakistani boy, Iqbal Masih, when Craig was
himself only 12 years old. Iqbal had been sold into bonded labor
as a carpet weaver and had been virtually a slave, chained to
his carpet loom for 14 to 16 hours a day. Somehow he had been
able to get free, and began speaking out against child labor.
Iqbal was given the Reebok Human Rights Award, but when he returned
to Pakistan he was murdered by the "Carpet mafia."
Craig thought about Iqbal being the same age as
he was. When Craig went to school that day, he told his friends
about Iqbal and insisted that they do something to further the
cause of children's rights for which Iqbal had been fighting.
That was the beginning of a new organization, Free the Children,
founded by Craig Kielburger at the age of 12.
Today, six years later, Craig's organization has
grown to over 100,000 members. It is the largest organization
of children helping children in the world. They have been responsible
for freeing thousands of children from bonded labor, and they
have built hundreds of schools in places where children were previously
not able to obtain a basic education. Craig travels throughout
the world to learn and to inspire young people to get involved
and make a difference.
Let me review. Three important reasons to have
hope are: the power of the human spirit; the fact that improbable
change does occur; and the Power of One. The most important reason,
though, is that hope is needed to change the world, and you cannot
leave this job to others. Your hope and your help are needed.
The greatest enemies of change are selfishness,
apathy and ignorance. These are the enemies of hope. I urge you
to resist these at all costs.
Selfishness is a narrow way to live. It is about
what you have, not what you do. Rich lives are not about the money
we accumulate, but about the ways in which we interconnect and
help others. The antidote to selfishness is compassion, built
upon helping others.
Apathy is about not caring about others. It is
a lack of interest and a failure to engage in trying to make a
difference. The antidote to apathy is caring and commitment.
Ignorance in the midst of information is also about
not caring - not caring enough to find out about the problems
that confront us. I recently visited Sadako Peace Garden, the
small garden that we created in Santa Barbara on the fiftieth
anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima. Each year on August 6th
we hold a commemoration at the garden for all who died and suffered
in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
It is a very beautiful natural garden. It has many
wonderful trees, but there is one immense and dramatic eucalyptus
tree at one end of the garden that is called the Tree of Faith.
The garden also has large rocks in which cranes have been carved.
In that garden, people sometimes leave folded paper
cranes and short messages hanging from the oak trees. On the day
I visited, I found this message: "There are many things here
I do not know, the knowing of which could change everything."
What a powerful message. The antidote to ignorance is knowledge.
We must be seekers of knowledge, not for its own
sake but to better understand our world so that we can engage
in it and break our bonds of selfishness with a compassionate
response to life. I don't think this is asking too much of ourselves
or each other. It is the essence of being human.
Don't be constrained by national boundaries. Recognize
the essential equality and dignity of every person on the planet.
This is the basic starting point of the Universal Declaration
of Human Rights.
Don't expect to change the world overnight. Change
seldom occurs that way. Trees grow from seeds. They all begin
small, and some grow large. Sometimes they become magnificent.
Often they need care and nurturing. Most of what we do to achieve
a better world will require patience and persistence.
I encourage you to plant seeds of peace by your
engagement in issues of social justice, by your efforts to create
a more decent world in which everyone can live with dignity.
I have with me a seed from the Tree of Faith in
Sadako Peace Garden. It has within it all that is necessary to
become a great magnificent tree, just as you have within you all
that is needed to become a great human being and a leader for
I want to conclude by asking you to take three
First, take the pledge of Earth Citizenship: "I
pledge allegiance to the Earth and to its varied life forms; one
World, indivisible, with liberty, justice and dignity for all."
That is the world we need to create. I also want to encourage
you to study two very important documents, The Universal Declaration
of Human Rights and the Earth Charter. Please be an active and
responsible citizen of our planet. Nothing less will do.
Second, help to build schools in areas of great
need. We have joined with Free the Children to raise funds to
build schools in post-conflict areas, such as Chiapas, Mexico
and Sierra Leone in Africa. For between $5,000 and $10,000 dollars
a school can be built and a teacher provided for students who
would otherwise not get a primary education. Free the Children
has already built over 100 of these schools in poor countries.
This is one of the best ways I can think of to make a difference
in our world.
Third, make a commitment to work for a nuclear
weapons free future. Recognize the essential truth that human
beings and nuclear weapons cannot co-exist. Choose life and a
human future. In the past you helped gather 13 million signatures
on the Abolition 2000 International Petition. Today I'd like to
ask you to do even more.
Work to make your school, your community, your
nation and our world nuclear weapons free zones.
Organize letter writing and petition campaigns
to the media and to government leaders.
Promote the idea of a Nobel Peace Prize for the
hibakusha of Hiroshima and Nagasaki to bring global attention
to their cry of "Never Again!"
Use the sunflower as the symbol of achieving a
nuclear weapons-free world.
I urge you also to join us in also gathering support
for the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation's Appeal to End the Nuclear
Weapons Threat to Humanity, and sending it to leaders of your
country and other countries throughout the world. The Appeal,
which has already been signed by some of the great peace leaders
of our time, asks the leaders of the nuclear weapons states to
take five critical actions for the benefit of all humanity. These
- De-alert all nuclear weapons and de-couple all
nuclear warheads from their delivery vehicles.
- Reaffirm commitments to the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty
and ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.
- Commence good faith negotiations to achieve a Nuclear Weapons
Convention requiring the phased elimination of all nuclear weapons,
with provisions for effective verification and enforcement.
- Declare policies of No First Use of nuclear weapons against
other nuclear weapons states and policies of No Use against non-nuclear
- Reallocate resources from the tens of billions of dollars currently
being spent for maintaining nuclear arsenals to improving human
health, education and welfare throughout the world.
- Not one of these critical actions was even addressed by Presidents
Bush and Putin at their summit in Crawford, Texas in November.
Their pledge to unilaterally reduce their arsenals of strategic
nuclear weapons to between 2,200 and 1,700 over a ten-year period
is inadequate and represents their desire to continue to rely
upon their nuclear arsenals. We must ask that these leaders take
up again the issue of nuclear disarmament in a far more serious
way when they meet again in Moscow next March. If they do not,
they and we will face the risk that terrorists will be able to
purchase, steal or develop nuclear weapons and destroy our cities.
I would encourage delegations of youth representatives
to travel to Washington, Moscow, Tokyo and other key capitals
to make the case for ending the nuclear weapons threat to humanity.
We cannot rely upon the leaders of the nuclear weapons states
to solve the problems themselves. They need the help and encouragement
of all of us. This is part of our responsibility as citizens of
If serious progress on nuclear disarmament is not
made soon, you will be inheriting the nuclear dangers that are
left behind. Time is of the essence and we must approach nuclear
disarmament now as if the future of civilization depended upon
our success in convincing world leaders to adequately control
and eliminate these weapons and the fissile materials needed to
I hope that I have challenged you, particularly
with the actions I have proposed. I have confidence that you will
meet the challenge of being an active participant in creating
a more just and decent future for humanity, a future you can be
proud to pass on to your children and grandchildren.
I encourage you to choose hope and then never lose
hope, even in the face of darkness. Your success in life will
be something that only you can judge, but I believe the right
criteria for you to use are compassion, commitment and courage.
I hope that you will work to achieve a better world, and I know
that you can and will make a difference.
*David Krieger is president
of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation.