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Steven Leeper

Steven Leeper is Chairperson of the Hiroshima Peace Culture Foundation.

March 11th, 2013 7:46 AM

Hiroshima: A Global Perspective

Friendship Force International 35th World Conference

Good morning. It is truly a great honor for me to address this 35th World Conference of the Friendship Force. On behalf of Hiroshima, let me welcome you all. We're glad you're here. I'm grateful to George Brown, Debbie Powell, and everyone involved, but I have to say a special thank you to Tadaaki Morikawa. I would like all of you to know that James, as I like to call him, has been thinking about nothing but the Friendship Force for the past five years. First, he created the Hiroshima Chapter, then he brought you all here. I have been profoundly impressed by his outstanding combination of devotion and competence. And I think you have seen just now where his devotion and power come from.

Listening to his story, I hope you will have understood that nuclear weapons are cruel, inhumane, do not distinguish between combatants and non-combatants, and cannot be limited to the battlefield in either time or space. This makes them illegal weapons. They were illegal when they were developed. There were already international laws on the books that should have prevented the creation of these weapons. At this point, the international community has banned chemical weapons, biological weapons, landmines, cluster munitions and even dum-dum bullets, and yet, we have failed to ban the only weapon that has the power to destroy the entire human family.

The bomb that Mr. Morikawa has just told you about, the bomb that flattened Hiroshima out to four kilometers in ten seconds, is a toy compared to the bombs we have today. Even the relatively small bombs we carry around on submarines are ten to 30 times as powerful. The largest bomb now in the active arsenal of the US is said to be 1.2 megatons, which is almost exactly 100 times as powerful as the Hiroshima bomb. If that first bomb had been 1.2-megatons, the whole city would have been directly under the fireball, and there would have been nothing left but a big hole in the ground. Everything that was Hiroshima, its buildings, cars, and people, would have been turned to little particles that would have blown up to the stratosphere where they would have travelled around and around the Earth for ten years.

Just 10 or 15 big hydrogen bombs exploding over 10 to 15 large cities and starting firestorms in those cities would be enough to cause nuclear darkness. The technical definition of nuclear darkness is ten percent of sunlight blocked. If 10% of sunlight is blocked, we will no longer grow food in most of the areas where our food is grown today. In southern Japan, we might possibly get a crop, but certainly not in northern Japan, certainly not in the US wheat, corn and soybean belt. Canada would be out of the question. Most of Europe, Russia, northern China where they grow all their rice--all of these places would have killing frosts in July and August. Billions of people would starve. The rest of us would be fighting to see who can live in Brazil or Thailand or Africa or somewhere with a growing season. Human civilization as we know it would be over, and that's with just a few bombs.

Today, more than 20 years since the end of the Cold War, the US and Russia have over 2000 warheads on launch on warning status. The missiles that carry these bombs are ready to fire at a moment's notice if either side gets an indication that the other has launched an attack. When it comes to nuclear weapons, the Cold War has never ended, and if those 2000 warheads were ever launched, this planet would plunge into a nuclear winter so deep it would probably eliminate human beings and all large mammals. When you hear someone talking about deterrence or nuking Iran, you are listening to an enemy of humanity or someone who has never stopped to think what he or she is talking about.

Why do we take this risk? Nuclear weapons are radioactive. They are extremely difficult to make and easy to find. If all nations were serious about doing so, we could eliminate them. Even if some madman managed to hide a bomb or two in a mountain somewhere, we would be far safer than we are today. So why don't we just do it?

Those who cling to nuclear weapons will talk about national security, deterrence, lack of trust, human nature and other excuses. I believe their real purpose is profit, but I am asking this question at a deeper level than that. Why is it that human beings on this planet are unable or unwilling to set aside our competition enough to eliminate what is obviously a real and unnecessary threat to our collective survival?

After the bombing of Hiroshima, a man named Ichiro Moritaki lay in bed for five months recovering from his injuries. As he lay there, he was thinking deeply about the meaning of this new weapon that had obliterated his entire city with a single blow. He later became the most influential hibakusha in Japan, the leader of Hidankyo, the largest hibakusha organization. He was instrumental in turning Hiroshima's rage away from the US and toward atomic weapons and war itself. But to me, his primary achievements are two important insights that are still far ahead of their time.

His first insight had to do with the meaning of the atomic bomb. He told us in the late 1940s that the deep meaning of the atomic bomb is that human beings are no longer able to resolve conflict through contests of destructive power. In other words, we have to give up war. Moritaki, like most survivors, knew instinctively that he had glimpsed the end of the world. The hibakusha knew and began saying almost immediately that unless we eliminate these weapons, they will eliminate us. The power of that bomb lifted its victims to a dimension beyond personal rage, national pride, or national interests. Every hibakusha I have ever met knows that this weapon threatens the survival of the human species.

Moritaki's second insight was far deeper. He told us that the atomic bomb marked the end of the civilization of power and the beginning of a civilization of love, and unless we are able to graduate from the former to the latter, we will not survive on this planet. Moritaki's civilization of power is now usually referred to as the culture of war or the culture of violence. This is the culture that still dominates global society today. His civilization of love has become peace culture, which is often mentioned, especially here in Hiroshima and around the United Nations, but which has yet to penetrate mainstream consciousness.

People in Hiroshima often pray publicly that the peace they are enjoying now will continue forever. Like peace-loving people elsewhere, they tend to think that peace will look pretty much like today's Japan except the whole world will live in this affluence and no one will be fighting any wars. Today I want to make the point that peace, if we get there, will be profoundly, fundamentally, and radically different from what's going on now. It will not involve gasoline engines. It will not involve skyscrapers. It might not involve cities. It will involve police, but not the military. It will not involve large ships and goods imported from around the world. It will not involve for-profit corporations. It might not even involve money. It will involve living with far less energy. It might involve getting up and going to bed with the sun. It will involve almost everyone in gardening and other forms of manual labor. It will involve an intensive effort to restore the natural relationships that make life on Earth sustainable.

Despite the obvious merits of peace and sustainability, we are still killing each other and destroying our ecosystem because we fail to comprehend the magnitude of the intellectual, social, political and economic changes peace and sustainability will require. In a world so thoroughly devoted to the pursuit of power, to suggest that the pursuit itself is unnecessary and suicidal is to suggest that water should run uphill.

From Jesus, Mohammed and the Buddha to Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Ichiro Moritaki, sages, scholars, and activists have tried to teach us to abandon violence. They have been killed, ignored and misunderstood. We have failed to learn their lessons, but now, our heads are on the block. Mother Nature is giving us ten to thirty years to grasp the basics of peace, or else.

Let me ask you some rhetorical questions. When do you think oil will reach 300 dollars a barrel? How long can our debt- and growth-based economy continue before it collapses? How long do you think it will take for CO2 in our atmosphere to reach 500 parts per million? How long can we continue to abuse our oceans before they collapse into dead zones of sea grass and jellyfish? Do you know that 30 years ago, there were 20 dead zones in the oceans and now there are 400? How long can we continue to slash and burn our rainforests before we start suffocating for lack of oxygen? I was taught that oxygen is 21% of the air we breathe. Recently, at some times in some cities, that has dropped to 15%. According to Yahoo.com, people start getting sick at 17%. The Navy says we should wear oxygen masks if we are working at less than 19%. At 6 to 8%, we all die.

I ask these questions to remind you that we cannot, we will not keep living the way we are living. Nobody knows exactly when we will hit the wall. The Internet says everything from this year to never. The scholars I trust are saying it will be 20 to 30 years, but to me and probably to you, it is obvious that we are on a collision course with nature. We cannot continue to use oil at current rates partly because we are destroying our life-giving atmosphere and partly because we are running out of oil. Production has already peaked and will soon decline.

So what happens when the oil runs out? Our whole society is based on inexpensive, plentiful oil. The water in this bottle was pumped with oil. The bottle itself was made out of oil, and it was brought here by oil. I have heard that oil is the only reason we can have seven billion people living on this planet. For every calorie of food we produce, we use ten calories of oil. Our oil-based agriculture has sterilized the soil in most areas so badly that it will not grow anything without oil-based fertilizers. If this is true, what happens when we run out of oil? Already, a billion people are near starvation. What happens when most of the people on this planet are starving?

This is why I say our heads are on the block. If the oil runs out before we achieve a culture of peace, we will experience a paroxysm of violence that will make WWII look like a fistfight. If our societies collapse into war and chaos, we have 440 nuclear power plants ready to go the way of Chernobyl and Fukushima. We need to accomplish an enormous shift away from competition and toward cooperation. We need to do it now, and the first step is the elimination of nuclear weapons.

I would never claim that nuclear weapons are the most important problem we face. That would be oxygen, or the health of our oceans. But of all the serious global problems we face, nuclear weapons are the easiest to solve, and they are the problem that is on the table right now. The US and Russia no longer have the power to dictate who will or will not have nuclear weapons. The countries of the Middle East are losing their ability to allow Israel to be the only country in that region with nuclear weapons. An Egyptian diplomat told me sincerely and with fear in his voice, "We can't take it anymore." And that was two years ago, before the Arab spring.

The nuclear-weapon states still harbor the delusion that they can keep their nuclear advantage forever. President Obama said we can and should eliminate nuclear weapons, but maybe not in his lifetime. Hillary Clinton said maybe we can do it sometime next century. This is fantasy. We are standing at the crossroads right now. In the next few years, we will either abolish nuclear weapons, or we will see them spread across the globe, starting in the Middle East. If they spread, it is only a matter of time until they are used, so we are deciding now, as a species, whether to eliminate nuclear weapons or use them.

Furthermore, our current war culture, the civilization of power, will not last into the next century. I know this. You know this. The problem is that we are still unable to comprehend the magnitude of the solution. We, as a species, have failed to understand what Jesus, Buddha, Mohammed, Zoroaster, Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr, Mother Teresa, Ichiro Moritaki, the Beatles, and thousands of other wise people have been trying to teach us for the last couple thousand years. The answer is love. We live in a world of plenty, yet continue to compete as if in a famine. We have yet to understand that we are no longer threatened by scarcity; we are threatened only by each other, our competition, and our unsustainable way of life.

Most competition today is an unnecessary habit left over from our first few billion years of evolution when pursuit of dominance was our top priority. Two thousand years ago or so, Jesus, the Buddha and others began teaching us that we don’t have to compete. Jesus was born in a manger and died on a cross. Buddha was a king who abandoned his palace and went into the woods to help his people escape from suffering. Both made it clear that we don’t need to be kings in castles to be happy. We can’t win happiness at the expense of others. Happiness derives from our relationship to God or nature or ourselves, in the deep sense of that term. To be truly happy and secure, we need to abandon the pursuit of dominance. We need to give up violence. We need to serve and love each other. We all know this, but billion-year habits are tough to break. We’ve been procrastinating. We keep saying, "OK, next century we’ll give up competition and violence.” But now, we’re hitting bottom. Mother Nature’s knife is at our throat. We either kick the dominance habit, or perish by our own greed and stupidity.

The obsolete culture of war and violence that still dominates the planet is making us all lonely, miserable and crazy. Rich or poor, too many people on this planet are selfish, competitive, angry, mean, greedy, cruel, brutish, and, as a result, unhappy most of the time.

We do not have to live like this. The money and thought we waste on competition could be going into solving our problems. Every person on this planet could easily have enough to eat, clean water to drink, and a pleasant way to earn a decent living. We are making ourselves miserable by trying to make ourselves happy without caring what we do to others or to Mother Nature. The culture of war is creating hell on Earth. To turn away from hell and toward an earthly paradise, we need to make just two changes.  We need to pursue happiness for all: you, me, everyone around us and the Earth itself and we need to give up violence. The nonviolent pursuit of happiness for all is the essence of peace culture. 

And the first step is the elimination of nuclear weapons. This is easy. Nine nations could do it in a week, if they tried. But eliminating nuclear weapons is not the point. The weapons are a symbol, a measure of human consciousness. Right now, we are clinging to weapons that will kill the winners as well as the losers, and we are saying, "I am ready and willing to kill everyone on this planet if you threaten my territory."  The US is spending billions on nuclear weapons because Americans believe those weapons are the only things keeping the Russians and the Chinese from marching into Washington or San Francisco. The Russians and Chinese, of course, are doing the same. This is a ridiculously low level of consciousness. This is the war culture at work. This is what happens when our leaders are warriors, making dominance and competition our top priorities.

On the other hand, if we decide to abolish nuclear weapons, we will be saying, "OK, we may not be friends, but we can eliminate these terribly dangerous weapons in the interest of our collective survival." That decision itself would embody an enormous step toward peace. It would actually be a higher state of consciousness that would allow us to cooperate in other areas. We could reduce carbon emissions, do something about the gap between rich and poor, develop clean, sustainable forms of energy and agriculture, and, possibly, work together to feed ourselves when we run out of oil.

I speak on this topic around Japan and around the world. For the most part, I find people everywhere utterly ignorant, unconcerned, or hopeless when it comes to nuclear weapons, but this ignorance and apathy are the only real problems we face. The vast majority of national governments are ready to abolish nuclear weapons if the people were to show the slightest bit of interest. 146 nations have said they would sign a nuclear weapons convention tomorrow, if a treaty were presented to them. That is 146 out of 193. The NGO I work for, Mayors for Peace, has 5443 city members in 155 countries. We have 60% of all national capitals. If we had a treaty to promote, we could conduct a powerful, effective campaign. I am completely confident that we would get at least 170 nations to sign on and, eventually, we would eliminate the weapons.

What we need is a nation or group of nations to propose a nuclear weapons convention, but for that to happen, we need the people to demand that their governments liberate them from the nuclear threat. So I am asking you today to do everything in your power to give your governments that message. This is not a political game. This is not a matter of right versus left or capitalism versus communism. This is happiness and survival for our children and their children. The abolition of nuclear weapons is the first step to a culture of peace, and the culture of peace is an absolute requirement for sustainability and survival.

The Friendship Force is a profound and powerful manifestation of peace culture. You are in the forefront of the effort to make this planet a friendly, cooperative, comfortable place for everyone. I know you take the issue of nuclear weapons seriously or you would not be meeting here in Hiroshima. Please take this issue home with you and do whatever you can. Thank you.

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