To the Graduates
Congratulations on completing this phase of your life. I’m sure you have learned many things in your studies and are excited about what lies ahead. As you look forward, there are some important things about the world you are entering – things you may already sense but don’t yet fully understand – that will strongly affect you. In your life, you will make many choices that will affect our world and your own future, and it is critical that you be aware of the world’s problems and respond to them wisely.
Ours is a world in which human life is devalued for many, and greed is often rewarded. Each hour, 500 children die in Africa: 12,000 each day. They die of starvation and preventable diseases, not because there is not enough food or medicine, but because these are not distributed to those who need them.
Our world is not particularly kind to children, but it is very kind to the military-industrial complex. Global spending on the world’s militaries now tops $1 trillion. Of this, the United States spends nearly half, more than the combined totals of the next 32 countries. For just one percent of global military spending, every child on the planet could receive an education, but these are not the values we choose to espouse.
Our world is also not very wise in preparing for the future. We are busy using up the world’s resources, particularly its fossil fuels, and, in the process, polluting the environment. So hungry are we for energy and other resources that we pay little attention to the needs and well-being of future generations. Our lifestyles in the richer countries are unsustainable, and they are foreclosing opportunities for future generations who will be burdened by a world with diminishing resources and a deteriorating environment.
Militarism and social progress are inversely related. In 1949, Costa Rica dismantled its military force and devoted its resources instead to achieving a better life for its people. Since then, it has been a stable democracy in a region often shattered by turmoil. The country has a low infant mortality rate, a high life expectancy rate and a literacy rate of 96 percent.
If someone were to observe our planet from outer space, that person might conclude that we do not appreciate the beauty and bounty of our magnificent earth. I hope you will never take for granted this life-sustaining planet – the only one we know of in the universe. The planet itself is a miracle, as is each of us.
As miracles, how can we engage in wars that kill other miracles? War no longer makes sense in the Nuclear Age. The stakes are too high. In a world with nuclear weapons, we roll the dice on the human future each time we engage in war. These weapons must be eliminated and the materials to make them placed under strict international control so that we don’t bring life on our planet to an abrupt end.
Leaders who take their nations to war without the sanction of international law must be held to account. This is what the Allied leaders concluded after World War II, when they held the Nazi leaders to account for crimes against peace, war crimes and crimes against humanity. No leader anywhere on the planet should be allowed to stand above international law.
Every citizen of Earth has rights, well articulated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other human rights documents. You should know your rights under international law, which include the rights to life, liberty, security of person, and freedom from torture. There is also a human right to peace. Take responsibility for assuring these rights for yourselves and others everywhere on our globe.
We live in an interdependent world. Borders cannot make us safe. We can choose to live together in peace, or to perish together in war. We can choose to live together with sustainable lifestyles or to perish together in overabundance for the few and poverty for many.
Our choice is relatively simple: to create a world with dignity for all, or to maintain a world with special privileges for the few. You will make your choice by how you live and who and what you support. You are fortunate in that you have received a good education. Now you must choose how you will use your education, whether you will devote your life to the pursuit of financial success and personal attainment only or to making a difference by helping improve our planet and the lives of those who inhabit it.
The future, if there is to be a future, will be claimed by those who work for peace, justice and human dignity. I hope that you will be among them.
DAVID KRIEGER is the president of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation (www.wagingpeace.org), and a leader in the struggle for a nuclear weapons-free world. His most recent book is one of anti-war poetry, Today Is Not a Good Day for War.