Cultivating a New Era of Peace

By Adolfo Pérez Esquivel
[© Gustavo Pascaner/LatinContent/Getty Images]

Nobel Peace Prize laureate Adolfo Pérez Esquivel writes about the power of young people to lead us away from an obsession with war.

Adolfo Pérez Esquivel is an Argentine human rights activist, community organizer, pacifist, painter, writer and sculptor. He was the recipient of the 1980 Nobel Peace Prize.

This year, humankind remembers World War II and the beginning of the nuclear age, the turning point in history when two atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Today, we are collectively appalled by the increase in armed conflict, the result of ever-increasing irrationality and the belief that violence is the solution.

How many civilians and how many soldiers, how many women and children, how many people, young and old, will die today? And how many more are to figure on this atrocious list tomorrow? The macabre repetition of horrors appears as a modern-day myth of King Sisyphus, whom the unforgiving Olympian gods condemned to roll a heavy rock up to a mountaintop. The tortured king never reached the summit, and the rock would roll downhill again and again, for eternity. Much like Sisyphus in his endless toil, humankind is caught in a cycle of moral failings which it repeats time and again.

We have lost balance--the ability to comprehend that war is a tragedy for all. No matter their side, even the winners are losers, victims of their own violence. Their arrogance, born of power, incites them to further cruelty and blinds them to the consequences. They tread paths of no return, using any means that justify their ends. How long will people continue killing one another? How long will they continue advocating "righteous wars," "low-intensity conflict" and "collateral damage," allowing the killing of defenseless women and children, young and old alike? In the words of the American poet and philosopher Thomas Merton: "Power has nothing to do with peace. The more men increase military power, the more they violate and destroy peace."

War is born in the minds of men, and if we are to find new paths toward the resolution of conflicts, we must disarm the armed conscience. We must change the course of events through collective action and by nurturing solidarity among nations. We must proclaim, once again, that we do not condone violence by any party and that we opt for every nation's right to exist and to live in freedom. The Preamble to the Charter of the United Nations reads: "We, the peoples of the United Nations determined to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war . . ." We must stand up and walk toward new horizons of life, not death. We must restore our spirit and our conscience so we can break free and create a culture of peace where we are no longer plagued by the violence that enslaves us today.

In my dialogue with SGI President Daisaku Ikeda, which was published in Spanish under the title La Fuerza de la Esperanza (The Power of Hope), I stressed the idea that new generations should "understand, engage and fight to build a different society, one in which peace is the foundation of life on a personal, social, political, economic and spiritual level and in which atrocities such as the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings, concentration camps and wars are never again repeated."

The ones to open the gates of tomorrow will be the young. They may do so bearing arms, or with arms outstretched, filled with hope and strengthened by brotherhood. As I noted upon receiving the Nobel Peace Prize in December 1980: "To create this new society we must reach out our hands, fraternally, without hatred and rancor, for reconciliation and peace, with unfaltering determination in the defense of truth and justice. We know we cannot plant seeds with closed fists. To sow we must open our hands."

Young people are not the future. They are the present, and it is today that they must vow to lead the way toward a profoundly changed world. True hope for the future consists of shaping young minds capable of making a difference.