First of all, I would like to thank you all for giving me an opportunity to speak at this “Paths of Peace” panel, organized by the Community of Sant’Egidio.
I would also like to express my gratitude to the Roman Catholic Church and its communities for their great contribution to the 30th Anniversary of the Religious Summit on Mt. Hiei, the Gathering of Prayer for World Peace, which was held last month on Mt. Hiei, near Kyoto, Japan. We had the honor of welcoming His Eminence John Cardinal Tong Hon as “Personal Envoy” of His Holiness and hearing him read the message from His Holiness Pope Francis. It was an additional privilege for us to benefit from the Secretary General of the Community of Sant’ Egidio, Professor Alberto Quattrucci’s memorable lecture entitled “From Assisi to Mt. Hiei: a 30-year History of Prayer in the West and the East.
The topic I have been assigned to speak to you about today is “War Is Always a ‘Useless Massacre’”.
Mencious, a Chinese thinker born around 372 BC, roughly 100 years after China’s Chunqiu, or Spring and Autumn period, read their history and said, “The Spring and Autumn annals acknowledge no just war.” He lived in a period of civil wars in China that lasted more than 300 years. During that time, each faction sought justice through battle, but Mencious concluded that achieving justice was not the real objective of wars.
Come to think of it, has there ever been a good war in all of human history? This period in Chinese history is not the only time when each side was insisting they were “right” and declaring they were “fighting for justice”. Factions who seek to solve their problems by force of arms always come up with just causes and make war appear to be for a just cause. Mencious’ statement about war could be taken more expansively to mean there has never, in all the years of history, been a good war. Throughout history we have repeatedly prepared for peace, started wars to preserve peace, and later realized that war deprived us of peace.
The 20th Century is called the age of wars and massacres, especially with regard to the two World Wars. World War I casualties reached the 10 millions and the casualties from World War II numbered in the 50 millions.
The World War II firebombing of Dresden is described in “Slaughterhouse-Five”, a novel by Kurt Vonnegut. Before the war, Dresden was known as a beautiful city reminiscent of medieval days. It had the most beautiful baroque architecture in Germany and was referred to as the Florence on the Elbe River. However, the city was thoroughly devastated in February 1945 by a carpet bombing, which was believed to be the largest air raid during World War II, with casualties numbering nearly 150,000. It was an indiscriminate attack on innocent citizens, who should have been protected by international humanitarian law. One month after Dresden was reduced to ruins, Tokyo became a target of the same kind of attack. Six months later, atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and then Nagasaki. As a result of the A-bombs, several hundred thousand people died, but the actual number of casualties remains unclear.
At the Peace Memorial Ceremony on 6th August this year, the Mayor of Hiroshima made a Peace Declaration, in which he said,
“Pika—came the penetrating flash, extreme radiation and heat and Don is an earth-shattering roar and blast. Blackness lifts to reveal countless scattered corpses charred beyond recognition. You can’t distinguish men from women. Stepping between corpses, are badly burned, nearly naked figures with blackened faces, singed hair, and tattered, dangling skin who wander through the spreading flames, looking for water. The rivers in front of you are filled with bodies; the riverbanks so crowded with burnt, half-naked victims that there is no place for you to step. This is truly hell. Under that mushroom cloud is the absolute evil of the atomic bomb that visited gruesome deaths on vast numbers of innocent civilians and left those it didn’t kill with deep physical and emotional scars, including aftereffects of radiation and endless health fears. Giving rise to social discrimination and prejudice, it devastated even the lives of those who managed to survive.
This hell remains with us today. As long as nuclear weapons exist and policymakers threaten their use, their horror can leap into our present at any moment. You could find yourself suffering their cruelty.”
The mayor revisited this terrible spectacle of the aftermath of the A-bomb in Hiroshima, and warned us that even today, we all are unconsciously experiencing the fear of nuclear disaster.
Some say that the risk of a full-scale nuclear war is gone. However, we must remember that a single A-bomb attack caused a catastrophic and indiscriminate massacre, causing the victims continual suffering which was ongoing even half a century later. This is the fact and reality of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Atomic bombs did not exist before World War II. With the A-bomb casualties, we experienced a new, previously unknown kind of death. We humans are responsible for this cruel and indiscriminate massacre. It was created by us and I would like to insist that it be abolished by us. I think it is our responsibility.
After we experienced the unprecedented world wars, we made a pledge never to repeat such terrible disasters. Even so, armed conflicts have continued unceasingly. According to United Nations data, victims of armed conflicts between 1945 and 1992 totaled 23 million, most of whom are civilians. For example, more than 90% of the victims of the civil wars in Mozambique and Sudan were ordinary people, most of whom were women and children dragged unwillingly into the conflicts. I am very much concerned about the children, whose situation has seriously worsened. During the last decade of the 20th century, after the Cold War, more than 2 million children were killed and more than 6 million children were injured severely or irreparably.
Buddha set “non-killing” as the first of his five precepts. He taught us not to kill any living thing on earth. War flies in the face of this teaching. As Buddhists, we are absolutely against war in any form.
It has been pointed out that religions are behind the terrors and massacres that now strike fear into the minds of people worldwide. However, in my opinion, it is not religion, but intolerance and self-righteousness that are to blame. No specific religion is at fault. It is the self-righteous certainty that one’s world view is superior which ignites conflict. We can never achieve world peace while we are insisting that our interpretation of facts is the only correct one, or while we are judging others through the lens of our own limited viewpoints and beliefs.
At the Ceremony of Prayer for World Peace on Mt. Hiei, held on the 4th of August this year, we sent out Hieizan’s message 2017 to the world, in which we stated that,
“Terrorist attacks have been perpetrated in many places such as Europe, and have even targeted spots of recreation and relaxation. Those attacks were aimed not only at governments or public institutions, but also at innocent citizens. The attackers seem to express resentment toward the glorification of ravenous consumption in modern civilization. In the Middle East and other areas, battles and air raids have continued for many years, at great cost to people in the area, many of whom have been forced to become refugees. Despair pervades in communities where the inability to stop terrorism, and sometimes violence on the part of their own governments, has worsened.
As people of faith, we cannot allow violence that takes the precious gift of life lightly, under any circumstances. We must never forget the hardships of people marginalized and oppressed in our unequal societies. We resolve to build strong connections with civic society in order to realize a society without discrimination or injustice. As people of faith, we must be aware of this responsibility.”
For all these reasons, I would like to confirm our determination to continue our work, in cooperation with religious leaders around the world, to establish an international mechanism for the coexistence of diverse nations, peoples, religions and histories so that we can achieve a peaceful world.
Thank you for your kind attention.