A sense of responsibility toward survivors of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki has led a U.S. man on a lifelong journey, working to achieve the abolition of nuclear weapons and using poetry to communicate their dangers.
David Krieger, 75, is the president and founder of the nonprofit organization Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, which was launched in 1982 to campaign for a world free of nuclear weapons.
Its advisory council includes several Nobel laureates, as well as academic and activist Noam Chomsky and Hiroshima hibakusha Setsuko Thurlow.
Krieger has been working toward nuclear disarmament for 47 years. He has written five volumes of poetry as part of these efforts, two of which have been published in Japanese.
“I believe we must appeal to both the mind and the heart,” Krieger said. “It is necessary to make both a practical appeal and a moral appeal for the abolition of nuclear weapons.”
Themes in his poems range from the urgency of the need for peace to his impressions of hibakusha who lived through the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which had killed an estimated 214,000 people by the end of 1945.
“I view the hibakusha as ambassadors of the nuclear age. … I have tried to capture their pain, suffering, forgiveness, wisdom and hope in my poetry,” Krieger said.
Visiting Japan when he was a 21-year-old university graduate during the Cold War, Krieger was “awakened” to the horror of nuclear weapons by artifacts he saw at the memorial museums in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
A child’s tricycle in the Hiroshima museum, burned and bent, seemed to him “a symbol of the death and suffering of children, who were undoubtedly beneath the bomb.”
“I came to understand that if humankind did not solve the nuclear problem and continued with a mad arms race, we faced the prospects of a global Hiroshima,” Krieger said.
His work in both activism and poetry reflects a frustration that 72 years later, the threat of nuclear war remains real. His foundation reaches out to political decision-makers to advocate for nuclear abolition.
In January, the foundation released an open letter to then-President-elect Donald Trump urging him to enter talks for a world without nuclear weapons, and noting with alarm that he had suggested on occasion that Japan should someday acquire a nuclear arsenal.
“Nuclear weapons have no place on our planet, and we must all work to abolish them before they abolish us,” Krieger said.
He hailed the recent adoption at the United Nations of the world’s first nuclear ban treaty, but also voiced disappointment with Japan’s refusal to participate, along with the nuclear weapons states and other countries under the U.S. nuclear umbrella.
“For the Japanese government to choose its security relationship with the United States over its bond with the people of Japan, including the hibakusha, seems to me to be an act of bad faith on the part of the government,” Krieger said.
But it is not too late for Japan to sign and ratify the treaty, and the Japanese people must demand this of the government, he said.