The following is the slightly abridged text of a speech to the 2003 World Conference Against Atomic and Hydrogen Bombs in Nagasaki, Japan, Aug. 3-9. The complete speech is available at www.peacefultomorrows.org/voices/index.php.

I am honored and humbled to open this International Meeting of the 2003 World Conference Against Atomic and Hydrogen Bombs. I have come here as a woman whose younger sister – my only sibling – was killed in the violent, terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. At 6 a.m. that day my sister, Laura, left her apartment and went to the World Trade Center to work for just two days helping to run a conference on information technology. It was a job she took to pay her rent. Laura was a singer and an actress and she dreamed of being a Broadway star. No one in my family imagined that Laura was anywhere near the World Trade Center when the airplanes struck.

It was the profound lesson of how violence and war take the lives of the truly innocent that my sister’s death taught me, that lead me to join September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows. We are an organization of relatives of 9/11 victims who have joined together to oppose war to avenge our loved ones’ deaths.

These are in many ways dark and troubling times. In response to the events of 9/11, the United States has embarked upon a devastating foreign policy: pre-emptive war, disregard for international law and the United Nations, and renewed reliance upon threatened use of nuclear weapons as a cornerstone of U.S. military power. None of these were policies I wanted my nation to make in response to my sister’s death.

Laura was not a victim of war. She was murdered. Her death certificate says so very clearly. As a victim’s relative I wanted truth and justice. I wanted everything about the hijackers to be fully and openly investigated in transparent, public proceedings. I wanted the hijackers’ accomplices and supporters identified, captured and tried in open courts. In short, I was hoping for justice that would protect and increase the security of people throughout the world.

Instead, my government has chosen to wage what threatens to become a continual war on terrorism. I felt tremendous pain – it was like experiencing my sister’s death yet again – when on Sept. 12, 2002, President George Bush went before the UN to threaten war against Iraq. We later learned that in that same month Bush signed a classified document, National Security Presidential Directive 17, in which he asserted the right of the U.S. to respond with overwhelming force, including the use of nuclear weapons, to attacks on the U.S. or its armed forces abroad.

As a citizen of the United States, which calls itself a democracy, I feel deeply obligated to work to change my government’s policies and actions. But, our friends in Japan and elsewhere in the world should know that these are difficult times for peace activists in the U.S. The Bush administration has spread great fear among American citizens; it has lied about the existence of weapons of mass destruction and about the links between nations and terrorist organizations. In this climate of fear, many Americans have been easily silenced and misled. The Patriot Act and the proposed “Patriot Act II” threaten our fundamental civil and political rights. Most of the U.S. media is beholden to the Bush administration and has uncritically supported war in Afghanistan and Iraq. Now more than ever we need to stand in solidarity with our sisters and brothers in other nations who are working for peace so that we can stop the U.S. war machine.

Last January, I was part of a Peaceful Tomorrows delegation to Iraq. Deciding to go was difficult. I was definitely no supporter of Saddam Hussein. Indeed the entire time I was in Iraq, I was deeply distressed by the memory of my government’s support of Hussein’s regime during the 1980s – when Amnesty International and other human rights organizations were publicizing abundant evidence of his human rights atrocities.

When I was in Iraq, I was angry too that there was no real opportunity for free dialogue with the civilians we met. They lived in a repressive society. We traveled with government minders. So what we learned was a complex message to interpret. Mostly the Iraqis were angry that their relatives – innocent civilians – had died in the 1991 Gulf War and they feared yet another round of killings. Sometimes, in quiet meetings we simply grieved together about our common pain.

Many Iraqis told us they feared that war would lead to increased terrorism. American aggression and occupation of their lands by foreign troops, they warned us, would make it much easier to attract young men to terrorist training camps.

The Peaceful Tomorrows delegation returned to the U.S. hopeful that our voices could help stave off a devastating war, hopeful that we could inspire our national leaders to use the wealth, power and intelligence of the United States to work for non-violent change to increase justice in Iraq and through-out the world. An unprecedented international peace movement was forged to prevent war in Iraq. It is painful to acknowledge that even in the face of the strength of that movement, the United States went to war anyway. But it is crucial that we keep that movement alive. Its work is not done.

In the coming months, Peaceful Tomorrows will be focusing its efforts on two major campaigns. First, we will continue to raise public awareness of the innocent civilians who are the real victims of America’s reckless wars. We will work to get accurate reports of the number of civilians killed and injured by the U.S. military in Afghanistan and in Iraq. And we will be working to get legislation passed by the U.S. Congress to compensate families in Afghanistan and Iraq for their losses. Secondly, we will be working to oppose the chilling effects of the Patriot Act and to block passage of the proposed “Patriot Act II.”

We are proud that Peaceful Tomorrows will be working as part of a mighty coalition of peace organizations, United for Peace and Justice. With UFPJ, Peaceful Tomorrows will continue to protest U.S. occupation of Iraq and demand that the lies that the Bush administration told about the need to go to war be investigated.

We must end U.S. government hypocrisy. The U.S. threatens pre-emptive war, including pre-emptive use of nuclear weapons against non-nuclear states while demanding that Iraq, Iran and North Korea prove themselves free of nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction. This terrifying shift in nuclear policy violates the Non-Proliferation Treaty, which the U.S. ratified in 1970 and recommitted itself to in 1995. Combined with the Bush administration’s withdrawal of the United States from the Anti-Ballistic Missile (or ABM) Treaty, its avowed intention to develop new, “bunker-busting” nuclear weapons and to pave the way for renewed testing of nuclear weapons, this shift marks a devastating setback for the worldwide peace movement and the campaign to abolish nuclear weapons.

At the same time, however, the world has witnessed the birth of a force The New York Times has called “the second superpower.” That force is the alliance of Asian, European and U.S. grassroots peace movements, with NGOs from around the world, and with a growing number of governments that oppose U.S. policies concerning nuclear arms and foreign military bases. That force is the mighty force of international public opinion opposed to reckless and destructive war. While the war in Iraq did ultimately occur, we should not underestimate how much peace advocates achieved by calling for UN weapons inspections, by challenging U.S. unilateral action, and by continuing to question the validity of U.S. and British claims about the existence of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction.

Our international movement must continue to work for the triumph of diplomacy, the abolition of nuclear weapons and the ultimate end of war. Together we can redefine the 21st century as an era of peace and justice for a truly global community.

Terry Rockefeller is Steering Committee chair of September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows, www.peacefultomorrows.org.

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