Nuclear Disarmament Discussed on Capitol Hill
The SGI-USA joins citizen lobbyists in an effort to spread the message of peace.
by Danny Hall
SGI-USA ASSISTANT DIRECTOR OF PUBLIC AFFAIRS
On Sept. 26, I engaged U.S. congressional staff on behalf of the SGI-USA on the subject of nuclear disarmament in a “Lobby Day” organized by Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR).
The day began with a morning briefing at the headquarters of the Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL), the lobbying arm of the Quakers. David Culp, FCNL legislative representative on nuclear disarmament and one of four registered lobbyists on nuclear weapons issues on Capitol Hill, welcomed us and provided an update on recent developments.
We then heard from Ira Helfand, co-president of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW). Dr. Helfand is an international authority on the issue of nuclear disarmament and regularly addresses the medical and environmental consequences of nuclear war at high-level forums, such as the U.N. General Assembly and the World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates. He presented an overview of the growing global movement for an international treaty calling for the prohibition of nuclear weapons.
After the briefings, we teamed up to visit several congressional offices to engage in dialogue. It was truly amazing to witness how far the SGI has come since the beginning of our commitment to abolish nuclear weapons. Nearly six decades ago, on Sept. 8, 1957, amid heightened Cold War tensions, second Soka Gakkai President Josei Toda delivered a landmark speech before 50,000 youth condemning nuclear weapons as an absolute evil and calling for their total elimination. He wanted to communicate to the youth assembled that a religious sense of purpose could not be fulfilled in isolation but must be part of a larger social and human mission. As such, he entrusted them with the responsibility to lead the nuclear abolition movement, while establishing a society where people value the supreme dignity of life.
During my exchanges with congressional staff, I offered a moral perspective on the nuclear weapons issue, sharing SGI’s commitment to achieving a world free of nuclear weapons beginning with President Toda’s Sept. 8, 1957, nuclear disarmament declaration and his desire for young people to not only eradicate the weapons themselves but also the tendency within human nature to forcibly bend others to one’s will.
I noted the existential threat to humanity posed by nuclear weapons, sharing the scientific report produced by PSR estimating that a low-level nuclear exchange (100 Hiroshima-sized bombs) between India and Pakistan would lower global temperatures and disrupt agricultural production enough to result in a global famine estimated to kill 2 billion people.
Despite a growing movement calling for an international treaty prohibiting nuclear weapons, there are plans to modernize the U.S. nuclear arsenal—which will cost $348 billion over 10 years and $1 trillion over 30 years. With this in mind, I emphasized the need for leadership in the halls of Congress to create a public discourse where an alternative path forward could be imagined.
Overall, I was extremely happy with the value created from this day of activity. The SGI-USA was able to engage substantively in conversation with congressional staff and opened up a path for future constructive engagement with members of the U.S. Congress, their staff, and influential faith-based groups and secular organizations committed to achieving a world free of nuclear weapons.
Underlying my approach throughout the day was SGI President Ikeda’s guidance that “everything is one-to-one.” I tried to cherish each encounter and elevate those I met with while still remaining substantive in my engagement.
Dr. Helfand expressed to me his appreciation for the SGI’s international engagement with the nuclear abolition movement and recognized that the SGI “has played such a huge role on this issue over the years.” He also shared his hope that more faith communities would use their voices to support an international treaty prohibiting nuclear weapons in 2017.