Toward a Brighter Future
SGI-USA members attend a talk on nuclear abolition with former U.S. Secretary of Defense William Perry.
by Jihii Jolly
NEW YORK, Oct. 24—Former U.S. Secretary of Defense William Perry was first exposed to nuclear weapons in August 1945 as a young sergeant in the U.S. Army who arrived in Hiroshima two weeks after the atomic bomb was dropped. This life-changing experience awakened him to the evil of nuclear warfare, and he has since devoted his life to educating others about this very real threat and the need for its total elimination.
“I’m dedicated to my children’s generation and grandchildren’s generation,” Mr. Perry said. “My hope ignites with young people . . . As youth, do not be discouraged that our political activism is not successful. Education is the primary task. Thank you for your sincerity.”
Mr. Perry addressed 25 SGI-USA youth who had attended his public talk, held at All Souls Unitarian Church, about his lifelong work to eliminate the dangers of nuclear weapons. During their brief encounter prior to the event, the youth representatives shared with Mr. Perry the SGI’s mission for peace and SGI President Ikeda’s decadeslong commitment and work to abolish nuclear weapons. They also invited him to speak at the SGI-USA New York Culture Center next year, in commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the SGI’s global movement for nuclear disarmament, launched on Sept. 8, 1957, by second Soka Gakkai President Josei Toda.
“My hope ignites with young people.”
Mr. Perry is an expert on U.S. foreign policy, national security and arms control. He served as the U.S. secretary of defense (1994–97), deputy secretary of defense (1993–94) and undersecretary of defense for research and engineering (1977–81).
During his talk, he stressed that the risk of nuclear catastrophe is greater today than during the Cold War. It is supreme folly, he said, in believing that nations can use tactical nuclear weapons without it escalating to full-on nuclear war.
He added that an even higher risk is that of accidental nuclear war, if a missile attack warning system has a false alarm—something that has already happened three times in the U.S. and twice in Russia. And an even greater threat still, Mr. Perry continued, is the possibility of nuclear terrorism.
Resonating with President Ikeda’s approach to abolishing nuclear weapons, Mr. Perry is focused on three areas: 1. education; 2. raising successors; and 3. citizen diplomacy. Dr. Perry, who is the Michael and Barbara Berberian Professor emeritus at Stanford University, says he now spends 90 percent of his life’s work on education.
He has recently published his book My Journey at the Nuclear Brink as well as launched a free online course through Stanford to engage and educate young people on the dangers of nuclear weapons in the 21st century. He is also educating youth through track II or citizen-diplomacy efforts to create an atmosphere of trust and understanding between the U.S. and Russia by connecting students in both countries to dialogue in-person twice a year.
“Retirement is not on my agenda,” said 89-year-old Dr. Perry. He exhibited a poetic heart by concluding his talk with a quote by Robert Frost: “The woods are lovely, dark and deep, but I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep.”