Interview with Students on the Fight for Nuclear Abolition

From college students around the country.

Christian Ciobanu

New York
School: Drew University, The Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies and The Middlebury Institute of International Studies

Living Buddhism: What inspired you to get involved in nuclear abolition?

Christian Ciobanu: In 2010, I met several hibakusha at the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons conference. Hearing their stories inspired me to dedicate my life to abolishing nuclear weapons. In 2014, I joined the SGI-USA, inspired by its efforts for peace and nuclear abolition.

Photo: Yvonne Ng.

Currently, I work for the Global Security Institute, which is located across the street from the United Nations Headquarters in New York. As I took part part in various sessions at the U.N. regarding nuclear weapons, I was disheartened to hear people constantly bring up the notion of deterrence [that a country’s credible threat of retaliation could forestall an enemy attack] as a justification for nuclear weapons.

Since 2010, however, due to the growing frustrations about the lack of progress on disarmament, the climate shifted. More states began to discuss the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons and move toward a new policy, despite strong opposition from the nuclear weapons states. Thus, an overwhelming amount of states called for the establishment of the U.N. Conference to Negotiate a Legally Binding Instrument to Prohibit Nuclear Weapons, Leading Towards their Total Elimination.

During the conference, the states that possess nuclear weapons refused to attend. At the conclusion of the conference, 122 states voted in favor of the adoption of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, 1 state abstained and 1 state voted against it.

Now, NGOs are urging 100 states to sign the treaty during the first week that it will be opened for signature on September 20. The treaty will enter into force once 50 states ratify it. Overall, the treaty develops the global norms against nuclear weapons.

What are your thoughts on second Soka Gakkai President Josei Toda’s Declaration for the Abolition
of Nuclear Weapons?

Christian: His declaration is so powerful because it takes a universal perspective, rather than just the perspective of one country. Another important point President Toda conveys is that we must go to the root of the issue, which originates in a heart that believes it’s OK to annihilate large portions of life on the planet. This declaration is an expression of President Toda’s compassion not just for the Japanese people or the people of his time, but for all people throughout the world and into the distant future.

What do you think it will take to change nuclear policy?

Christian: Empowering young people is the key. I remember one session at the U.N. where a group of youth gave a presentation to several diplomats. The diplomats’ reaction to the youth was so different compared to the other presenters. I could see that the voices of youth have unlimited power. I feel the only solution is for more and more young people to get involved.


Chelsea Collins

Albuquerque, New Mexico
School: University of New Mexico

Living Buddhism: When did you first learn about nuclear weapons?
Chelsea Collins: Growing up, my family moved to several locations due to my father’s work in the military. When I was 11 years old, we moved to New Mexico, the state where nuclear weapons were first produced. Soon after moving, I was bullied for being half Japanese. One girl even said to me, “We dropped the bomb on you people and won the war!” I remember feeling that this is not just a historical event to remember, but must be a constant effort to transform the disregard for life in people’s hearts. As I got older and began hearing personal stories from the people who survived the bombings at Hiroshima and Nagasaki— about how their bodies were burned so badly they didn’t even look human or how they instantly lost most of their family members—opened my eyes to the horror of nuclear weapons.

Student Division

What are your thoughts on second Soka Gakkai President Josei Toda’s Declaration for the Abolition
of Nuclear Weapons?

Chelsea: He uses very strong language to denounce those who use nuclear weapons. The more times I read it, the more passionate I feel about my mission in New Mexico. Personally, I connect abolishing nuclear weapons to transforming the karma of my state as the place where these weapons were created. Although President Toda gave this declaration 60 years ago, many years before I was born, it strikes my heart right now and makes me want to have dialogue with more people to awaken them to the horrors of nuclear weapons.

Have you ever had dialogue about this issue?

Chelsea: I have never met anyone who strongly advocated for nuclear weapons, but I have met with people who didn’t see a problem with maintaining our weapons. I also have heard people say in a joking way that we need our nuclear weapons to keep power over other countries. These moments remind me how important it is to educate people about the reality of these weapons and how it would spell the death of millions and make our time on this planet very limited. When I have dialogues to try and educate people, I try to listen to them and uncover why they think this way.

What do you think it will take to create a world where nuclear weapons don’t exist?

Chelsea: The only path is to have heart-to-heart dialogue and to treasure the person in front of us. We need to give hope and courage to others, so they can believe in the future of humanity. Through heart-to-heart connections, I think more people will be open to joining a movement to abolish nuclear weapons. New Mexico is termed “The Land of Enchantment.” I want to help many more people transform their karma through Buddhist practice and work together toward creating a true land of enchantment in New Mexico.

Dave Drake

New York
School: New School University

Living Buddhism: When did you first learn about the horrors of nuclear weapons?

Dave Drake: I first heard about nuclear weapons as a boy, when I would ask my father about his childhood. He was born in 1949 and grew up in the thick of the Cold War. He once told me that during the Cuban Missile Crisis, his father was convinced nuclear war would break out. My grandfather told him, “I don’t know if we’re going to live.” He then said, “If it happens, at least we’ll all die together.” My father, aged 13 at the time, was completely freaked out. I heard this story when I was young, and it deeply ingrained in me that total annihilation could occur with just one push of a button.

Photo: Luca Manganaro.

What are your thoughts on second Soka Gakkai President Josei Toda’s Declaration for the Abolition
of Nuclear Weapons?

Dave: The most striking part was when he said that the death penalty should be applied to anyone who used a nuclear weapon. After reading this, I chanted Nam-myoho-renge-kyo to figure out why he went so far as to suggest the death penalty. I realized that putting his conviction in absolute terms leaves no gray area about where we stand in regards to protecting the dignity of life. For an issue this serious, I feel it’s very important to have a clear position. With this statement, I feel that President Toda is personally ripping out the claws of the devilish functions that justify the use of nuclear weapons.

Have you ever met someone who advocated for nuclear weapons? How did you engage in dialogue?

Dave: Yes. I have a friend who commented to me that we need so many more nuclear weapons so that we can completely overpower every other country. At that moment, I didn’t know what to say, so that conversation ended there. After that, I chanted about how to engage in a meaningful dialogue about the topic. We met again, and I told her I had been thinking about what she said about nuclear weapons. I wanted to hear her out and learn why she thought this way. She felt that if we lost our nuclear weapons, we would fall behind other countries, and the United States would be weakened. I didn’t attack her for thinking differently from me or make it seem I was against her. I simply listened and shared some of the facts and stories I had heard little by little. After several dialogues, she seemed to soften up to the idea of not having nuclear weapons.

What do you feel it will take to abolish nuclear weapons?

Dave: Disarmament means to conquer our own internal fears, insecurities and distrust of those who are different from us. On a global scale, if leaders create stronger ties of trust with other nations, based on mutual respect, they will be more willing to make bold decisions that can move us in the direction of peace.

I also believe that we need a generation of scientists and technologists who hold stronger morals, and refuse to build or develop systems that harm or degrade life. This is why our movement of human revolution is so important.


(pp. 20-23)

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