Check It Out

Nuclear Abolition Is Within Our Reach

Culture of Peace


Ira Helfand, co-president of the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, speaks on the humanitarian and environmental consequences of nuclear weapons.

Ira Helfand spoke at the SGI-USA New York Culture Center on Sept. 11, 2017, as part of the SGI-USA Culture of Peace Distinguished Speaker Series. Dr. Helfand serves as the co-president of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War and is a member of the international steering group for the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), which received the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize.

His talk informed and motivated participants to action, and allowed them to understand the profundity of second Soka Gakkai President Josei Toda’s declaration calling for the total elimination of nuclear weapons. The following are select quotes from his lecture, which is available online at

“We in our generation have been given the opportunity to save the world, and this is an incredibly good thing to do. And so I think we need to view the challenge ahead of us in that way.”

“In the Jewish tradition that I was raised in, the Hebrew bible states that God said: “I have put before you life and death. Therefore, choose life that you and your children might live.” This is literally the choice before the world today. Let us pray that we choose wisely and act with courage and determination so that indeed, our children might live.”

“Within a thousandth of a second of the detonation of [a] 20 megaton warhead . . . [in] this area, the temperatures would rise to 20 million degrees Fahrenheit, which is hotter than the surface of the sun, and everything would be vaporized—the buildings, the trees, the people, the upper level of the earth itself would disappear.”

“I do not come from the Buddhist tradition, but I’m enormously respectful of it and especially of the great work the Soka Gakkai has done on this issue [of nuclear abolition].”

“We build these weapons with our own hands, we know how to take them apart, and we’ve dismantled tens of thousands of them. The only thing that’s lacking in the world today is the political will to take apart the rest of them, and that’s where we, civil society, come in. I think this is within our reach.”

“People talk sometimes as though this is a task that’ll take decades, generations, but we have lived through times when very fundamental change took place quickly. We went from the Cold War arms race in 1983 to the end of the Cold War [several] years later. If we put our hearts and minds to this, we can bring about the same kind of change today.”

“There are people who primarily view the value of these weapons as a source of security—they believe they make us safe—and I think that’s the critical piece that we really need to address, because this is not just a view held by people who are in government. It’s the view that many, many citizens hold, which allows them to continue enabling the government in its nuclear policy.”

“There is always the danger simply of an accidental nuclear war, and we know at this point of about a dozen instances when either Moscow or Washington began the process of launching their nuclear weapons in the mistaken belief that they were under attack by the other side . . . On each of these occasions, we came within minutes of blowing up the planet, and it is critically important that we understand that it is not some wise policy or well-trained leaders that saved us; it’s because we were unbelievably lucky, lucky in a way that we might ask if we really deserve to be. And the most important point about this is, as everyone knows, even the best of luck runs out.”


(p. 11)