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A Call to Abolish Nuclear Weapons From the Future

Paper cranes offered to the Children’s Peace Monument at the Peace Memorial Park, Hiroshima. The message reads in English “Prayer for eternal peace.” Photo by The Asahi Shimbun / Contributor / Getty Images.

Living Buddhism met with student division members from various fields of study to discuss their thoughts on abolishing nuclear weapons in the current climate as well as the crucial role dialogue plays in creating a harmonious society.

Living Buddhism: Thank you for joining us. We’re looking forward to hearing your thoughts on nuclear abolition. Can you talk about how you were first introduced to the topic?

Emily Burke (The University of Arizona, Ph.D. student in genetics): I was first exposed to this topic in the 7th grade. We were learning about WWII and the Cold War. I remember being shown a video from the 1950s about what to do in the case of a nuclear attack. There was this turtle singing about how to “duck and cover” if a nuclear bomb was dropped. My friends and I laughed at how attempting to “duck and cover” wouldn’t help anyone.

Steven Smith (Towson University, undergraduate student in media and film): I also learned about nuclear weapons in middle school. My teacher spoke about it as if it were a thing of the past. But last semester, I took a class where we studied in depth about war crimes committed throughout modern history, and the use of nuclear weapons was a major topic. I realized how the threat of nuclear war is still a danger to humanity. I felt fearful and disappointed that the leaders of countries with nuclear weapons continue to produce these weapons that could destroy humanity.

Emi Kuroda (Soka University of America, undergraduate student in liberal arts): In 6th grade, I went on a school trip to the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum. Then, in 8th grade, I went to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. The exhibits shocked me, especially seeing a lunchbox that had been turned to ash. This showed how the victims of the bombings were ordinary people who were just trying to live their lives in peace. I felt that regardless of intent, nuclear weapons could never be justified.

Ahead of our interview, Living Buddhism sent each of you a pamphlet from the Hiroshima Peace Museum that included images of the city after the bombing. What were your thoughts after reviewing the material?

Emily: They were heart-wrenching. I had never seen anything that horrific. It was hard to look at but important, helping me make a stronger commitment to strive to eliminate nuclear weapons.

Steven: Seeing those photos makes it real what the bomb can do, especially knowing that our current nuclear weapons are thousands of times more powerful than they were in 1945.

Emi: Nuclear weapons are not a political issue but a human problem, and it is common people who suffer from nuclear weapons and war.

That’s a great point. What are your thoughts on nuclear deterrence?

Emi: Recently, I took a class where we debated the theory of nuclear deterrence, the military doctrine that claims that increasing a country’s nuclear arsenal deters attack from another country. I couldn’t understand the logic.

It’s like forcing others to respect you based on a threat. True peace or respect cannot be achieved in this way. If that argument was applied to human relationships, it would be considered unhealthy.

Steven: This is a really important topic, and it gets to the heart of the distorted thinking about peace and security—that we are only safe when we are armed. To me, basing your safety on possessing a deadly weapon is a faulty equation.

Emily: I feel like nuclear deterrence is like playing hot potato with nuclear weapons; eventually one will drop, or someone will make a mistake. The vast majority of humanity has already agreed to ban nuclear weapons. There is no way we can have true peace rooted in the threat of mutually assured destruction.

In July 2017, the U.N. adopted the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, the first legally binding international agreement to prohibit nuclear weapons, and it was entered into force in January 2021. Even so, we still have a long way to go into making a nuclear weapons-free world a reality. How do you feel you can make a difference?

Steven: Not all of my friends share the same views as me, but I think having dialogue to understand one another is the heart of making a difference. I like to help my friends relate to different perspectives, not necessarily trying to change what they believe. Chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo consistently has enabled me to have the capacity to engage in patient dialogue and not give in to emotion.

Emi: Ultimately, all these issues are connected to human dignity. I was inspired by Ikeda Sensei’s speech from Columbia University Teachers College where he talks about his wartime experience, how his brother died in war and the deep suffering it brought to his parents. Based on that he said, “I developed a deep hatred for war, its cruelty, stupidity and waste” (A New Way Forward, p. 86). Reading this made me want to stand up and fight to eliminate war and human misery.

Emily: In reading Sensei’s works, I’ve learned that dialogue goes both ways. I shouldn’t listen in order to respond but listen to understand the other person’s perspective.

As someone who received a bachelor’s of science in molecular and cellular biology, I was compelled to help others understand the nature of the COVID-19 pandemic and basic measures they could take to prevent its spread. I engaged in sustained dialogue with several loved ones who had vastly different perspectives. But I didn’t give up and continued to chant for their health and happiness, while continuing to respectfully bring up the issue. I eventually came to a mutual understanding with some of the dearest people in my life. I learned that if you give up, you’ll never progress. I was struck by something I read from Sensei, where he wrote: “At the root of conflicts in the world today lie mistrust and hatred. In order to transcend conflict and division, the genuine power of dialogue is indispensable” (June 2022 Living Buddhism, p. 41).

Steven: I also had a recent experience talking to a family member who I felt was engaging in unhealthy behavior. I did my best to not judge him and speak with him based on my strong desire for his happiness. Also, in hearing him out and seeing what was behind the path he was taking, I learned that everyone has a unique story. I felt by connecting with him heart-to-heart, we were able to understand each other, and he was open to hearing my perspective.

Emi: Before I engage in challenging dialogues, I read Sensei’s poem “Sun of Jiyu Over a New Land,” where he talks about what it means to be a Bodhisattva of the Earth. He explains that deep down, we are connected and seek happiness. Having different perspectives and ideas is actually healthy. We can learn from one another and enrich our lives through interacting with people who think differently.

What are your goals for the future?

Emily: Currently, I’m striving to restart our SGI campus club here at The University of Arizona. I want to build deeper friendships with other members on campus and work together to spread Buddhist humanism to more students. My long-term goals are to complete my Ph.D., become a university professor and eventually establish a high school that fosters humanistic scientists who can contribute to alleviating existential threats to our planet.

Steven: I want to create communities for young people where they can express themselves through art. I feel that many issues with young men who resort to violent lifestyles stem from a lack of a healthy community where they can express their creativity. I want to harness the artistic power of youth to create peace and give hope to countless people.

In terms of nuclear weapons, I feel there is a constant standoff among world powers. They are hiding behind nuclear weapons and refuse to see one another eye-to-eye instead of weapon-to-weapon. I want to contribute to creating a global society where world leaders have the desire to get along harmoniously.

Emi: I’m still trying to figure out how I want to contribute to peace, but I feel that expanding friendships with people around the world is crucial. At SUA, I’ve made friends from so many countries. Now, when I hear news from those countries, I don’t just think about the politics or history of the country but I also think about my friends and their families who are there. I’m determined to fight along side Sensei to create a world of understanding and harmony.

Citizens Are the Key

Denise Duffield, associate director of Physicians for Social Responsibility Los Angeles, and an organizer in the Back from the Brink initiative, speaks to Living Buddhism about getting involved in the fight to eliminate nuclear weapons and actions everyday people can take.

Living Buddhism: Hello Ms. Duffield, thank you very much for making time to share your perspective with SGI-USA members. How did you develop the passion to work for the elimination of nuclear weapons?

Denise Duffield: I appreciate this opportunity to support communities in raising awareness on this urgent issue. I have been involved in the movement to abolish nuclear weapons for many years, but I was moved to new heights of commitment when I began having interactions with atomic bomb survivors known as hibakusha.

I was introduced to them through a remarkable person, Dr. James Yamazaki, a well-known pediatric physician. Dr. Yamazaki was a second-generation Japanese-American, who was sent to Europe during WWII as a combat surgeon. Captured by the Germans, he spent time as a prisoner of war. Shortly after the war, he was sent to Nagasaki to study the effects of radiation on hibakusha.

Through Dr. Yamazaki’s connections, I was able to meet and hear stories of many hibakusha. I was deeply moved by these individuals who were willing to relive their worst nightmares over and over by telling their stories so that no one would have to endure what they went through. Their stories moved me to deep emotion, inspiring in me an immovable determination to make sure their efforts bore fruit.

What are the roadblocks to achieving a nuclear weapons-free world?

Denise: First, public awareness is not as high as it should be. There are so many pressing issues in people’s faces, it’s hard to pile on the issue of nuclear weapons. As a result, the number of everyday citizens applying pressure to lawmakers to advocate for nuclear abolition is limited.

Another roadblock is nuclear deterrence theory that still guides U.S. nuclear weapons policy. It’s clear to most people that this theory is not really about increasing our security. In a sense, many politicians are afraid that if they abandon nuclear deterrence, they will look weak in the global arena.

Finally, many companies maintaining and producing nuclear weapons have sway over influential politicians. Ultimately, these factors make policymakers extremely hesitant to decrease the nuclear arsenal.

How can everyday citizens jump into the fight to abolish nuclear weapons?

Denise: It’s important to recognize that the issue of nuclear weapons is not removed from other systemic injustices such as racism, poverty, climate change and so forth. In fact, Back from the Brink has partnered with other organizations striving for humanistic causes. Nuclear weapons, indeed, are part of a systemic lack of respect for the dignity of life that unfortunately pervades society.

If you would like to take action to support the movement to abolish nuclear weapons, I encourage you to endorse our initiative on our website,, and connect with others in your area also interested in this campaign. You can help organize events to educate the public about the horrific consequences of nuclear weapons and urge policymakers to endorse initiatives for nuclear weapons abolition. Ultimately, I believe we need a more active public to voice their opposition to the continued production, stockpiling and testing of nuclear weapons.

I truly feel that abolishing nuclear weapons is connected to protecting democracy. Things look normal on the surface, but they are not. We could be thrown into a state of peril any day, so now is our opportunity to change the tide. We need a massive shift to deeply valuing people, public health and the planet more than anything else.

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