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A World Without Nuclear Weapons

Peace monument in Nagasaki. Photo by Tayawee Supan / Unsplash

The Atomic Age was born 78 years ago, on July 16, 1945, when the United States government conducted an atomic bomb test in Los Alamos, New Mexico. The first large-scale use of nuclear technology, it became the precursor to the bombings in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Eight decades later, we continue to live in this age, where the threat of immediate global annihilation persists. In our extended fight to abolish nuclear weapons, faith and community activists gathered on July 16, 2023, for a conference in Santa Fe, New Mexico, titled “A World Without Nuclear Weapons,” co-sponsored by the Archdiocese of Santa Fe, Nuclear Watch New Mexico, Tularosa Basin Downwinders Consortium, the United Church of Santa Fe and the SGI-USA. Since Second Soka Gakkai President Josei Toda’s “Declaration for the Abolition of Nuclear Weapons” in September 1957, Ikeda Sensei and SGI members around the world have made relentless efforts to create a growing tide of Soka humanism and a world where nuclear weapons no longer exist.

Conference Message

by Charles Oppenheimer

I am going to quote my grandfather, J. Robert Oppenheimer, from October 16, 1945, as he spoke his final words as the leader of the Los Alamos Laboratory:

The peoples of this world must unite or they will perish. This war, which has ravaged so much of the earth, has written these words. The atomic bomb has spelled them out for all men to understand.

I believe the most important part of his legacy is my grandfather’s advocacy for global unity and openness to deal with our scientific and technological growth that always outpaces our genuine understanding.

General Applicability

His advice is still relevant, perhaps more so than ever. It is not too late to listen to him now.

My grandfather and many other notable scientists, for example Niels Bohr, as well as some statesmen, had great hope that the development of the bomb could end all wars—before the first bomb was even completed.

It was clear to them that there was no way to keep the science of fission secret. They also realized that bombs would inevitably get bigger and more powerful—but would never make us safer and that there was no defense against them.

My grandfather saw that the only way to avoid the danger of an arms race was through managing this risk together. This was a possibility that was almost implemented in 1947 with the Acheson-Lilienthal proposal, which unfortunately was undermined by our own government and was not implemented.

In 1954, Robert Oppenheimer was attacked by the government. He had committed the crime of insufficient enthusiasm for building a yet bigger hydrogen bomb and was vilified as if he had a character flaw.

The U.S. tried secrecy while building weapons and got the arms race the scientists warned against. Very few people now claim the nuclear arms race was good for us. We have managed to survive—so far—but we still must work together on the shared threat that we humans have created.


In 1945 we were not ready to hear that the only path to safety was cooperating with scientific openness.

Maybe we are ready for that message now.

Humans evolved to cooperate with their tribes and battle the enemy. The growth of science and technology—foretold by the atomic bomb—means that we are now in a large global tribe with all other humans. Our shared enemy is the risk of nuclear and environmental catastrophe—but we can fight these threats together.


The call for increased unity, to transcend self-interest and tribal boundaries, comes from every culture and philosophy. Unity is the answer to our problems—and a discussion of it has been around for thousands of years. This is one of the reasons my grandfather quoted the Bhagavad Gita when describing the global change that atomic science ushered in. He said right after the first atomic blast, “I am become Death / The destroyer of worlds.”

The story of nuclear weapons and our failure to contain them can seem scary—even depressing.

But I think there is reason for optimism.

We can recognize our interdependence as a fact, as basic as nuclear fission. War is not practical anymore—we cannot have a total war without global annihilation. Robert Oppenheimer saw that in a bomb in the New Mexico desert in 1945.

So why would we not cooperate on our real shared risks? We should focus on energy abundance and a transition from carbon-based energy rather than spending money on outdated nuclear warfare systems.

Although we have to accept some conflict—we cannot overcome our past that easily—we can contain it in healthy things, such as science, commerce, sports and even politics.


These are difficult things of course. You can see the right thing to do, fight for it and lose, as my grandfather did.

But I see in his example of struggling both in war and in the aftermath the duty to try. And good ideas tried repeatedly have a way of lasting.

I would like to share a closing quote from my grandfather, from the lecture “The Open Mind” (1955): “It is in our hands to see the hope of the future is not lost.”

Please join me in seeing to it that ultimately my grandfather did not lose. Please join me in seeing to it that J.R. Oppenheimer’s vision of unity and peace finally bears fruit, freeing us from a new and yet more dangerous nuclear arms race.

From the September 2023 Living Buddhism

A New Departure for Humanity

Hardships Create the Inspiring Music of the Heart