SGI-USA members attend a talk on nuclear abolition with former U.S. Secretary of Defense William Perry.

by Jihii Jolly
CORRESPONDENT

Photo: Glenn Fawcett.
Photo: Glenn Fawcett.

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.”


Impressions From Youth

“The sense of urgency that nuclear war can happen right now really struck me. I’m going to chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo about nuclear abolition a lot more. Even during silent prayers, I’m going to keep that in my heart. I really feel for the first time, it needs to be on the top of my mind, with everything that I do.” —Jennifer Wilmeth
“We are very social beings and influenced by popular opinion. If our generation becomes passionate about nuclear abolition, it is inevitable that we be rid of them. Ultimately the weapons do not belong to our governments, they belong to us, and it is our decision to be rid of them.” —Robert Taliaferro
“There was such a deep connection between how SGI President Ikeda presents the world and how Dr. William Perry did; with hope and an emphasis on education as the surest way to change the world.” —Natasha Bhardwaj
“To be able to hear Dr. Perry’s experience and how he is able to fight for what he believes in really inspires me and makes me feel more determined to continue our path for kosen-rufu in the SGI.” —Yuen Ping Low
“Dr. Perry emphasized the importance of person-to-person exchange, which really aligns with President Ikeda’s philosophy of dialogue as the solution to create peace . . . I do feel that if more people understood the consequences of nuclear weapons, it would make a difference.” —Lenny Bogdonoff
“I really felt the similarity between Dr. Perry’s vision for fully empowering youth and President Ikeda’s vision of entrusting the youth to shoulder kosen-rufu. I think my next action is going to be to educate myself more and learn how I can support the SGI’s movement for nuclear disarmament.” —Rachel Grundy