“Know Nukes” Panel Discussion in Cambridge

On Saturday, March 10, the Ikeda Center’s program coordinator, Lillian I, participated in Massachusetts Peace Action (MAPA) Next Gen’s first event, “Know Nukes.” Lillian (left) joined a panel alongside Max Tegmark (right) from the Future of Life Institute and Michelle Cunha (center) of MAPA to discuss the current state of nuclear weapons, nuclear disarmament, the mentality behind nuclear war and deterrence, and other related topics.

To open, panelists introduced their work and connection with nuclear disarmament. Speaking from his perspective as a physics professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and founder of the Future of Life Institute, Max Tegmark offered contextualizing facts about nuclear weapons and emphasized the urgent need to at least begin to reduce the nuclear arsenal of the United States. Michelle Cunha focused on social activism as well as the importance of getting politicians who support nuclear abolition elected. Lillian offered a Buddhist perspective on the mentality behind nuclear war and highlighted ways that young people can feel empowered to get involved in the issue. 

The discussion then evolved into a larger dialogue with the audience, which included a mixture of students, young professionals, and Cambridge-area peace activists. One young man shared the widespread view that while nuclear weapons carry many dangers they nevertheless might be necessary for a country’s security. Lillian responded by looking beyond the security rationale to the deeper ethics of nuclear weapons usage. “From a Buddhist perspective, each person’s life is infinitely precious and respect worthy,” said Lillian. “Underlying the acceptance of nuclear weapons, however, is the mindset that to protect one’s own interests and to advance one’s own agenda, the potential sacrifice of millions of civilians is acceptable.” This same mindset, she added, “is the fundamental cause of other social issues we face in our society.” In response to the question of what each of us can do to make a difference, Max Tegmark commented that it all starts from each of us learning about the issue and then getting what we see as the most vital information out there for others to engage with. One young woman commented that she sees nuclear disarmament as being a very policy-heavy issue and asked how she can engage in this issue if she is not an expert on policy. Michelle pointed out that no one is an expert on nuclear abolition and that women, especially, must ensure that our voices are heard.

Following up on this point, Lillian spoke about the Ikeda Center’s recent Student Peace Seminar where eleven young women from six Boston-area universities came together with peace educators Betty Reardon and Zeena Zakharia to tackle the issue of nuclear abolition. Interestingly, she said, the majority of these students came into the seminar with no prior knowledge of nuclear weapons. They simply started with the question, Why does this matter to me? Lillian concluded by saying that “as Dr. Reardon and Professor Zakharia guided the students from awareness raising to envisioning a plan for the future, the students emerged as protagonists and youthful voices on this issue.”

The event, meant to bring together young people in their 20s and 30s, was moderated by MAPA’s Youth Organizing Coordinator, Caitlin Forbes. MAPA Next Gen is a group of passionate young people seeking ways to engage in peace activism.

Go here to learn more about MAPA

Go here to learn more about the Future of Life Institute