Campus News


Fifth Annual Dialogue on the Culture of Peace and Non-Violence with Ira Helfand

The Fifth Annual Dialogue on the Culture of Peace and Non-Violence welcomed Dr. Ira Helfand to the Soka University of America Athenaeum on October 2, 2018.  Sponsored by the generous support from The Luis and Linda Nieves Family Foundation, guests attended Dr. Helfand’s talk titled, “The Growing Danger of Nuclear War and What We Can Do About It” which presented the stark reality of what will happen to our world should a nuclear weapon be detonated in the United States. 

Ira Helfand, MD is co-president of the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW), recipient of the 1985 Nobel Peace Prize, and he is co-founder and past president of Physicians for Social Responsibility, IPPNW’s US affiliate. Dr. Helfand was educated at Harvard College and the Albert Einstein College of Medicine. He is a former chairman of the Department of Emergency Medicine and president of the Medical Staff at Cooley Dickinson Hospital and currently practices as an internist and urgent care physician at Family Care Medical Center in Springfield, Massachusetts.

Dr. Helfand represents IPPNW at the annual World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates. He is also a member of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN)’s International Steering Committee. Dr. Helfand co-authored PSR’s report, Nuclear Famine: 2 Billion at Risk?, which outlines the global health consequences of regional nuclear war. Dr. Helfand addressed national delegations at international conferences on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons in Oslo, Norway, Narayit, Mexico, and Vienna, Austria, during the May 2016 U.N. Open-Ended Working Group on disarmament in Geneva, and throughout the U.N. General Assembly negotiations in 2017.

Introduced by Dean of Faculty, Bryan Penprase, Dr. Helfand offered his thoughts on the threat of nuclear weapons, stating that use of nuclear weapons is a greater threat today than it was during the Cold War.  Helfand presented seven specific geopolitical flashpoints that contribute to the increased danger of nuclear war.  The first five flashpoints describe the unpredictable and unstable relations between US and Russia; US and China; US and Korea; tensions in South Asia between India and Pakistan; and last, US and Iran relations. Each of these countries possesses significant amounts of nuclear weapons and each escalation of conflict only brings these parties closer to nuclear action. Helfand further explained three additional factors that should be considered which add to the risk. These are; climate change, the threat of cyber-terrorism and, the Trump presidency. 

Climate change is already a concern for sustainable life, but when we begin to see mass migrations of people into other territories, due to uninhabitable land in addition to mass food shortages, tensions only increase into greater conflict.  Cyber-terrorism is also a very real threat, where hackers could gain access of the command and control centers and actually launch or falsely appear to launch a weapon, making the target country believe they are under nuclear attack. Helfand also describes the Trump presidency as a contributing factor.  It is an assumption that decisions about nuclear policies are made by leaders who are wise, temperate and well-informed but members of Trump’s own cabinet feel that this president is not able to handle access to nuclear codes or able to make decisions surrounding the use of nuclear weapons. 

Helfand concluded his talk by discussing the mass destruction of an actual nuclear attack on a large city such as Los Angeles.  The effects of this initial devastation would alter modern civilization, as we know it.  He pressed how we are living on borrowed time if we continue to build and keep nuclear weapons.  This is a real danger as long as these weapons exist.  It is time to take action and get our government to commit to abolishing these weapons.  Despite the doom he illustrated, Helfand offered that while this problem is a burden on younger generations, it is also a gift, a gift to continue to fight for change in our nation’s policies and live a truly contributive life. 

Photos courtesy of University Archivist and Photographers