WASHINGTON, D.C., Nov. 11—Jeffrey Boutwell’s mission is the same as his mentor, Sir Joseph Rotblat, the founder of the Pugwash Conferences: to eliminate weapons of mass destruction and put an end to war.
“We need public support, public awareness and engagement to abolish nuclear weapons,” said Dr. Boutwell, the executive director of the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs for the last 10 years. “We need a change in the mindset that accepts the existence of atomic arsenals.”

On Veterans Day, Dr. Boutwell gave an energizing presentation at the SGI-USA Washington, D.C. Culture Center before some 100 people. His talk marked the first anniversary of the “Culture of Peace Distinguished Speakers Series” at the center located on Embassy Row.

The speakers series commenced in 2007, with lecturers focusing on one or more of the eight action areas defined by the 1999 United Nations Declaration and Program of Action on a Culture of Peace. Series events are held regularly at SGI-USA centers in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Honolulu.

The evening program began with a short video on the history of the Pugwash Conferences, which ended with a verse from the Simon & Garfunkel song that inspired the evening’s dialogue: “Last night I had the strangest dream / I ever dreamed before. I dreamed the world had all agreed / to put an end to war.”

The first Pugwash Conference was held in July 1957 in Pugwash, Nova Scotia. Sir Rotblat—the only scientist to voluntarily leave the Manhattan Project before the explosion of the world’s first atomic bomb in 1945—brought together 22 of the world’s most influential scientists to discuss ways to eliminate nuclear weapons in the midst of the Cold War.

It was the same year that—on the other side of the globe—second Soka Gakkai president Josei Toda issued his seminal declaration calling for the abolition of nuclear weapons at a gathering before some 50,000 youth on Sept. 8, 1957 in Yokohama Japan. He did so based on the belief that since human beings gave rise to nuclear weapons, it was not beyond their power to eliminate them.

Sir Rotblat and SGI President Ikeda later held a series of fruitful dialogues, which were published as the book “A Quest for Global Peace.” The dream that President Ikeda inherited from his mentor, Josei Toda, is now shared by millions of SGI members around the world.

In his talk, Dr. Boutwell said that both the Pugwash platform and President Ikeda’s peace proposals advocate the abolition of war as a social institution and the need for a deep transformation in the perception that having nuclear weapons is a point of prestige for nations.

Dr. Boutwell observed that the Pugwash movement plays a unique role toward this end, since it is not a public organization. “Our way of working is, in some way, under the radar,” he said. “We create a special place for dialogue where scientists, politicans and experts in conflict resolution coming from polar opposite sides of the political spectrum can come together to have a dialogue in a non-confrontational way and look for common solutions.”

Dr. Boutwell further stated that we must attach a new sense of urgency to eliminating atomic arms “because as long as they exist, they are going to be used.”

Tomoko Wada, an SGI-USA young women’s leader, gave a brief overview of the SGI’s engagement in grassroots efforts to abolish nuclear weapons, which include public education and outreach.

She focused, in particular, on President Ikeda’s annual peace proposals, which are circulated among opinion leaders around the world, including U.N. officials, and provide the broad basis for SGI’s global peace activities.

Ms. Wada also spoke of “People’s Decade for Nuclear Abolition,” an SGI initiative launched in 2007 to rouse public opinion and foster a grassroots network of citizens dedicated to abolishing nuclear weapons.
After his lecture, Dr. Boutwell held a dialogue with local SGI-USA representatives, followed by a lively debate with the attendees.

Participant Julie Monroe-Tagliaferro said that she left the lecture feeling energized. “Before tonight, I hadn't really thought about nuclear disarmament,” she said, “but now it's at the forefront of my mind.”
Leanne Smith, likewise, said she was encouraged by the talk. "It reminded me,” she said, “that one person has the power to make a change for the whole world."

—Diana Wells contributed to this article.