The atomic bombs had been dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki just before 18-year-old William J. Perry landed in Japan during the War of Occupation as a mapping specialist. He saw the devastation left behind by American firebombers on Tokyo and Okinawa.
The young man quickly understood the staggering magnitude of difference in the destruction caused by traditional firepower and these new atomic bombs. He would go on to devote his life to understanding, procuring and then trying to dismantle those weapons.
But that was seven decades back. And many young Americans today believe the threat of nuclear weapons waned alongside the Cold War and Cuban Missile Crisis.
So as faculty at Stanford and the Center for International Security and Cooperation evolve with the digital age by taking their lessons online, one of the university’s oldest professors is also adapting to online teaching in an effort to reach the youngest audience, urging them to take on the no-nukes mantle that he’s held for many years.
“The issue is so important to me that I tried all sorts of approaches from books and courses and lectures and conferences to try to get my contemporaries and the generations behind me engaged – all with limited success,” says the 86-year-old Perry, a CISAC faculty member and the Michael and Barbara Berberian Professor (emeritus) at the center’s parent organization, the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies.
“First – which is a sine qua non – they must become seriously concerned that there is a nuclear danger, which most of these kids don’t understand at all,” said Perry. “Secondly, we want to convince them that there is something they can actually do about it.”
To reach those students, he believes he must go digital. So Perry – who co-teaches with CISAC’s Siegfried Hecker the popular Stanford course, “Technology and National Security” – began to map out a classroom course that would be videotaped and serve as a pilot for an online class that would be free and open to the public.
That course, “Living at the Nuclear Brink: Yesterday & Today” included lectures by some of the best people working in the field of nuclear nonproliferation today. Among those who will be highlighted in the online course are Perry and Hecker; Joe Martz of the Los Alamos National Laboratory; Stanford nuclear historian David Holloway; Stanford political scientist Scott Sagan; and Ploughshares Fund president, Joseph Cirincione.
The Perry Project will produce short-segment videos highlighting key information and stories from the course, packaging them in an online course available in multiple platforms and possibly offered by the university.
Perry used his personal journey as a young soldier during WWII, a mathematician and later a developer of weapons for the U.S. nuclear arsenal as undersecretary of defense for the Carter administration – and then trying to dismantle those weapons as secretary of defense for President Bill Clinton.
“I’m not doing this simply because I want to put a notch on my belt, to say that I’ve done a MOOC,” Perry said. “I’m doing it because I really want to get across to hundreds of thousands of young people.”
Last summer, he launched the Perry Project by inviting a dozen high school and college students to campus for a nuclear weapons boot camp so that they could take back to campus the message that nuclear annihilation is still a real, contemporary possibility.
He asked them: How do I get through to your generation?
“They said, `We don’t get our information by books or even by television, we get it through social media and YouTube, the various social media platforms. And you want to make the message relevant and relatively compact,’” he recalls.
Perry listened. “Living at the Nuclear Brink: Yesterday and Today” is in production now and a short-segment pilot video should be made available in the fall.
CISAC is turning to other forms on online learning, as well.
And lectures from CISAC's signature course, “International Security in a Changing World” (PS114S) will soon go up on YouTube as lecture modules entitled, “Security Matters.”
“Online learning offers a way to expand CISAC's reach to new audiences, geographies, and generations,” says CISAC Co-Director Amy Zegart, who has co-taught the popular course for the past few years with CISAC’s Martha Crenshaw.
“At the same time, the PS114 online modules will give us a living lecture library so that future Stanford students can compare faculty lectures on similar topics across time – learning, for example, how Martha Crenshaw assessed the terrorist threat in 2010 vs. 2015,” Zegart said.
Guest lecturers whose presentations will be included for the YouTube package include:
And lectures at CISAC’s Cybersecurity Boot Camp for senior congressional aids will also be videotaped and packaged for YouTube and online consumption later this year.
“We are excited to enter into this phase of experimentation to see what works, what doesn't, and how we can further CISAC's teaching mission both here at Stanford and around the world,” Zegart said.