The only nuclear weapons that got any attention during the final presidential debate were the not-yet-existent weapons that Iran may someday build.

Preventing additional countries from gaining these weapons is crucial. But we thoroughly undermine the moral standing we need to stop other countries from building their first nuclear weapon when we are still deploying 8,000 of our own.

Fifty years ago this week, as the Cuban Missile Crisis drew to a close, the world uttered a collective sigh of relief after narrowly averting nuclear annihilation.

Fifty years later, failing to learn from the lessons of history could doom us to a fate far worse than simply repeating history. Thousands of nuclear warheads still stand by, threatening our communities.

"Where there is no vision the people perish," teaches Scripture. Now, humanity and much of life on Earth could perish if we lack the vision to change course.

Whoever wins the presidential election has an opportunity to be a leader of vision who can end the Cold War nightmare of nuclear disaster and create a nuclear weapons policy that fits the realities of the 21st century.

President Barack Obama will complete his review of nuclear weapons policy before the end of the year. Should Mitt Romney be elected, he will almost certainly do his own review.

The next time the world hangs at the precipice of nuclear annihilation, the cause is far more likely to be a bomber's computer glitch or a terrorist cell smuggling a warhead into an American harbor than the geopolitical brinkmanship of presidents.

No one marks the anniversaries of the many near misses caused by human and technical errors. And it's that history we should be working double-time to avoid repeating.

The very existence of large stockpiles of nuclear weapons is an urgent moral issue. These weapons are ethically unlike any other weapons. Pacifists and supporters of Just War doctrine can come together and agree that the potential for massive indiscriminate killing caused by nuclear weapons has no place in a civilized world.

At this moment, there are nuclear warheads standing by on high-alert status targeting innocent civilians in Russia and the United States. Just one of those weapons can kill millions. An exchange of nuclear weapons could cause catastrophic damage to the global environment.

The planet of which we are called to be stewards would be virtually uninhabitable for centuries.

That's why 116 political and faith leaders have delivered a letter to the president urging him to create a saner nuclear weapons policy. The people -- driven by conscience and common sense -- must push U.S. policymakers to lead the world away from nuclear weapons making the world safer and saving billions of dollars.

In doing so, we place human history on a path to a nuclear weapons-free world.

As Gen. Colin Powell, who oversaw 28,000 nuclear weapons as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has said: these weapons "are useless ... this is the moment when we have to move forward and all of us come together to reduce the number of nuclear weapons and eliminate them from the face of the Earth."

Jon Rainwater, a resident of Oakland, is executive director of Peace Action West and the Peace Education Fund, headquartered in Oakland. The Rev. Rick Schlosser is executive director of the Sacramento-based California Council of Churches, which includes 21 denominations in California, with 5,000 congregations and more than 1.5 million members.