MLK on war

In the lecture that he delivered as a part of Nobel Peace Prize, Martin Luther King, Jr., discussed the scourges of racism, poverty, and war, weaving the importance of non-violence in addressing each. Here is what he said about the last affliction:

So man’s proneness to engage in war is still a fact. But wisdom born of experience should tell us that war is obsolete. There may have been a time when war served as a negative good by preventing the spread and growth of an evil force, but the destructive power of modern weapons eliminated even the possibility that war may serve as a negative good. If we assume that life is worth living and that man has a right to survive, then we must find an alternative to war. In a day when vehicles hurtle through outer space and guided ballistic missiles carve highways of death through the stratosphere, no nation can claim victory in war. A so-called limited war will leave little more than a calamitous legacy of human suffering, political turmoil, and spiritual disillusionment. A world war – God forbid! – will leave only smoldering ashes as a mute testimony of a human race whose folly led inexorably to ultimate death. So if modern man continues to flirt unhesitatingly with war, he will transform his earthly habitat into an inferno such as even the mind of Dante could not imagine.

Therefore, I venture to suggest to all of you and all who hear and may eventually read these words, that the philosophy and strategy of nonviolence become immediately a subject for study and for serious experimentation in every field of human conflict, by no means excluding the relations between nations. It is, after all, nation-states which make war, which have produced the weapons which threaten the survival of mankind, and which are both genocidal and suicidal in character.

That’s a pretty potent statement. Of course, he was speaking in the context of the stand-off between the USA and the (then) USSR and their massive arsenals. Since then, the world has changed and even more nations have developed weapons of mass destruction. The urgency that accompanied policies such as mutually assured destruction may seem to have abated or at least lessened. But, the importance of non-violent approaches seems even more urgent as we—not “we” the USA, but “we” humans—band together along different lines (ideology based on religion rather than economic policy) to threaten each other. I appreciate the reminder of the value of non-violence that reviewing MLK’s lecture provides.

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Filed under Civil rights, Free speech, Non-violence, Notes and comments, Peace

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