Monday, January 18, 2010

Dr. Martin Luther King: War caused by Ethical Infantilism

“If we want to end the war in the world, we need to end the war in our own hearts.”

-- Thich Nhat Hanh
The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a global anti-poverty, anti-colonial, and an anti-war activist as well as an American racial justice advocate. In 1967, King nominated Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh for the Nobel Peace Prize, because of their shared opposition to the US war in Vietnam.

In King's 1964 Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, he told people that war resulted from ethical infantilism; and that even "limited war" can "leave little more than a calamitous legacy of human suffering, political turmoil, and spiritual disillusionment."

King said that only the pursuit of "positive peace" can stop the the toxic, violent attitudes that form the militaristic worldview that justifies an ever-increasing production of weapons; the creation of public military schools: the construction of military bases on land confiscated from peaceful owners overseas; and the belief that we should sacrifice young people in wars.

When he wrote these words, King thought that colonialism and racism would be overcome soon afterwards--but more than forty years later, another generation is still facing colonialism, the oppression of indigenous peoples, and the diversion of taxpayer money to record-setting military spending (instead of addressing social needs--because developed nations have chosen military and war economies rather than the pursuit of positive peace societies.)

So King's reminder that colonialism, war, poverty, and racial injustice are all part of the same societal sickness is as relevant now as when King first spoke these words :
This problem of spiritual and moral lag, which constitutes modern man's chief dilemma, expresses itself in three larger problems which grow out of man's ethical infantilism. Each of these problems, while appearing to be separate and isolated, is inextricably bound to the other. I refer to racial injustice, poverty, and war...

A third great evil confronting our world is that of war. Recent events have vividly reminded us that nations are not reducing but rather increasing their arsenals of weapons of mass destruction. The best brains in the highly developed nations of the world are devoted to military technology..

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 But wisdom born of experience should tell us that war is obsolete.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...

We will not build a peaceful world by following a negative path. It is not enough to say "We must not wage war." It is necessary to love peace and sacrifice for it. We must concentrate not merely on the negative expulsion of war, but on the positive affirmation of peace...

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