Today is the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr. - just one day after The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists announced that the Doomsday Clock will stay at five minutes to midnight (at least for now).
Much of the world knows Dr. King as one of the great peacemakers of all time. What many people are not aware of is just how deep was King's opposition not only to war, but also to nuclear weapons.
I wrote about this earlier in January in a tribute to Dr. King's legacy. I will not say more about that here except to say that the following quote speaks volumes to the depth of King's understanding of the taproot of violence so deep in the tortured soul of the national security state.
When scientific power outruns spiritual power, we end up with guided missiles and misguided men.
As we consider the position of the minute hand on the Doomsday Clock in the context of Dr. King's birthday it is hard not to consider the contrast between the legacy he left and the one being created by U.S. President Barack Obama. Two Nobel Peace Prize recipients - two radically different paths.
Dr. King was an extraordinary orator. His words flowed deep from within his spiritual consciousness that was rooted in the struggles of human beings for their basic rights. He lived out the words he spoke.
yesterday's open letter from The Bulletin reminds the President, "In 2009 you stood in Hradcany Square and boldly stated: 'America's commitment to see the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons,' and you specified that the United States will 'reduce the role of nuclear weapons in our national security strategy, and urge others to do the same.'" Four years later these words seem like empty promises.
The authors of the letter to Obama were correct to state that "we see progress," a few positive steps need to be viewed in a total context. Rebuilding the infrastructure that develops, builds and maintains nuclear weapons is not "progress." Rebuilding nuclear warheads and bombs is not progress. Moving ahead with plans to build a new generation of ballistic missile submarines is not progress.
As the letter stated, "2012 was a year of unrealized opportunity..." And now the President is about to embark on another four years in office. What path will he take? What legacy will he leave?
What would Dr. King say to President Obama as he approaches the eve of another four years? I imagine him speaking of the President's two daughters and asking,"Mr. President, what legacy do you want to leave for your children Malia and Sasha, and indeed what legacy do you want to leave for all the children of the world? Mr. President, just when is our nation going to truly lead the world to peace? When will we learn to live together in this great big World House that we all share? You and I know, Mr. President, that the alternative to disarmament is the abyss of annihilation? So Mr. President, what legacy will it be?"
The letter from The Bulletin is a positive model for moving forward, and its authors stated that "we see 2013 as a year for vision and engagement." They further stated that "decisive action can make the world safer."
Indeed, to get back on track toward Obama's vision in his Prague speech it will require both vision, engagement AND decisive action. Beyond vision, engagement and action already face strong opposition on many levels in both the civilian and military sectors of the government and on Wall Street. The President will NOT be moved to lead the world toward disarmament without significant prodding beyond the letter from The Bulletin.
As the letter stated in the first sentence, "2012 was a year in which the problems of the world pressed forward, but too many of its citizens stood back." Indeed, the vast majority of the nation (and the rest of the world) stood back while the few in control of humanity's destiny continued to make preparations for the unspeakable.
It is time for all citizens, and not just a small percentage, to be informed about the issues surrounding nuclear weapons and how they affect all of us. It is time for citizens to step forward and become engaged in decisions that were never in their hands in the first place, but should have been. It is time to bring nuclear weapons into the center of a public dialogue and debate, and for the citizenry to make its voice heard loud and clear in the halls of The White House, Congress and the Pentagon.
If this United States in which we live is to be a democracy, then it is up to us as citizens to make it so. And there is no greater issue, in terms of the survival of humanity, in which we can (and must) become engaged.
Dr. King once said that "The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice." King understood that change (at least lasting change) does not occur overnight. It is a long, hard struggle, as evidenced by every struggle for human rights throughout history.
Therein lies one major difference between Dr. King and President Obama. Obama, in his Prague speech, recognized that "This goal will not be reached quickly –- perhaps not in my lifetime." The difference is that Dr. King didn't stop working toward a goal even though he knew it may not be realized in his lifetime. We, as citizens, must remind President Obama that he needs to be in this for the long haul - for the sake of his children and all the children of the world.
Happy Birthday Martin. May our gift to you on this day be our commitment to a nonviolent world free of the scourges of war and nuclear weapons.