On January 26th the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists will announce whether the minute hand of the historic “Doomsday Clock” will be adjusted. . The Doomsday Clock is that icon of the nuclear age that, since 1947, has conveyed “how close we are to destroying our civilization with dangerous technologies of our own making.” The hands of the clock are currently at 3 Minutes to Midnight, and one can only hope they will not be set closer to that fateful hour.
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.
Dr. King warned us, in his famous “World House” essay that:
When scientific power outruns spiritual power, we end up with guided missiles and misguided men.
As we consider the current and pending position of the minute hand on the Doomsday Clock in the context of Dr. King's recent birthday it is hard not to consider the stark contrast between his legacy and the legacy 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. They inspired people to come together in the spirit of nonviolence to build a better world. He most certainly lived out the words he spoke.
On the other hand President Obama, a prisoner of the National Security State and Military-Industrial Complex, is quite the orator, although his rhetoric has fallen far short. In his famous 2009 Prague speech Obama stated, “America's commitment to see the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons,” and specified that the United States would “reduce the role of nuclear weapons in our national security strategy, and urge others to do the same.” Nearly seven years later these words are nothing but empty promises.
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, bombers, and land based missiles is most certainly not “progress.”
As the President begins his last year in office, and with the greatest nuclear weapons modernization effort (since the end of the Cold War) underway, we must ask what legacy will he leave?
What would Dr. King say to President Obama as he approaches final year in office? 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 dark abyss of annihilation? So Mr. President, what legacy will it be?"
Getting back on track toward Obama's vision in his Prague speech will require extraordinary vision, engagement and decisive action. 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 from civil society.
Certainly, since the end of the Cold War, a malaise set in as people assumed the peace dividend had eradicated the nuclear menace, and so they went about business as usual. Yet, the few in control of humanity's destiny have 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 (and beyond).
If this United States in which we live is to be a true 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 than the abolition of nuclear weapons.
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. In his Prague speech, Obama 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 his goals even though he knew they may not be realized in his lifetime.
We, as citizens, must remind President Obama that he needs to change course and be in this for the long haul - for the sake of his children and all the children of the world. And – We must do it now!
So - Happy Birthday Martin. May our gift to you be our commitment to a nonviolent world free of the scourges of war and nuclear weapons.