“There is a sort of poverty of the spirit which stands in glaring contrast to our scientific and technological abundance. The richer we have become materially, the poorer we have become morally and spiritually. We have learned to fly the air like birds and swim the sea like fish, but we have not learned the simple act of living together as brothers.” Martin Luther King spoke these words in his Nobel Peace Prize lecture, delivered in December 1964.
Three weeks ago I attended the fall meeting of the Alliance for Nuclear Accountability in Tennessee. Fifteen ant-nuclear activists from New Mexico, Texas, Georgia, Ohio, California, Idaho, Tennessee and Maryland had gathered at the Highlander Center on rolling hills near Knoxville.
Years ago the Highlander was one of the few places in the South where integrated meetings could take place, and served as a site of leadership training for southern civil rights activists. For example, Rosa Parks attended a 1955 workshop at Highlander four months before refusing to give up her bus seat, an act that ignited the Montgomery Bus Boycott led by Martin Luther King.
On Sept. 2, 1957, King joined with the staff and participants of a leadership training conference at the Highlander Center to celebrate its 25th anniversary. In his closing address to the conference, King praised Highlander for its “noble purpose and creative work,” and contribution to the South of “some of its most responsible leaders in this great period of transition.”
In 1962, the Cuban Missile Crisis shook the world with extreme international tension and a real danger of nuclear escalation. The crisis was later defined by historian Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. as “the most dangerous moment in human history.” It may have been this crisis that most shaped King’s views of nuclear weapons.
When King elaborated on war, he spoke of “the ever-present threat of annihilation,” referring to the dangers of nuclear weapons.
Recognizing the dangers of denial, or “rejection” of the truth about the nuclear predicament, he went on, “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.”
King went on to win the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964 and it was in that lecture he compared humankind’s technological advancement with our spiritual progress and found us failing to keep pace spiritually. Is that our problem today?
Now, there’s food for thought!
The Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center’s “Peace Train” runs Fridays in the Colorado Daily.