By: Eric Betts
The New York Times reported on January 13, 2018, the following frightening warning to our American citizens on the island of Hawaii. It was a fearful blunder which will not be forgotten. The warning said:
An early-morning emergency alert mistakenly warning of an incoming ballistic missile attack was dispatched to cellphones across Hawaii on Saturday, setting off widespread panic in a state that was already on edge because of escalating tensions between the United States and North Korea.
The alert, sent by the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency, was revoked 38 minutes after it was issued, prompting confusion over why it was released — and why it took so long to rescind. State officials and residents of a normally tranquil part of the Pacific, as well as tourists swept up in the panic, immediately expressed outrage.
Recently in the news we have heard extremely loose and irresponsible rhetoric around nuclear weapons in the Russia/Ukraine conflict. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was ahead of his times when he spoke about the competition for power among nations in a nuclearized world. He protested against it vigorously. He warned against nation building by the U. S. military and using its nuclear stockpile to threaten other nations, and cautioned that such recklessness in foreign affairs may one day lead to the end of civilization as we know it. When considering the awful mistake of sending out a mistaken nuclear warning, it only reminds one of the famous words spoken by King at Ebenezer Baptist Church in 1968. It would do the world well to take heed.
If somebody doesn’t bring an end to this suicidal thrust that we see in the world today, none of us are going to be around, because somebody’s going to make the mistake through our senseless blunderings of dropping a nuclear bomb somewhere. And then another one is going to drop. And don’t let anybody fool you; this can happen within a matter of seconds. They have twenty megaton bombs in Russia right now that can destroy a city as big as New York in three seconds, with everybody wiped away, and every building. And we can do the same thing to Russia and China. But this is why we are drifting. And we are drifting there because nations are caught up with the drum major instinct, “I must be first,” “I must be supreme,” “Our nation must rule the world.” And I am sad to say that the nation in which we live is the supreme culprit. And I’m going to continue to say it to America, because I love this country too much to see the drift that it has taken. God didn’t call America to do what she’s doing in the world now. God didn’t call America to engage in a war in Vietnam. And we are criminals in that war. We’ve committed more war crimes almost than any nation in the world, and I’m going to continue to say it. And we won’t stop it because of our pride and arrogance as a nation. But God has a way of even putting nations in their place.
Dr. King was assassinated in 1968 and yet his words are more relevant today than they were during those days when he spoke them. The mentality of America and its global competitors resembles almost exactly what King described and warned against. He spoke out against the attitude that says, “I must be first,” and “I must be supreme.” He declared that it was this mindset that led to the Vietnam War and senselessly cost so many hundreds of thousands of American lives and countless more among the Vietnamese. With all the discoveries and scientific advancements of this generation, it seems as if these advanced times have become more unpredictable. It is amazing that none of the alliances formed after World War II have made the world any safer. Humankind has not solved the most important and most essential problem — how to develop a system by which nations can begin to view one another with a sense of familyhood. King’s famous words loom large in our times. He said, “Somewhere we must discover the world over that we must learn to live together as brothers or we will all perish together as fools.”
The struggle of the times, King described, was not that of terrorism, but of militarism. He categorized it as the greatest threat of the age. He said that it is the great threat to civilization, and could possibly lead to global annihilation. The leader of the United States, along with the great military powers of our time, would do well to heed King’s words.
I never intend to adjust myself to the madness of militarism and the self-defeating effects of physical violence. For in a day when Sputniks and Explorers are dashing through outer space, and guided ballistic missiles are carving highways of death through the stratosphere, no nation can win a war. It is no longer a choice between violence and non-violence; it is either non-violence or non existence. The alternative to disarmament, the alternative to suspension of nuclear tests, the alternative to strengthening the United Nations and disarming the whole world may well be a civilization plunged into the abyss of annihilation…And I believe that such maladjustment will help us emerge from the bleak and desolate midnight of man’s inhumanity to man into the bright and glittering daybreak of freedom and justice.”
The shockwaves that were felt in the mistaken warning in the state of Hawaii should remind everyone of the deadly blundering which King spoke about and which is possible to occur in this age. One thing is certain; King’s words were not a mistaken warning as the one in Hawaii, but one that must be taken seriously.
By: Eric Betts
Assistant Director, Curtis Coleman Center for Religious Studies and Ethics at Athens State University