Skip to content
Guest Thinkers

MLK On War And Environment

Planet Green ran an interesting countdown today: “6 Lessons the Green Movement Can Learn from MLK (in his own words).” Each bullet point is an MLK quote – most of them well-known, inspiring, and applicable to pretty much any social or environmental issue in the world today. “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter,”and the like. But two of the quotes were more timely and specific as applied to today’s green movement, community, and technology. At the heart of both of these quotes is one of MLK’s central theses – that war is at odds with social/environmental progress:

Green(ish) MLK Quote #1:

“A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual doom … Our scientific power has outrun our spiritual power. We have guided missiles and misguided men.”

Green(ish) MLK Quote #2:

“When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.”

Are we guiding missiles and misguiding men, today? Are we giving militarism a leg up by putting “profit motives” at the top of our list of priorities? Well, follow the money. It takes one million dollars to keep a single soldier in Afghanistan for one year. What kind of change would that $1 million make, for example, for an environmental microfinance initiative founded on $100 in rural Africa? It makes the head spin. Here’s another: about two years ago, Earth Policy Institute’s Lester Brown estimated that we could restore the earth’s ecosystems and fight climate change for $161 billion—a mere third of the annual US military budget.

This one hurts, too: One quarter of the “Superfund” hazardous waste sites in Massachusetts are directly related to the military.

The US army has spent $28 billion to dispose of a third of our chemical weapon stockpile.

80% of Kuwaiti camels were killed during the Persian gulf war.

The list goes on. It’s not hard to make the argument that the natural environment, as Alice and Lincoln Day posit in their documentary Scarred Land and Wounded Lives: The Environmental Footprint of War, is indeed war’s silent casualty. Or that a nation that “continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift” is approaching some sort of doom, whether you subscribe to a set of religious beliefs you’d call “spiritual” or not.


Up Next