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MLK’s fears of nuclear devastation should continue to resonate via The Japan Times

“The principal objective of all nations must be the total abolition of war. War must be finally eliminated or the whole of mankind will be plunged into the abyss of annihilation.”
Martin Luther King Jr., December 1957

Sixteen weeks to the day before Martin Luther King Jr. was shot dead on a hotel balcony in Memphis, he decided to write a letter to the people of Japan. In the letter, King expressed a great desire to visit the country and introduce himself along with his message of nuclear disarmament.

Dated Dec. 13, 1967, the letter is a fine example of how King had begun to tackle larger, more global issues. He marveled at how Japan had been able to resurrect itself into an economic power after experiencing nuclear devastation. He also, however, prodded Japan on how the country had at the time been treating war orphans of mixed heritage.

A visit from King to Japan may sound at first like some kind of empty celebrity visit designed to amplify the legend of the visitor, but there were signs that it could have been much more. For example, King only visited Seattle once in his life, a three-day trip during which he delivered several speeches and ate some barbecue before flying back to the U.S. East Coast. Today, the name of the county Seattle resides within is called King County, and the city’s public buses all bear his face.

Even now, Hiroshima is one of the only cities outside North America to honor Martin Luther King Day, thanks in large part to former Hiroshima Mayor Tadatoshi Akiba, who often used King’s words in his speeches to better articulate the argument for nuclear disarmament. For example, in a speech at a U.S. Conference of Mayors luncheon in Washington in 2005, Akiba spoke of the fiery way in which King rejected the notion of nuclear weapons. King once said, “I refuse to accept the cynical notion that nation after nation must spiral down a militaristic stairway into the hell of nuclear annihilation.”

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