The song “War” by Bob Marley & the Wailers is well known to reggae music fans worldwide. It’s on their classic LP, Rastaman Vibration (1976), one of the most famous reggae albums ever recorded. (You can watch videos of them performing “War” live on YouTube.)
As serious reggae fans know, the lyrics of the song come from a speech by the Emperor of Ethiopia, Haile Selassie I. He gave it on October 4, 1963 at a meeting of the United Nations General Assembly in New York City.
Selassie was born in 1892 into Ethiopia’s royal family, which practiced the Ethiopian Orthodox version of Christianity and traced its origins back to King Solomon of Israel and Makeda, Queen of Sheba.
His birth name was Tafari Makonnen. As a young nobleman he was called “Ras Tafari” – the title “Ras” roughly translating as “Duke” in English. When he ascended to the position of Emperor in 1930, he took the name Haile Selassie, which means “Power of the Trinity.”
To Jamaican “Rastafarians,” His Imperial Majesty Ras Tafari was (and is) viewed as God incarnate – the Dread Lion of Judah, King of Kings.
Thus, it’s fitting that Rastafarians Bob Marley and the Wailers immortalized key parts of Selassie’s October 4, 1963 U.N. address in their song “War.” Here are some of the words they used from that eloquent speech:
“Until the philosophy which holds one race superior and another inferior is finally and permanently discredited and abandoned...until there are no longer first class and second class citizens of any nation...until the color of a man's skin is of no more significance than the color of his eyes...until that day, the dream of lasting peace...will remain but a fleeting illusion, to be pursued but never attained.”
The song added a refrain to Selassie’s words suggesting that until racism is finally stamped out, there will be continue to be “war” – at least in a cultural sense.
To which I say: “Jah Rastafari!”
Here are some of the other famous quotes and phrases linked to October 4:
• One fitting additional quote to give here is “Fight the real enemy!” – the highly controversial comment made by Irish singer Sinead O’Connor as she tore up a photo of Pope John Paul II on Saturday Night Live in 1992. Ironically, she did and said that right after she sang an a cappella version of the Wailer’s song “War.” She later said it was a protest against sexual abuse in the Catholic Church. That SNL episode started at 11:30 P.M. on October 3rd, but when Sinead uttered her infamous words it was after midnight and thus October 4, 1992.
• For many years, her controversial protest on Saturday Night Live was an “albatross around the neck” of Sinead O’Connor. That’s a phrase derived from the famous poem by British poet, critic, and essayist Samuel Taylor Coleridge, “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” – which was first published in a volume of anonymous poems on October 4, 1798.