Haile Selassie’s full title in office was “His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie I, King of Kings, Lord of Lords, Conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah, and Elect of God” (ግርማዊ፡ ቀዳማዊ፡ አፄ፡ ኃይለ፡ ሥላሴ፡ ሞዓ፡ አንበሳ፡ ዘእምነገደ፡ ይሁዳ፡ ንጉሠ፡ ነገሥት፡ ዘኢትዮጵያ፡ ሰዩመ፡ እግዚአብሔር).
Marley, along with fellow Rastafarians, worship Haile Selassie I of Ethiopia as the incarnation of God, and refer to him as “Ras Tafari,” “Jah” or “The Lion of Judah” which Marley does in many of his songs. To him, Selassie was not only one of the most prominent African leaders of his time, he was also identified as God returning to earth as “King of Kings, Lord of Lords” (Revelation 19, 16), imperial titles born both by Selassie I and Ethiopian Emperor Menelik II before him. It was Menelik II, however, who created this self-styled imperial title in the late 19th Century after he succeeded in uniting his country, later known as Ethiopia. Marley did however accept Ethiopian Orthodox Christianity 8 months before his passing. Haile Selassie I gave the “War” speech on October 4, 1963, calling for world peace at the 1963 U.N. Conference in New York City. This historical speech was spoken a few weeks after the Organization of African Unity (OAU) was founded in Ethiopian capital city Addis Ababa where Selassie chaired a summit meeting gathering almost every African head of state (The King of Morocco had declined the invitation). For the first time in history, a head of state could therefore speak in the name of Africa with full legitimacy before the U.N. General Assembly.
This U.N. speech resounded even louder as Haile Selassie I had made a name for himself on the international scene in 1936, when he spoke at The League of Nations (L.O.N.) in Geneva. It was there that Selassie warned the world that if member state Ethiopia was not militarily supported by other member states to fight the fascist Italian invasion of his country then taking place, as the L.O.N. status guaranteed, the League of Nations would then cease to exist as a matter of fact. And according to him, without much needed L.O.N. tutelage (as dictators Hitler, Mussolini and Stalin were about to join forces), the rest of the member states were to suffer the same fate as his country. Which they did, as Mussolini soon allied with Hitler, actually making Ethiopia the first country to be occupied in World War II, nearly two years before the Sino-Japanese war. This visionary speech granted Selassie much respect around the world, eventually leading to British military support, which helped freeing his country in 1941. Addressing the world again in 1963, Selassie’s words bore full weight. In picking this utterance for lyrics, Bob Marley thus projected two dimensions of the Ethiopian Emperor: the head of state as well as the Living God Rastafarians see with him.
Although credited to Emperor Haile Selassie I, whose Christian name is Tafari Makonen, the text was actually written by Lorenzo Tazaz, a close contributor who wrote many of the Ethiopian leader’s most important speeches, including one given in 1935 to the League of Nations. Spoken in Ethiopia’s official Amharic language at the U.N., the 1963 speech was published in English in Important Utterances of H.I.M. Emperor Haile Selassie I 1963-1972. The book gave permission to freely use its contents: “Any portion of this book could be reproduced by any process without permission.” The song uses part of Selassie’s speech that calls for equality among all without regard to race, class, or nationality in his hymnal cry for peace. It also asserts, quoting Selassie directly, that until the day of an equal society, there will be war. In the original speech, Selassie urged U.N. officials and country representatives to disarm nuclear weapons, and to end international exploitation (specifically withAfrica). The song honors Haile Selassie I while calling for action against racial inequality and international injustice. The part of the speech used by Bob Marley was preceded by the following words:
Last May, in Addis Ababa, I convened a meeting of Heads of African States and Governments. In three days, the thirty-two nations represented at that Conference demonstrated to the world that when the will and the determination exist, nations and peoples of diverse backgrounds can and will work together. In unity, to the achievement of common goals and the assurance of that equality and brotherhood which we desire. On the question of racial discrimination, the Addis Ababa Conference taught, to those who will learn, this further lesson:
Here is the part of Haile Selassie’s speech put to music by Marley in his original song “War” (Bob Marley slightly modified the original words, changing each “that until” to “until”):
That until the philosophy which holds one race superior and another inferior is finally and permanently discredited and abandoned; That until there are no longer first-class and second-class citizens of any nation; That until the color of a man’s skin is of no more significance than the color of his eyes; That until the basic human rights are equally guaranteed to all without regard to race; That until that day, the dream of lasting peace and world citizenship and the rule of international morality will remain but a fleeting illusion, to be pursued but never attained; And until the ignoble and unhappy regimes that hold our brothers in Angola, in Mozambique and in South Africa in subhuman bondage have been toppled and destroyed; Until bigotry and prejudice and malicious and inhuman self-interest have been replaced by understanding and tolerance and good-will; Until all Africans stand and speak as free beings, equal in the eyes of all men, as they are in the eyes of Heaven; Until that day, the African continent will not know peace. We Africans will fight, if necessary, and we know that we shall win, as we are confident in the victory of good over evil. – Haile Selassie I
A different mix, which includes a different horn arrangement, released as a bonus track in the Deluxe Edition (2002) of the Rastaman Vibration album, revealed that Marley had recorded an extra verse also taken from the original speech: Until bigotry and prejudice, malicious and inhuman self-interest have been replaced by understanding and tolerance and good will, yeah, war. Until all Africans stand and speak as free beings equal in the eyes of the almighty, war. Everywhere is war.
In his speech to the U.N., Selassie reminded his listeners that these are only words; their value depends wholly on our will to observe and honour them and give them content and meaning.
Alicia Keys & Julian Marley – War (Live inRome)
Here comes Marly ‘war’ lyrics.
Until the philosophy which hold one race superior
And abandoned –
Everywhere is war –
Me say war.
That until there 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 –
Me say war.
That until the basic human rights
Are equally guaranteed to all,
Without regard to race –
Dis a war.
That until that day
The dream of lasting peace,
Rule of international morality
Will remain in but a fleeting illusion to be pursued,
But never attained –
Now everywhere is war – war.
And until the ignoble and unhappy regimes
that hold our brothers in Angola,
Have been toppled,
Utterly destroyed –
Well, everywhere is war –
Me say war.
War in the east,
War in the west,
War up north,
War down south –
War – war –
Rumours of war.
And until that day,
The African continent
Will not know peace,
We Africans will fight – we find it necessary –
And we know we shall win
As we are confident
In the victory
Of good over evil –
Good over evil, yeah!
Good over evil –
Good over evil, yeah!
Good over evil –
Good over evil, yeah! /fadeout/