Friday, January 14, 2011

Pentagon Dead Wrong on Dr. King

By Garrett FitzGerald

At a Pentagon commemoration of the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. held yesterday, Defense Department general counsel Jeh C. Johnson suggested that, were Dr. King alive today, he would very likely approve of US involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan.

What a surreal sentence to have to type.

We of course cannot know with any certainty what Dr. King might make of our nation's current military involvement overseas, but if the last year of King's life serves as any indication it seems he would very likely have reserved the same condemnation for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq that he leveled against US involvement in Vietnam. In the year or so before his assassination, King turned much of his attention to the escalating war in Vietnam, condemning unequivocally the social, political, and economic structures that motivated such conflict. In a powerful speech delivered at Riverside Church in New York City in April of 1967, King observed:
This business of burning human beings with napalm, of filling our nation's homes with orphans and widows, of injecting poisonous drugs of hate into the veins of peoples normally humane, of sending men home from dark and bloody battlefields physically handicapped and psychologically deranged, cannot be reconciled with wisdom, justice, and love. A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.
While Johnson's parallels between the selflessness of our nation's armed forces and the parable of the Good Samaritan - the latter of which which also provided the subject matter for King's last sermon before his assassination - do offer some food for thought, the heroic acts to which Johnson refers remain enmeshed within structures of systematic violence and oppression, both foreign and domestic, which seem to have witnessed little substantive change since King's day. Again, we cannot ultimately know what Dr. King would have to say about our present military endeavors, but I invite readers to listen to the speech below, substitute the phrase "War on Terror" every time Dr. King mentions the war in Vietnam, and decide for yourself whether this luminary of the Religious Left would agree with Johnson's assessment.

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