Today, on this Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, I think it’s important to address something that was spoken about Dr. King in order to preserve his legacy. Last week, Jeh C. Johnson, the Defense Department’s general counsel, made a bold claim that if Dr. King were still alive today, he would understand why the US is at war. The press release can be read here.
I find it hard to believe that Dr. King, a man who advocated peace, love and understanding in his search for equal rights for everyone, would understand why the US is at war. Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke out against the war in Vietnam, so I don’t know why he would understand why the US is at war in Iraq and Afghanistan. His “Beyond Vietnam” speech can be read here.
At this point, I should make it clear that while I have tried here to give a voice to the voiceless of Vietnam and to understand the arguments of those who are called enemy, I am as deeply concerned about our own troops there as anything else. For it occurs to me that what we are submitting them to in Vietnam is not simply the brutalizing process that goes on in any war where armies face each other and seek to destroy. We are adding cynicism to the process of death, for our troops must know after a short period there that none of the things we claim to be fighting for are really involved. Before long they must know that their government has sent them into a struggle among Vietnamese, and the more sophisticated surely realize that we are on the side of the wealthy and the secure while we create a hell for the poor.
Dr. King also said, “Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars…. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”
Those words do not sound like the words of a man who would understand why any country is at war. I think Mr. Johnson was wrong in making his assumption about Dr. King. If Martin Luther King, Jr. were alive today, more than anything, he would continue his quest for peace, not war, and I have no doubt he would be a leading critic of why the US is at war.
I will end this blog post with one final quote.
“Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.” – Martin Luther King, Jr