We are living in Bizarro world. I recently learned the Pentagon has an annual commemoration of Martin Luther King day. This year's keynote address was given by Jeh Johnson, the Defense Department's general counsel. It was a pretty decent summation of King's life and work, right up to the part where he decided to speculate on what King would think of the wars we're involved in today:
"I believe that if Dr. King were alive today, he would recognize that we live in a complicated world, and that our Nation's military should not and cannot lay down its arms and leave the American people vulnerable to terrorist attack."
To me this clearly implies that he thinks King would approve of war, as long as it's in response to the threat of terrorism. What??
Johnson also characterized our military's missions in Afghanistan and Iraq as Good Samaritan efforts, suggesting that MLK would have approved, since he himself urged people to act like the Good Samaritan of the biblical parable:
"Those in today's volunteer Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps have made the conscious decision to travel a dangerous road, and personally stop and administer aid to those who want peace, freedom and a better place in Iraq, in Afghanistan, and in defense of the American people. Every day our servicemen and women practice that "dangerous unselfishness" Dr. King preached..."
The ludicrous nature of this will of course be apparent to anyone who has ever heard King's later speeches, in which his rejection of violence led him to oppose the Vietnam war, and in fact to oppose war, period. No amount of humanitarian missions, no invocations of fear of terrorism, could ever justify or mitigate the violence that war brings, as far as King was concerned. Over and over, he made that crystal clear.
Johnson also recalled President Obama's Nobel prize acceptance speech, as if this would somehow bolster his case:
"In accepting his own Nobel Peace Prize in 2009, our President recognized that, in response to an unprovoked terrorist attack, war is inevitable to secure peace, and that the role of the military is to keep peace."
Here's a video clip of the relevant excerpt from Obama's speech:
This is doublespeak, right out of 1984. I felt like I had entered an alternate universe when I heard that Obama had won the peace prize, and that he had repeated the absurdity that war is necessary for peace. For MLK, war was not inevitable; Gandhi was inevitable. King actually said:
"Gandhi was inevitable. If humanity is to progress, Gandhi is inescapable. He lived, thought and acted, inspired by the vision of humanity evolving toward a world of peace and harmony. We may ignore Gandhi at our own risk."
King was deeply inspired by Gandhi whose life was based on total commitment to non-violence. Obama repudiated both King and Gandhi in his Nobel prize speech. To mention Obama's speech in the context of honoring and respecting King's legacy is mind-bogglingly wrong and utterly offensive.
Johnson closed with this:
"The irony of next Monday is that Mrs. King's dream of a national holiday for her husband has become a reality; Dr. King's dream of a world at peace with itself has not."
Is it really so far beyond Mr. Johnson to imagine what King would say - that the reason we are not at peace is because we, the most powerful nation on Earth, have remained committed to violence to carry out our intentions around the world; that the reasons we put forth for our actions are lies, and the real reasons are never justifiable; that it is always about control of people, resources, economic domination, or pure expansion of power; that violence is made more justifiable by an attitude of condescending disdain for the people in the countries we choose to attack; and that our own country suffers physically, economically and morally as a result of these endless wars.
What is remarkable is that the Pentagon sent out Jeh Johnson, an accomplished black lawyer whose family actually has historical connections to King and the civil rights movement, to present this speech, its only possible purpose being to convince the naive and uninformed that King believed exactly the opposite of what he actually believed. The DOD even put out a press release about it to let the world know exactly what Johnson was trying to convey. It proves beyond doubt that this was pure propaganda, a blatant attempt to re-make King and co-opt him into the militarized culture of today. And it is sadly typical of the propaganda, spin and lying that completely permeates our public discourse today.
When King took his adamant anti-war stance, he made a lot of enemies. He became dangerous to the military-industrial complex because his words actually made sense to normal people. He was extremely intelligent, and when he spoke it was well thought out and logical. Combined with his passionate charismatic delivery, he had the potential to actually stir up an effective anti-war movement. His murder ensured that wouldn't happen, but it did not diminish his effect on people. So it is not surprising that in the years since, a sanitized, cuddly friendly version of King started to make its way into the culture, one in which all that most people know about him is that he wanted little black and white children to be able to live together. But now, the propaganda masters are extending the myth of Martin Luther King even further - now King is not just portrayed as neutral on war, he is pro-war. This is just wrong.
full text of Johnson's speech:
Department of Defense press release:
Second DOD press release, emphasizing King's civil rights legacy:
The article highlights the Army's commitment to civil rights, touting the large number of African-Americans in the military. Is that supposed to make us feel better about this distortion of King's principles?
A terrific interview with King on, of all things, the Mike Douglas show, in 1967. Despite condescending and confrontational questioning by Mike and his other guest, King takes the high road and makes brilliant points as he lays out his anti-war position.
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