Sunday, January 16, 2011

If Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., were alive?

If the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. had not occurred, and he was alive today, would he be speaking out against the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq? Would he still be preaching to love one’s enemies, even if they are terrorist -- al Qaeda, the Taliban? Would he give the same speech today, Beyond Vietnam -- A Time to Break Silence, as he delivered it at New York’s Riverside Church on April 4, 1967? Would he still be calling the United States "the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today"?

Times have changed since the zeitgeist of Vietnam. Today, it’s a different war in a different place and fought under different circumstances. Nonetheless, this speech has such great depth that speaks to the contemporary issues and attitudes that are as incandescently clear today as they were then.

And, so, the answer to these questions is an unequivocal yes. And, he would rise up against some of today’s other pressing issues.

Dr. King, with his aptitude for oratory, and skill at organizing and employing nonviolent action, would be providing the leadership so conspicuously absent in America today. He not only would continue to lead the struggle against the “War on Poverty,” the poor and those who do not have the where-with-all to care for themselves and their families; the struggle of challenging the unwarranted influences of the military-industrial-academic complex; and, the struggle and enormous challenge of achieving world peace. However, he also would be riled at America’s incivility; our propensity for violence manifested in war, entertainment and gaming; America’s unreasonable and deplorable hate of Muslims; so-called enhanced interrogation techniques used on terrorist, inadequate gun regulation; the unprecedented disparity between the rich, the middle class, and the poor, and so much more that is now bringing down America.

Dr. King would have been so proud to see a significant part of his vision come to fruition (albeit somewhat shaky) and that America finally was able to overcome a great racial weakness and elect its first black president. He would be proud that our president received the Nobel Peace Prize. However, in part, that jubilation would have turned into profound disappointment.

Dr. King would be disappointed in President Obama’s failure to heed his words and failure to embrace his moral vision. Specifically, he would be riling against the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. He would speak out against Obama’s failure to provide the leadership necessary to end these wars. He would criticize President Obama for not being an intractable force in a mission for world peace. After all, he has the bully pulpit, nationally and internationally, to accomplish great things that are beyond politics. Dr. King said, “I speak as one who loves America, to the leaders of our own nation: The great initiative in this war is ours; the initiative to stop it must be ours.”

What would have been Dr. King’s expectation did not come to be, inasmuch as Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize turned out to be disillusionment. Regarding his Nobel, Dr. King said, “I cannot forget that the Nobel Prize for Peace was also a commission -- a commission to work harder than I had ever worked before for ‘the brotherhood of man.’ This is a calling that takes me beyond national allegiances, but even if it were not present, I would yet have to live with the meaning of my commitment.

“This I believe to be the privilege and the burden of all of us who deem ourselves bound by allegiances and loyalties which are broader and deeper than nationalism and which go beyond our nation's self-defined goals and positions. We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for the victims of our nation and for those it calls ‘enemy,’ for no document from human hands can make these humans any less our brothers.”

The time is long overdue when Americans should not be silent regarding war. We should not be silent when we hear the war drums beating in relation to our difficulties with Iran or North Korea. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. certainly would not be silent. He would dust off that old speech on Vietnam and update it, but essentially the profundity of that speech would be unaltered.