Read and comment on this op-ed from the Boulder Daily Camera on Martin Luther King Jr. and the sanitizing of his legacy. Ever since King was "mainstreamed," the media, politicians and the public at large have increasingly pigeonholed him as "the civil rights leader." King was an indispensable leader in the fight to bring civil rights to all Americans. But in celebrating that role, and that role alone, we've pushed another, equally important, part of his message into a deep, dark closet: his unwavering commitment to non-violence and pacifism. Read the op-ed piece at:
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A King of peace
Nonviolence as key as his civil-rights work
January 20, 2003
One outcome of the establishment of Martin Luther King Jr. Day in 1983 has been the sanitizing of his legacy. Ever since King was "mainstreamed," the media, politicians and the public at large have increasingly pigeonholed him as "the civil rights leader."
King was an indispensable leader in the fight to bring civil rights to all Americans. But in celebrating that role, and that role alone, we've pushed another, equally important, part of his message into a deep, dark closet: his unwavering commitment to non-violence and pacifism. Young people especially haven't heard enough about this part of King's message.
Most Americans accept the principle that all men and women are created equal (even if they aren't often asked to apply those beliefs in the real world) and troglodytes like U.S. Sen. Trent Lott are roundly condemned for foolish, racially ignorant remarks. So it's easy to haul out the "I Have a Dream" speech every January and applaud King the civil-rights pioneer.
Less comfortable, and seldom heard, are King's uncompromising words relating to warfare and violence. Like Jesus, he was never shy about offending people with his pacifist leanings. Now, as the United States stands on the verge of unleashing war on a small nation (full of dark-skinned people) that not only has not attacked us, but hasn't even threatened to do so, it's worth considering what King might have said.
King, who will be lauded today even by those most hawkish on Iraq, would almost certainly have viewed a war on Iraq at this time as immoral. Though it rankled many in Washington, D.C. during the 1960s, King never wavered from his vociferous opposition to the war in Vietnam. Here are some words of his you won't hear spouted on the Capitol steps today: "We have destroyed (Vietnam's) two most treasured institutions — the family and the village. We have destroyed their land and their crops ... We have corrupted their women and children and killed their men."
But Vietnam was different, some might argue. Wouldn't King have supported disarming a madman like Saddam Hussein? Not unless Hussein attacked first. But not only hasn't Hussein attacked, nobody has provided hard evidence that he even has weapons of mass destruction. King considered violence and war an immoral option in almost all cases, but especially in a situation rife with power imbalance. He linked war to oppression.
"Nonviolence is the answer to the crucial political and moral questions of our time: the need for man to overcome oppression and violence without resorting to oppression and violence," he said. "Man must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression and retaliation."
As the Bush administration ratchets up military spending (and deficits), consider these words: "A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death," King declared. Yet almost 50 percent of the U.S. discretionary budget goes to the military. In 2000, Congress handed over $700 million a day to the Pentagon — three times more than the Peace Corps gets in a year.
Even in the '60s, many who cheered King's civil-rights message chastised him for "confusing" the issue with peace. To which he responded that such people "have never really known me, my commitment or my calling. Indeed, that ... suggests that they do not know the world in which they live."
Yes, Martin Luther King Jr. was a fearless civil-rights leader. But he was an equally fearless voice for peace and nonviolence. In this season of pending war, let's not honor one role while dismissing the other. He would not have wanted that. Click on a link below for more stories on PCOL
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