Imagine someone saying that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was his favorite philosopher, and then watching that person unilaterally launch a war that would kill scores of thousands of people and consume hundreds of billions of dollars that could have been used to cure preventable disease abroad, insure the uninsured, and lift millions of unemployed out of poverty. The sad truth of our American life today is that everyone recognizes that Dr. King stood for non-violence, but the words of Jesus--"love your enemies"--are largely forgotten by the powerful among us. How indebted we are today for the message of Dr. King, who attributed his single-mindedness to his discipleship for Christ. May the same be true for us as we fight to prevent the next war being planned by our current government, as documented in a new story published this week by Seymour Hersh in the New Yorker magazine (http://www.newyorker.com/fact/content/?050124fa_fact).
An editorial appearing on Martin Luther King day in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune emphasizes this message in a beautiful way (http://www.startribune.com/stories/561/5187690.html):
"I'd like somebody to mention that day that Martin Luther King Jr. tried to give his life serving others. I'd like for somebody to say that day that Martin Luther King tried to love somebody. I want you to say that day that I tried to be right on the war question.... I want you to say that I did try to feed the hungry. And I want you to be able to say that day that I did try in my life to clothe those who were naked. I want you to say on that day that I did try in my life to visit those who were in prison. I want you to say that I tried to love and serve humanity...."
From the Rev. Martin Luther King's sermon, "The Drum Major Instinct," originally delivered Feb. 4, 1968
With programs, services and marches today, this nation honors the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. primarily as one of America's greatest civil and human rights leaders. His "I have a dream" and "content of character, not color of skin" remarks will be oft-repeated as reminders of the kind of America we still strive to be.
Yet as this country remains engaged in a questionable war in Iraq, it seems fitting to also remember King the antiwar activist -- one of the first national leaders to courageously speak out against the war in Vietnam. Surely, if King were alive today to celebrate what would have been his 76th birthday, he would make the same arguments against the Middle Eastern conflict that has taken thousands of Iraqi and American lives.
During the last years of his life, King was a strident opponent of American militarism and once said that "the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today is my own government." He also said that a nation that continues to "spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual doom."
Although President Bush is a born-again Christian and advocates "faith-based" social programs, he still plunged headlong into an unjustified (and many argue immoral) war. Bush's government can find billions to wage armed conflict, but can't find a way to fully fund special education or its own ambitious K-12 education plan. And now it is trying to weasel out of the federal commitment to a Social Security safety net for elderly citizens.
King, and other peace activists of his time, would lament that the lessons of the Vietnam War and of the war on poverty have fallen on deaf contemporary federal ears.
So today as we remember King, celebrate his life, work and the progress made based on his efforts, consider what remains to be done on his goals of eliminating racism, poverty, hunger, unfair incarceration, discrimination and inequities in education, housing and employment.
And don't forget his dedication to peace. On that topic his words of several decades ago ring true today: "Through violence you may murder the hater, but you do not murder hate."