Moral Low Ground

War & Peace

Pentagon’s Chief Lawyer Says Martin Luther King would Support War on Terror

Johnson (left) attempts to pervert King’s non-violent legacy. (Photo: R.D. Ward/Dept. of Defense)

Jeh C. Johnson, the Defense Department’s general counsel, is raising more than a few eyebrows today for a speech in which he said that Martin Luther King Jr, the civil rights hero and ardent pacifist, would support America’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan if he were alive today. The speech was meant to commemorate King just days before his holiday on Monday, but instead of honoring King, Johnson attempted to  pervert the legacy of one of the greatest voices for non-violence in all of human history.

“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,” Johnson declared.

But even the most cursory examination of King’s speeches and writings tell a different story.

Martin Luther King made it abundantly clear that to him, we are the terrorists. He called the United States “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today.” Remember, now, that at that time the Soviet Union was at the peak of its power and China was in the midst of the Cultural Revolution, an incredibly bloody internal upheaval that claimed millions of lives. Still, King declared that the United States was the world champion of death and destruction.

King’s heroic 1967 speech against the Vietnam War, “A Time to Break Silence,” was delivered one year to the day before his tragic assassination and stands as one of the most poignant yet little-known orations in American history. In that speech, King calls out the hypocrisy of “the most powerful nation of the world speaking of aggression as it drops thousands of bombs on a poor, weak nation more than 8,000 miles from its shores.”

Would not those very same words apply equally to the so-called War on Terror today?

Incredibly, Jeh C. Johnson’s speech goes on to compare America’s wars of imperial aggression in Iraq and Afghanistan to the biblical tale of the Good Samaritan, in which a traveler who’s been beaten, robbed and left for dead on a desolate roadside is passed by two other travelers–including a priest– who do nothing to help him; later a Samaritan stops to offer comfort and care to the desperate man.

“I draw the parallel to our own servicemen and women deployed in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere,” Johnson said. US troops “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 the defense of the American people.”

The American invasion of Iraq has cost the lives of over 100,000 people, many of them innocent women and children. Thousands more have been slaughtered in Afghanistan and elsewhere. And by invading and occupying these countries, US troops are defending not the American people but rather the American corporations that reap billions of dollars in profits, paid for with the blood of well-meaning but naive, misguided young Americans and the innocent Afghans, Iraqis, Pakistanis and Yemenis they slaughter in the name of “freedom.” It’s all very evocative of the Vietnam-era saying, “we had to destroy the village in order to save it.”

King’s stand against violence and war is unequivocal. He despised them, without exception. He would “understand” today’s wars, all right. He would understand that they are highly immoral enterprises of imperial aggression and he would roundly condemn them, just as he condemned the war of his day. “A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death,” he said. Those words ring as true in 2011 as they did back in 1967.

Lest anyone forget, or in case you’ve never heard it, here is an excerpt from  Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s rousing 1967 speech, “A Time to Break Silence.” You will be left with no doubt whatsoever as to what King would “understand” about today’s US wars of imperial aggression, for they are the same as yesterday’s.

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  1. yaoi huntress earthJanuary 14, 2011 at 1:23 pmReply

    The Boondocks cartoon said it best with their MLK episode where he would risk ridicule for not supporting the war (“turn the other cheek”).

    • Moral Low GroundJanuary 14, 2011 at 4:27 pmReplyAuthor

      great episode! too bad the new episodes haven’t been up to the quality of seasons 1 and 2 🙁

  2. TruthdotsJanuary 28, 2011 at 11:01 pmReply

    Thanks so much for this post. I am glad to know that others are as outraged by this as I am. I wrote some similar sentiments on my blog, and it complements yours nicely. Keep up the great work!

    • Moral Low GroundJanuary 31, 2011 at 8:15 amReplyAuthor

      You’re welcome! Nice blog at… I see you also have just recently started. Moral Low Ground launched 11/11/2010 and is starting to take off… with content like yours, I suspect you will too!

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