After I posted last night I had teed up another post to run today on the timely subject of Martin Luther King, Jr. There were no obnoxious church bells to rouse me this morning as there had been yesterday, and so I slept luxuriously late. When I finally dragged my lazy bones out of bed, I bundled up for the freezing chill and headed out to a café for coffee and breakfast. I leisurely checked my email, then I went for my daily visit to Glenn’s palace.
Glenn had just posted at that very moment on the very same subject I had drafted up: an under-recognized speech given in 1967 by Martin Luther King. Out of the thousands of words King delivered that night at Riverside Church in Manhattan, each statement more eloquent and powerful than the next, Glenn had quoted the same text I had. And Glenn being, you know, Glenn fucking Greenwald, his post is of course fucking phenomenal. You should probably just go read it, and then ignore the rest of this post.
So there I was sipping the last of my coffee, ready to scrap the whole thing, lest I appear to be an epic asshat. Then I wondered about something: What would Dr. King do?
Now, I do make it a practice to frequently ask myself questions similar to this one. Sure, the names vary — What would Savador Dali do? What would Mae West do? — but the principal is always the same: as a thought exercise, I consider what those whom I respect and admire might do in a similar situation. And no, I never, EVER ask what would Jesus do. Frankly, if the biblical accounts of that d00d’s activities were true (they’re not), Jesus was kind of a dick. (See, e.g., Matthew 10:34-37, Matthew 15:22-28, Matthew 26:6-11, Mark 11:13-14, etc.)
Dr. King spoke of vitally important matters on April 4, 1967, and his words are as on point today as they were then. I think that if he lived now (and you know, had his own blog! with many tens of loyal readers!), Dr. King would want his message to reach the widest possible audience. And so, with sincere apologies for the redundancy if you’ve already been hanging out at Glenn’s palace today, below is my original post.
Like all people who stand out sharply against the backdrop of human history, Martin Luther King, Jr. was a complicated personality, certainly flawed, like all of us. He is of course primarily thought of as a civil rights activist, but he was at least as much dedicated to anti-war activism, which he saw as inextricably linked to the battles against discrimination, oppression, poverty, injustice, and many other social ills. His “I Have A Dream” speech is the most well-remembered and celebrated, but this speech on Vietnam is the one that haunts me. An excerpt:
Over the past two years, as I have moved to break the betrayal of my own silences and to speak from the burnings of my own heart, as I have called for radical departures from the destruction of Vietnam, many persons have questioned me about the wisdom of my path. At the heart of their concerns this query has often loomed large and loud: Why are you speaking about war, Dr. King? Why are you joining the voices of dissent? Peace and civil rights don’t mix, they say. Aren’t you hurting the cause of your people, they ask? And when I hear them, though I often understand the source of their concern, I am nevertheless greatly saddened, for such questions mean that the inquirers have not really known me, my commitment or my calling. Indeed, their questions suggest that they do not know the world in which they live.
I urge you to read the whole thing.
Dr. King left us with many inspiring words before his life was tragically cut short at the age of 39. Here are a few short quotations, as appropriate today as they were when he first uttered these words. (h/t)
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Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.
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Human salvation lies in the hands of the creatively maladjusted.
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History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people.
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Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.
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It is not enough to say we must not wage war. It is necessary to love peace and sacrifice for it.
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Man must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression and retaliation. The foundation of such a method is love.
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Never forget that everything Hitler did in Germany was legal.
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Nonviolence is a powerful and just weapon, which cuts without wounding and ennobles the man who wields it. It is a sword that heals.
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I find it an inspiring and humbling exercise to think and learn something today about King’s life and legacy, and the times in which he lived. They are not so very different from our own. He left us with much to contemplate, and we are all better off for his having walked among us, if only too briefly.