Last week at an event commemorating the life of Martin Luther King, Jr., Department of Defense General Counsel Jeh Johnson said the following:
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…. Every day, our servicemen and women practice the dangerousness — the dangerous unselfishness Dr. King preached on April 3, 1968.
Johnson’s remarks remind me of a bumper sticker I saw recently that read “You are entitled to your own opinions, but not your own facts.” Accordingly, my question for Johnson is on what facts are your opinions and beliefs about Dr. King based?
One of the most important books I read in seminary was A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr. Indeed, Dr. King’s importance is underscored in that his “essential” writings and speeches weigh in at more than 700 pages, with no wasted entries. I hazard to say that if Johnson or anyone else takes the time to study the full corpus of Dr. King’s work, especially in the final years before his tragic assassination, then it would be clear that Dr. King would in all likelihood be opposed to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. And Johnson’s way of framing the issue at hand is completely inverted from the way Dr. King came to view the world.
This Martin Luther King, Jr. weekend, I invite you to read or listen to Dr. King’s famous sermon “Beyond Vietnam — A Time to Break Silence,” delivered on 4 April 1967 at Riverside Church in New York City. As a preview I offer one of the most famous lines: “A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.” Dr. King’s wisdom continues to be devastatingly relevant and prophetic today. But don’t take take my word for it, and please don’t allow Dr. King’s memory to be remembered only through the Pentagon’s lens. Take the time to hear Dr. King’s word afresh for yourself.