April 11, 2008

Words from Dr. King

Praise is due to those media outlets that have used the anniversary of the death of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to revisit his speeches and his philosophy instead of merely invoking his name. When I hear King talk, I am amazed at how the man refused to speak down to people. His words were filled with literary allusion and historical reference. It is often said that the American people don't respond to intellectualism; that they need to be talked to "at there level." This almost invariably means that the US public only understands the repetition of meaningless catchphrases, appeals to emotion, and the use of arguments devoid of information and ungrounded in reality.

King refused to do this. His is not an empty rhetoric: it is reasoned, articulate, and intelligent. Here's a video set to MLK speaking out against the War in Vietnam.




It's not a huge leap to see this speech as criticism of the Iraq War in addition to Vietnam because King is speaking out against that special brand of hypocrisy that comes with militaristic patriotism. He says mockingly, "Oh, the press was so noble in its applause, so noble in its praise when I was saying, 'be nonviolent towards Bull Conner.' There's something strangely inconsistent about a nation and a press that would praise you when you said, 'be nonviolent towards Jim Clark' but will curse and damn you when you say, 'be nonviolent toward little brown Vietnamese children.' There's something wrong with that press."

So, we come to the present day, when the powers that be say that US is entitled, no obligated, to invade Iraq because of threats to national security even as those threats were not overt and later proven false. And, those same people who once said that US must respond to this invented danger now demand that Iran remain silent and passive in the face of overt threats of military action and even nuclear attack from the US government. Apparently, only the US has the right to respond to violent threats or to issue them.

King also alludes to a connection between "the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism" or also phrased as "poverty, racism, and militarism." It seems to be the role of so much of the media to pull these issues apart and pretend they are separate.

Finally, I hear the inspiration for the recently scandalous words of Jeremiah Wright when King says ,"Don't let anybody make you think that God chose America as his divine messianic force to be. A sort of policeman of the whole world. God has a way of standing before the nations with judgement and is seems that I can hear God saying to America, 'You are too arrogant.'" Inflammatory rhetoric indeed. I wonder if Obama will be condemning, in unequivocal terms, the words of Dr. King?

1 comment:

Lisa said...

Really nice post. I think MLK really saved democracy in America in a dark time. ...Well at least it looks that way from here. It also looks like we need another MLK real bad. He was so much more than a "civil rights activist," but I think he's really sold short these days, as an image and not as a brilliant speaker, leader, theologian/prophet.

If you haven't heard it yet, NPR's StoryCorps had a nice feature with two of the memphis sanitation workers talking about hearing MLK speak.