King Might Understand Today's Wars
(January 16, 2011)
Michael L. Rhodes, the Defense Department's
director of administration and management, applauds Jeh C. Johnson,
the department's general counsel, after presenting him a certificate
of appreciation for his keynote address at the 26th annual
observance of the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at the
Pentagon, Jan. 13, 2011. DOD photo by R. D. Ward
WASHINGTON, Jan. 13, 2011 – If Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. were alive
today, would he understand why the United States is at war?
Jeh C. Johnson, the Defense Department's general counsel, posed that
question at today's Pentagon commemoration of King's legacy.
In the final year of his life, King became an outspoken opponent of
the Vietnam War, Johnson told a packed auditorium. However, he
added, today's wars are not out of line with the iconic Nobel Peace
Prize winner's teachings.
“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 is a 1979 graduate of Morehouse College in
Atlanta, where King graduated in 1948. He also attended school with
King's son, Martin Luther King III, and was
privy to the elder King's speaking engagements there.
Johnson said today's service members might wonder whether
the mission they serve is consistent with King's message and
beliefs. In King's last speech in Memphis, Tenn., on April
3, 1968 -- the night before he died -- King evoked the
biblical parable of the Good Samaritan, Johnson noted.|
According to the parable, a traveler was beaten and
robbed and left for dead. Two other travelers passed the man
as he lay alongside the road -- one was a priest. Both
ignored the man and continued on their way. Finally, a
Samaritan traveling the road showed compassion and took the
stranger to an inn and saw to his care.
speech, King drew a parallel between those who passed by the
man on the road and those in Memphis who at the time
hesitated to help striking sanitation workers because they
feared for their own jobs.
Johnson said King
criticized those who are compassionate by proxy, noting the
civil rights leader told the audience in Memphis that night,
“The question is not, ‘If I stop to help this man in need,
what will happen to me?' The question is, 'If I do not stop
to help the sanitation workers, what will happen to them?'"
Johnson compared today's troops to the Samaritan, who
chose to help instead of taking an easier path.
draw the parallel to our own servicemen and women deployed
in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere, away from the comfort of
conventional jobs, their families and their homes,” Johnson
Volunteers in today's military, he said, “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
defense of the American people.
“Every day, our
servicemen and women practice the dangerousness -- the
dangerous unselfishness Dr. King preached on April 3, 1968,”
Johnson told the audience.
By Terri Moon Cronk
American Forces Press Service
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