In honoring her father, the Rev. Bernice King said it best in a recent social media post: People often ask me, “What would he say were he alive today? He’s said it. We’re just not listening. He beckoned us far above civility. Love, Justice, True Peace, Mercy, Beloved Community”
On what would be Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s 91st birthday Jan. 20, his thoughts on anti-militarism reverberate in particular. The reverend started making anti-war statements in 1965, according to The Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute at Stanford University, and continued to amplify his message across the country, telling “Face the Nation,” it was his “prophetic function.”
Now, as the United States provokes war and unrest, and its leaders fail to heed those parts of his vision that called for a radical redistribution of wealth and power, we are forced to contemplate what he knew, how he knew it and our commitment to his still-relevant agenda.
King’s anti-war stance was not without context to his anti-poverty work. He told America then: “If we spend $35 billion a year to fight an ill-conceived war in Vietnam and $20 billion to put a man on the moon, we can spend billions of dollars to put God’s children on their own two feet, right now,” he is quoted as saying.
As King’s ideas withstand the test of time, one might say he told us everything we needed to know. Following are a few King quotes on nonviolence and anti-militarism:
“The Western arrogance of feeling that it has everything to teach others and nothing to learn from them is not just. A true revolution of values will lay hands on the world order and say of war: “This way of settling differences is not just.”
“We’ve committed more war crimes almost than any nation in the world, and I’m going to continue to say it. And we won’t stop it because of our pride and our arrogance as a nation.”
“Now, it should be incandescently clear that no one who has any concern for the integrity and life of America today can ignore the present war.”
“I speak as a citizen of the world, for the world as it stands aghast at the path we have taken. I speak as an American to the leaders of my own nation. The great initiative in this war is ours. The initiative to stop it must be ours.”
“I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality…”
“Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: Only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: Only love can do that.”
“It is no longer a choice, my friends, between violence and nonviolence. It is either nonviolence or nonexistence.”
“We must fix our vision not merely on the negative expulsion of war, but upon the positive affirmation of peace.”
“A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.”
“I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today, my own government.”
“Perhaps a more tragic recognition of reality took place when it became clear to me that the war was doing far more than devastating the hopes of the poor at home. It was sending their sons and their brothers and their husbands to fight and to die in extraordinarily high proportions relative to the rest of the population.”
“Here is the true meaning and value of compassion and nonviolence when it helps us to see the enemy’s point of view, to hear his questions, to know his assessment of ourselves. For from his view, we may indeed see the basic weaknesses of our own condition, and if we are mature, we may learn and grow and profit from the wisdom of the brothers who are called the opposition.”
“The world now demands a maturity of America that we may not be able to achieve.”
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