Martin Luther King, Jr.

Martin Luther King leaning on a lectern. Deuts...

Martin Luther King leaning on a lectern. Deutsch: 1964: Martin Luther King Português: Martin Luther King (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Philosophy 111 – Introduction to Philosophy (Fall 2002)

Social Justice.  Martin Luther King, Jr. “Non-Violence and Social Change”

[Students and professors, please read.]

If you were given a vote, would you give President Bush the go-ahead to declare war and launch an attack on Iraq? Or if he gave you a review of hard evidence that outlines Hussein’s history of violence, his current capabilities, and proof of Hussein’s intent to destroy America, would you agree that war is the answer? Or do you have any alternatives to war with which you would present President Bush if he gave you the opportunity? What do you think someone like Martin Luther King, Jr. would say about America’s conflict with Iraq, if he were still alive to say it? I think he would say the Iraqis are our brothers and sisters whether we like Hussein or not, I think he would say if we want to reach the goal of non-violence in the world, we have to reach it by being non-violent ourselves.

Martin Luther King, Jr. had an enormous impact on the civil rights of blacks in America, and he wanted the peaceful principles he preached to impact the world internationally. But if you’ve read his words in “Non-Violence and Social Change,” would you agree America has not taken those words to heart? When people reflect on America in the wake of 9-11, some say we were a sleeping giant that woke up, some say it strengthened our unity and patriotism, and some say it helped us realize we are not invincible against attack (many agree with all three). The 9-11 attack on America is not the first terrorist attack known to man, rather, many nations endure such attacks on a daily basis to the point that it is an expected part of their daily lives. Those nations are wide awake, those nations are broken, and those nations have no illusions of being invincible. But until 9-11, we didn’t care all that much about the terrorism suffered by the rest of the world. King says, “No nation can live alone, and as long as we try, there is going to be war in the world.” It is nations like America who, having no global stand against terrorism until 9-11, still think we can afford to make prideful threats we may or may not act on. 9-11 was indeed a wake-up call, but it was an inoculation against feeling vulnerable–a little sample of the disease of insecurity, to spark our immune systems into action and create antibodies against further attack. President Bush wants antibodies in Iraq, and wants to use the U.S. military to get them there. But King says, “One day somebody should remind us that, even though there may be political and ideological differences between us, the Vietnamese are our brothers, the Russians are our brothers, the Chinese are our brothers; and one day we’ve got to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.” Whether or not we like Saddam Hussein, the Iraqis are our brothers and sisters. They are not the disease we are fighting. They, too, are infected, just as we are. In attacking them, we indirectly attack ourselves, world peace is lost, violence reigns over all.

We cannot attain peace and end violence with still more violence. King says “The end is pre-existent in the means, and ultimately destructive means cannot bring about constructive ends.” And of course that makes total sense. If you want to have some personal space, you don’t invite the neighborhood over for a party. If you want to make a friend, you generally don’t walk up and punch him. You don’t plant a flower seed expecting a tree to sprout in its place. And you don’t wage war to attain world peace. There are forms of caregiver-enforced discipline that are healthy alternatives to child abuse, there are forms of society-enforced discipline that are humane alternatives to torture or the death penalty, and there should be forms of globally-enforced discipline that are reasonable alternatives to war. You’ve probably been involved in/with a relationship where someone finally said, “Someone has to be the one to swallow their pride and take the first step,” and it seems that many stand-offs are held because no one wants to swallow their pride and back down. It is why we think we have to keep up with the Joneses when it comes to who has what weapons, because if we can’t match the Joneses, we put ourselves at risk. Every powerful nation, even if it isn’t trying to expand its borders, atleast has a military for defense purposes. I think that is very telling about how much trust there is in the world. It didn’t happen overnight–can we expect it to get corrected overnight? Who will be the first one to let down their guard?

I think America should be the first one to practice the peace we preach. I think our global reputation depends on it–and I think the survival of the people of this world depends on it. If the nations of the world were unified against violence, cutting off aid to whoever attempts communication via violent means–peace would prevail. As King so wisely says, “We must either learn to live together as brothers or we are all going to perish together as fools.”

“Non-Violence and Social Change.”  The Philosophical Quest: A Cross-Cultural Reader,    Second Edition. Ed. Presbey, Gail M., et. al. McGraw-Hill, Inc., 2000.  628-630.

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