You know all those articles that purport to say what George Orwell would believe if he were alive today, in which Orwell turns out to have had a change of heart on every significant subject where the author disagrees with him? You can do that to Martin Luther King too:
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," he said….
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….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.
"I 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 said.
Yes, he's referring to the same Martin Luther King who once said this:
If we assume that life is worth living and that man has a right to survive, then we must find an alternative to war. In a day when vehicles hurtle through outer space and guided ballistic missiles carve highways of death through the stratosphere, no nation can claim victory in war. A so-called limited war will leave little more than a calamitous legacy of human suffering, political turmoil, and spiritual disillusionment. A world war—God forbid!—will leave only smoldering ashes as a mute testimony of a human race whose folly led inexorably to ultimate death.
Now, I suppose it is theoretically possible that if Martin Luther King were alive today he would support Washington's wars, in the same sense that it is theoretically possible that Ronald Reagan would be a celebrity spokesman for the Workers World Party. People change! It could happen! Maybe he'd have a personality-changing concussion or something! And hey, Reagan probably told a parable at some point that a socialist could use for his own ends…
Come on, people. You want to argue for the merits of a war, either argue forthrightly against King's clear views on the subject or have the good taste to leave him out of the discussion altogether.
Bonus video: King on Vietnam: