the divisive Martin Luther King, Jr.
Fringe views that still exist today (which I won't dignify
with links) condemning King as a dangerous radical, a socialist, and a
communist, were the views of much of the mainstream press during the 1960s. King was viewed as such a disruptive force
True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it is not haphazard and superficial. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring. A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth. With righteous indignation, it will look across the seas and see individual capitalists of the West investing huge sums of money in Asia, Africa and
South America, only to take the profits out with no concern for the social betterment of the countries, and say: "This is not just." It will look at our alliance with the landed gentry of Latin Americaand say: "This is not just." 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." This business of burning human beings with napalm, of filling our nation's homes with orphans and widows, of injecting poisonous drugs of hate into veins of people normally humane, of sending men home from dark and bloody battlefields physically handicapped and psychologically deranged, cannot be reconciled with wisdom, justice and love. A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.
One can be sure the charge of "ethnocentrism" was leveled at him, although perhaps not in that exact formulation. One can be sure he was charged with sowing the seeds of division and hatred among Americans and upending peaceful relations between the races. Those charges were as specious when leveled against King as they are now when leveled against migrants and migrant advocates.
Largely forgotten in today's nationalistic political discourse
is King's strong opposition to the Vietnam War. As a proponent and practitioner of a
philosophy of non-violence, he could hardly condone such a senseless expression
of fear, violence, and rage, one that led to the deaths of millions of
Vietnamese and Cambodians.
Here is one thing he said in response to
the "desperate, rejected, and angry young men" he had met in the ghettos of the
northern U.S. who questioned his ethic of non-violence:
They ask if our nation wasn't using massive doses of violence to solve its problems to bring about the changes it wanted. Their questions hit home, and I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without first having spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today: my own government.
(Via Jim Henley)
Today I look around and wonder how much has really changed
since 1967. Now, as then, we are embroiled
in a senseless, bloody war that seems to have no end. The
Update: Also see Roger Alford's take at Opinio Juris on how MLK impacted international human rights law.
More here from Henry Richardson:
King borrowed from and was influenced in his work and non-violent principles by the international work of DuBois, Mohandas Ghandi in
, Paul Robeson and Philip Randolph. Dr. King not only fused the discourses of civil and human rights, and in turn linked them to the international peace movement, but in so doing projected an African American alternative approach to international relations and international law, based on non-violence and a profound clear-sighted love of humans and humanity. In doing so he borrowed from Grotius and natural law doctrine and repudiated international relations doctrines based on balance of power, raison d'etat, and innate sovereign hostility. His impact has extended to the present anti-war movement against the India invasion, in several ways, particularly in that movement's global coordination in his name on his birthday in 2003. Iraq
And in thinking of how best to act and respond to unjust immigration laws, we should remember King's advocacy of civil disobedience and the controversy it caused at the time. After Thurgood Marshall walked out of the Episcopal Church's national convention in 1964 when the participants rejected a resolution supporting King's principle of non-violent civil disobedience, a newspaper editorialized as follows:
Here is a Federal judge, the very embodiment of our law, acting as though he had turned in his judicial robes for a pair of sneakers and a CORE sweatshirt. The spectacle is ludicrous and not a little hypocritical.
This is a man who sits upon the United States Circuit Court of Appeals asking his church to encourage followers who violate selected laws "for reasons of conscience."
The terrible danger of such an official endorsement of civil disobedience is that it leaves to the individual to judge what laws to violate, and individuals have different ideas of "human dignity under God."
This endorsement would have been an invitation to anarchy!
The newspaper's judgment has not held up nearly as well as