Juan Cole, Professor of History at the University of Michigan, has done excellent work (as is his reputation) in compiling this list of “10 Things Martin Luther King Would Have Done about Iraq“. He analyzes King’s anti-war speech “Beyond Vietnam” of April 1967 in New York City in terms of what’s going on and what’s been going on in Iraq.

[See Cole’s blog about Iraq.] [See other excerpts from this King speech here.] [See also: Short Quotes: Martin Luther King’s Letter from Birmingham Jail.]

Cole is well qualified. First, he has obviously carefully read King’s speech. Second, he gets up very early every day to read, in the original languages, on-line newspapers from that part of the world (the “Middle East”). Third, he actually paid attention to what was going on during “our” Vietnam years.

The real Christian and intellectual substance of King’s perspectives is very important for Christian Americans, and is very carefully avoided by mainstream culture in this country. Do we want to see a more real and thorough Christianization of American culture? Let’s study Dr. King more carefully.

Connie asked an elementary school teacher the other day if anything special would be going on in that teacher’s classroom in honor of Martin King. “No. That’s all way overdone. By the time kids get to my level they’ve had way too much of that already.” Well, Juan Cole’s list helps correct costly misunderstandings like that.

First, here’s a sentence from Cole’s first paragraph.

He dreamed other dreams, of the end of exploitative materialism and relentless militarism, of an America devoted to social justice and creative non-violence, which our mainstream media do not dare repeat over and over again …

See why many Americans get “tired” of hearing over and over about King? Because they (we) don’t get to hear the bulk of his great moral and intellectual insights. Our media and our institutions don’t want to talk about those things. As the Hebrews of old, we honor our prophets, but not by listening to what they actually said.

Here are Cole’s last two sentences.

We cannot in any simplistic way extract a template from Martin’s sermon that we can apply to Iraq today. We can, however, explore his wisdom for inspiration in how to go foward, end the quagmire, and make amends for the horrors of the way we have waged this illegal war of choice.

Here are “10 Things” King said we should do about our quagmire in Vietnam; the applications to our mess in Iraq are pretty obvious, at least in general.

  1. Martin urged the end of the offensive bombing raids:
  2. Martin suggested that the US begin, on its own account, a cease fire:
  3. He urged that the widening of the war be stopped:
  4. He insisted that the US recognize the widespread political support for the NLF:
  5. Martin supported a timetable for withdrawing US troops.
  6. [These last five points have more to do with general moral strategy, as against specific tactical necessities.]

  7. It is necessary to understand the common people among the “enemy” if anything is to be accomplished:
  8. Concern to save US troops from creeping cynicism must be paramount:
  9. The initiative belongs to the US:
  10. A revolution in American values away from consumer materialism and militarism is needed if we are not to go on having one Vietnam after another:
  11. Love and justice, not aggression and exploitation, hold the real hope for a peaceful and prosperous future:

“Love and justice.’ Some think that’s almost as naive and silly as “liberty and justice for all.”

Now please hear this:

King was right! But we did not listen for several more very costly years. Americans and Vietnamese are still suffering this very day because of our moral stubbornness back then. We invested another 6 years, scores of thousands of American lives, hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese lives, the early end of one American Administration and the collapse of another, and a profound loss of confidence in our leaders’ willingness or ability to lead with integrity. THEN we, in our acts, finally submitted half-heartedly and under duress to the moral and strategic accuracy of King’s insights.

That’s how prophecy works. A nation listens, or it pays. The prophets do not enforce that; they just point it out.

Here are quotes from Cole’s paper, some from King, some from Cole:


The US has increased the number of its bombing raids in Iraq from 25 a month last summer to 150 in December. Bombing raids are very bad counter-insurgency tactics and should be rethought.


Take immediate steps to prevent other battlegrounds in Southeast Asia by curtailing our military buildup in Thailand and our interference in Laos.’

If we applied that to Iraq, I think it implies that the US should seek better relations with Syria and Iran and cease menacing the latter with an air attack.


My mind goes constantly to the people of that peninsula. I speak now not of the soldiers of each side, not of the ideologies of the Liberation Front, not of the junta in Saigon, but simply of the people who have been living under the curse of war for almost three continuous decades now. I think of them, too, because it is clear to me that there will be no meaningful solution there until some attempt is made to know them and hear their broken cries.


I am as deeply concerned about our own troops there as anything else … We are adding cynicism to the process of death, for they must know after a short period there that none of the things we claim to be fighting for are really involved. Before long they must know that their government has sent them into a struggle among Vietnamese, and the more sophisticated surely realize that we are on the side of the wealthy, and the secure, while we create a hell for the poor.’


In Iraq, too, virtually “none of the things we claim to be fighting for are really involved.” Not weapons of mass destruction, not international terrorism, not Swedish style democracy, not social justice, are actually on the agenda of the present administration.


‘This call for a worldwide fellowship that lifts neighborly concern beyond one’s tribe, race, class, and nation is in reality a call for an all-embracing and unconditional love for all mankind. This oft misunderstood, this oft misinterpreted concept, so readily dismissed by the Nietzsches of the world as a weak and cowardly force, has now become an absolute necessity for the survival of man.

When I speak of love I am not speaking of some sentimental and weak response. I’m not speaking of that force which is just emotional bosh. I am speaking of that force which all of the great religions have seen as the supreme unifying principle of life. Love is somehow the key that unlocks the door which leads to ultimate reality.

This Hindu-Muslim-Christian-Jewish-Buddhist belief about ultimate reality is beautifully summed up in the first epistle of Saint John: “Let us love one another (Yes), for love is of God. (Yes) And every one that loveth is born of God and knoweth God. He that loveth not knoweth not God, for God is love. . . . If we love one another, God dwelleth in us and his love is perfected in us.” Let us hope that this spirit will become the order of the day.’

Wow. Now there’s a good solid chunk of moral theology to sharpen our moral, spiritual, social, and intellectual capacities on.

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