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Tuesday, January 18, 2011

A message inspired by Dr. King

Yesterday I spent a little time viewing interviews with, and documentaries of, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his struggle against injustice and inequality. There was a particular aspect that struck me on this occasion, likely one of many which are relevant to our nation today.

In his interviews and speeches Dr. King often spoke, not only of freeing blacks, but also of freeing whites. He noted that segregation had two bad effects, in that it gave black people a false sense of inferiority and gave white people a false sense of superiority. He referred to the situation with those white supremacists as a psychological harm from which they needed to be freed, as a matter of having compassion for one's enemies. In his most famous 1963 speech, everyone remembers his use of the phrase "free at last, free at last, thank God Almighty we are free at last". But more of the quote reveals who precisely the "we" pronoun refers to:

"...when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, 'Free at last! free at last! thank God Almighty, we are free at last!'"

So everyone, whites included, will give thanks that they are free. Free from hate, free from the burden of constant struggle to maintain dominance, free from the psychological harm of evil to the mind and conscience. Dr. King fully understood and realized what Gandhi understood through the doctrine of karma and what Socrates and his students understood - that when we do evil we harm ourselves, and that the oppressor is victimized along with his victim.

This is the message our nation needs to hear as it struggles obsessively to maintain dominance over the world. Since we abandoned non-entanglement principles after World War II, our history has been one of continuous warfare. Only the names and locations have changed. Meanwhile, we have grown our military far beyond several of the next-sized militaries on the planet combined, comprising a substantial amount of our resources as we continue into debt. Further, we have divided these expenses into a different category, psychologically setting apart other expenses as "discretionary" - as if the money we choose to spend on our massive military is not at our discretion. We pretend to ourselves that these expenses and such a military is necessary to 'defend' our nation. Yet, at the same time, that military is not solely at home. Over our long period of warfare from WWII to the present, in our relentless effort to gain tactical domination over the globe, we have extended a network of permanent military bases within the territories of other sovereign nations. Yes, at their request or with their permission in most cases - but not without contention from locals and not without financial or spiritual costs to us as a people. And while we speak of military use as a 'last resort', when one maintains such a gigantic military dominance and widespread presence, the temptation to resort to it whenever a challenge arises becomes so great as to be nearly irresistible. This was made clear by our shocking and unimaginable turn of national character as we embraced a doctrine of self-initiated wars of choice.

And as we spread ourselves more and more, we make ourselves broad targets and we give ourselves much to lose. With so much to lose, and taking more hits, we feel more and more threatened rather than more safe. We fear that letting up any at all will result in our cities being bombed and our nation falling to enemy forces. We falsely believe that the proper response to feeling threatened in this way is to seek greater control. We believe if we had more control, more bases, more military might, more violations of personal liberty, that we will be more safe. Yet this only broadens our target and further inflames our adversaries. Thus we continue in a never-ending cycle of fear and power mongering; a trap of our own creation.

There is a reason some nations, even those with little or no military, are not hated and threatened by others. Yet, unfortunately, many of us cannot even see the insanity of our situation as it has become in the last decade, let alone the last six. We have become normalized to it, or forgotten our way. But Dr. King's message holds true between nations just as it does within nations. Isn't it time we began to let go of the fear to which we've become enslaved, shrug off our heavy burden of the master, and began to seek greater brotherhood with our neighbors?


  1. In our consumerist society we tend to forget that the freedom for all must be achieved before we can call ourselves a just society. It isn't all about who has the most toys in the sandbox when some people don't even have the right to be in the sandbox according to our societal norms.