Quoting King

July 8, 2007

I’m currently reading Shane Claiborne’s Irresistible Revolution. I’m sure I’ll blog on it more fully once I’ve completed my leisurely perusal, but for now I’d like to highlight some quotes Shane brought to my attention. These are from Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “A Time to Break Silence,” a speech given on the Vietnam war in 1967 at a meeting of “Clergy and Laity Concerned” at Riverside Church in New York City. MLK’s concerns went beyond his (incredible) devotion to civil rights in our country, to an even broader view of social justice. And it’s always good to reflect on values that should bring rich and poor, Christian and humanist, theist and athiest together.


[It became clear that the war in Vietnam] was sending their sons and their brothers and their husbands to fight and to die in extraordinarily high proportions relative to the rest of the population. We were taking the black young men who had been crippled by our society and sending them eight thousand miles away to guarantee liberties in Southeast Asia which they had not found in southwest Georgia and East Harlem. And so we have been repeatedly faced with the cruel irony of watching Negro and white boys on TV screens as they kill and die together for a nation that has been unable to seat them together in the same schools.

Funny how these words still ring true today:

As I have walked among the desperate, rejected, and angry young men, I have told them that Molotov cocktails and rifles would not solve their problems. I have tried to offer them my deepest compassion while maintaining my conviction that social change comes most meaningfully through nonviolent action. But they ask — and rightly so — what about Vietnam? They ask if our own 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 having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today — my own government.

And here a call for a brotherhood of man, rooted in King’s own Christianity, though it could as easily be read as a call for a global humanism (in fact, King might have been closer to that than most of the Christians we know):

This I believe to be the privilege and the burden of all of us who deem ourselves bound by allegiances and loyalties which are broader and deeper than nationalism and which go beyond our nation’s self-defined goals and positions. We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for the victims of our nation and for those it calls “enemy,” for no document from human hands can make these humans any less our brothers.

King also has this quote from a Buddhist leader on the war in Vietnam:

Each day the war goes on the hatred increases in the heart of the Vietnamese and in the hearts of those of humanitarian instinct. The Americans are forcing even their friends into becoming their enemies. It is curious that the Americans, who calculate so carefully on the possibilities of military victory, do not realize that in the process they are incurring deep psychological and political defeat. The image of America will never again be the image of revolution, freedom, and democracy, but the image of violence and militarism.

If you will, rephrase that quote for me with Iraq in mind instead of Vietnam (not the analogy is a perfect one, but analogies never are… this particular quote however makes a useful point):

Each day the war goes on the hatred increases in the heart of the Iraqis and in the hearts of those of humanitarian instinct. The Americans are forcing even their friends into becoming their enemies. It is curious that the Americans, who calculate so carefully on the possibilities of military victory, do not realize that in the process they are incurring deep psychological and political defeat. The image of America will never again be the image of revolution, freedom, and democracy, but the image of violence and militarism.

And here he waxes prophetic. One could make the same claim today about US militarism:

The war in Vietnam is but a symptom of a far deeper malady within the American spirit, and if we ignore this sobering reality…and if we ignore this sobering reality, we will find ourselves organizing “clergy and laymen concerned” committees for the next generation.

And another gem:

On the one hand, we are called to play the Good Samaritan on life’s roadside, but that will be only an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho Road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life’s highway. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.

And here’s another quote, though this time I’ve replaced “Communism” with “terrorism”:

This kind of positive revolution of values is our best defense against terrorism. War is not the answer. Terrorism will never be defeated by the use of atomic bombs or nuclear weapons. Let us not join those who shout war and, through their misguided passions, urge the United States to relinquish its participation in the United Nations. These are days which demand wise restraint and calm reasonableness. We must not engage in a negative antiterrorism, but rather in a positive thrust for democracy, realizing that our greatest defense against terrorism is to take offensive action in behalf of justice. We must with positive action seek to remove those conditions of poverty, insecurity, and injustice, which are the fertile soil in which the seed of terrorism grows and develops.

The Debate (II)

June 4, 2007

Awesome question on Pakistan. Hurray for random history professors in the audience.

Many of these hypothetical situations are ridiculous. Kucinich handled the question about assassinations well. I don’t his answer is very politically wise, but it’s the best thing to say.

Hillary really tries to turn everything back to being Bush’s fault. This certainly plays well to the liberal base, but it doesn’t always make sense.

Biden is really extraordinary on foreign policy. On Sudan: “They have forfeited their sovereignty by committing genocide.” Amen brother. He and Richardson are talking sense on Darfur, and on Africa.

There’s a lot of hand raising going on. Wolf Blitzer is a blithering idiot. And Hillary called him on it.

Chris Dodd: Boycotting the ’08 Olympics in Beijing if China doesn’t get tough with Sudan is “going too far.” Bullshit.

Biden is too angry to be a good politician, but he gets things right.

Obama rocks on talking about American moral legitimacy as a world leader.

A Change of Fortune?

December 29, 2006


Somali troops representing the UN-recognized government have retaken Mogadishu from the Islamist rebel government, the capital of Somalia. This is a striking reversal in the often-dark recent history of Somalia, a country in the horn of Africa, bordering Ethiopia, Kenya, and Djibouti (see a map of the region).

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Chess and Foreign Policy

December 18, 2006


Garry Kasparov, the Russian chess grandmaster, has become one of the most prominent critics of Vladimir Putin in Russian politics. He publicly praised the recent opposition rally in Moscow. And then Russian federal agents raided Kasparov’s offices for being a voice of dissent, something that seems to be a mark of being someone who matters in Russia. And I guess it’s better than getting shot in the head like Anna Politkovskaya.

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Why the United States Needs the World

October 18, 2006

Multilateralism may sound like something you had to learn in geometry, but it’s a great word that every college student should know. In the context of world affairs, it means working with other countries in broad coalitions and through institutions like the United Nations to achieve goals, instead of acting on our own (unilaterally).

Bashing the United Nations is a common pastime of political pundits. When things don�t get done, may people blame the United Nations itself instead of the countries that make it up. As Americans, we come from a tradition of independence and isolation, so these feelings are understandable. But hostility toward countries like France that often disagree with us, the United Nations itself and United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan is, at best, selfish, and at worst, terribly destructive. Here’s why:

United States dominance in the world won’t last forever. We’re used to being the most powerful country in the world both militarily and economically, and we are undoubtedly still on top. Right after World War II the United States dominated the globe in a way never seen before, but our lead has been shrinking ever since, as other countries recovered from the scars of war, and from that extended economic distraction we call communism.

Today we are anything but economically independent. We’re conscious of our dependence on foreign oil, but our dependence on other foreign goods is even stronger, and not likely to go away. In a consumer society, the desire for goods with ever-lower prices will continue to drive production to the cheapest locales, and wealthy nations such as our own will grow more and more dependent on countries like China and India. We might be able to win a war with China, say, over Taiwan, but neither of our countries can afford the level of decimation to our economies that would result.

And militarily, countries like China can in the long term simply muster greater numbers of troops and a broader production base to supply them. If we spent as much as the next 20 countries combined on our military (oh wait, we do) we might maintain a lead for a few more generations, but history teaches us that no nation can be dominant forever.

So the question we should ask is, how can we best advance our own economic interests and the moral principles on which our nation is built, acknowledging that we won’t always be able to bully other countries into submission? If the United Nations didn’t exist, we’d have to build something a lot like it.

If we find the United Nations difficult to work with, it is because it represents in a very real way the desire of nations from around the world. Our inability to gain support there is representative of how our self-serving foreign policy is viewed globally.

And as for Annan, his second term as Secretary-General ends in December, and the members of the U.N. are currently selecting his replacement. What many Americans seem to forget is that Kofi Annan was practically hand-picked by the U.S. because he was seen as being more favorable to America than other candidates. Compared to many of its member states, the United Nation’s leader is much more sympathetic to American ideals and interests.

Unfortunately, the unilateral actions of the current administration in Iraq have made it difficult to gain world support on other issues of great importance. Iran, having seen that we are willing to attack nations whose leaders we dislike with little world support, has rightly recognized that nuclear weapons are the only sure deterrent for an American invasion. And our strained relationship with the countries of the European Union has made working together to thwart Iran’s desire for nukes significantly more difficult.

The first step toward progress is recognizing that most of our past actions have been blatant attempts to advance our own interests, merely using moral arguments as a cover. If anyone mistakenly believes we invaded Iraq solely to restore freedom to an oppressed people, I would raise this question; why didn’t we intervene elsewhere, where conditions were worse, and where there might have been less resistance to American armed forces? The conflict in Darfur, a region in western Sudan, has killed at least 50,000 people in the last few years. Or how about intervening a few years ago in the Congo? While there is a tenuous peace now, the civil war that began in the Congo in 1998 resulted in the deaths of over 4 million people.

I am no isolationist calling for the selfish withdrawal of our troops from anywhere that looks dangerous. In fact, if we really want to advance the principles on which the United States is founded, like liberty and justice for all, there are enough terrible situations in the world to keep our troops fighting for years.

But our nation would benefit from picking its fights more wisely in the future. We simply do not have the resources to fix the problems of the world on our own. To find a path forward, we must learn to work with other countries, and abandon our instinctive hostility toward the United Nations.