Monday, January 17, 2011

Martin Luther King, jr. and Military Service

Probably a lot of people have decided that Martin Luther King, jr. was a pacifist. Someone who was against military service. One could certainly conclude that he was a pacifist, but there are some interesting quotes from him about military service.

Martin Luther King, jr. made a speech in 1967 about the Vietnam War. Many have cited this. Before he makes any references to military service, he gives quite a history of the conflict in Vietnam, starting with shortly after World War II, up to present day 1967. In fact, Martin Luther King, jr. was well versed in this conflict and showed that he knew quite a bit. Quite a bit more than most Americans.

In this speech, Martin Luther King, jr. did tell people to become conscientious objectors. But the truth is, he actually only pointed out one group that should do this as a whole. Ministers. What he says about young men in general is interesting:

"As we counsel young men concerning military service we must clarify for them our nation's role in Vietnam and challenge them with the alternative of conscientious objection."

Notice the words counsel and clarify? There is no absolute calling for all young men to not join the military. Ministers are asked to counsel young men and present them with the alternative of conscientious objection.

Martin Luther King, jr. would probably not call for a 100% young black man doing this. Why? One has to research other writings of Martin Luther King, jr., and remember what mission he was trying to accomplish. He was trying to accomplish equality and opportunities for black people. Especially economic.

Martin Luther King, jr. has noted many times, that military service is a black mans way out of ghettos. It is a way for a black man to a good job and job skills. It is a way for a black man to have a respected position. It is a way for a black man to show the world they are capable of doing anything a white man can do.

Martin Luther King, jr. knew and wrote about past wars where black men joined, fought admirably, but then came home to still face Jim Crow laws in the south. To still be subjected to discrimination, from World War I, II, and Korea.

And now Vietnam. And that was his main point. To tell young black men that during this politically unpopular war was now a good time to take a stand. That if black men are going to serve, then why are they not treated the same, during the war and coming home, as a white man? Remember, World War II the services were still segregated until the end.

Martin Luther King, jr. made the point over and over that military service was one of the only ways a young black man could succeed. But he also knew that now was a good time to take a stand. Both against the war and the segregation and discrimination that black GI's still faced at home.

Let us take at a quote from 1967, from Why I Oppose the War in Vietnam.

"I see this war (Vietnam) as an unjust, evil and futile war. But if I had confronted the call to military service in a war against Hitler, I believe that I would have temporarily sacrificed my pacifism because Hitler was such an evil force in history...I would willingly have fought against the Nazi menace of the 1940s."

We also cannot forget that Martin Luther King, jr. lived at spoke in a time when African countries (and others) that had been colonized were revolting and said, "The shirtless and barefoot people of the world are rising up as never before. …We in the West must support these revolutions." This was also in his Beyond Vietnam speech.

We must also realize that when Rev. Martin Luther King was protesting the war, he did it non-violently. It must also be noted that he DID NOT want to be caught up in just the rest of the mindless popular protests of the day.

"There is something seductively tempting about stopping there and sending us all off on what in some circles has become a popular crusade against the war in Vietnam."

No. He wanted people to protest it using creative ways and have knowledge behind their protests. Do it in the right manner.

We must salute Rev. Martin Luther King, as a man who lived and died for the oppression and justice of others. And did this all in a non-violent way.

You can read one speech at:

You can read more MLK war quotes at:
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