Dr. Martin Luther King, President Obama, and Decapitating the Syrian Government


Photo: al Jazerra America
Photo: al Jazerra America

I have been thinking about this interesting scenario posed by Dr. John Brown. Dr. Brown presented a hypothetical scenario:

I wonder what MLK, a statesman most remembered for his calls for non-violence, would react to a Chief Executive praising him while, at the same time, targeting cruise missiles against a country that has not attacked us.

THAT got the gears in my head moving! What would he think?! Is there any ground on which Dr. King would support an engagement in Syria? We obviously can’t ask him, so we must look at the historical record. What I found was pretty interesting and I thought I would share.

I started by looking into how Dr. King viewed the killing of innocent people and the need for a government response.  I found this:

Telegram (9/15/63) from Martin Luther King to President Kennedy following the explosion of a bomb at the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham that killed four girls:I WILL SINCERELY PLEAD WITH MY PEOPLE TO REMAIN NON VIOLENT IN THE FACE OF THIS TERRIBLE PROVOCATION HOWEVER I AM CONVINCED THAT UNLESS SOME STEPS ARE TAKEN BY THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT TO RESTORE A SENSE OF CONFIDENCE IN THE PROTECTION OF LIFE, LIMB AND PROPERTY MY PLEAS SHALL FALL ON DEAF EARS AND WE SHALL SEE THE WORST RACIAL HOLOCAUST THIS NATION HAS EVER SEEN AFTER TODAYS TRAGEDY,

(The quote was originally summarized, but I filled in the blanks left by the JFK Library.)

I also found this speech Dr. King gave at the New York Civil War Centennial Commission’s Emancipation Proclamation Observance in New York City on September 12, 1962:

If our nation had done nothing more in its whole history than to create just two documents, its contribution to civilization would be imperishable. The first of these documents is the Declaration of Independence and the other is that which we are here to honor tonight, the Emancipation Proclamation. All tyrants, past, present and future, are powerless to bury the truths in these declarations, no matter how extensive their legions, how vast their power and how malignant their evil.

The Declaration of Independence proclaimed to a world, organized politically and spiritually around the concept of the inequality of man, that the dignity of human personality was inherent in man as a living being. The Emancipation Proclamation was the offspring of the Declaration of Independence. It was a constructive use of the force of law to uproot a social order which sought to separate liberty from a segment of humanity.

By my review of the telegraph correspondence from Dr. King to President Kennedy, I think if Dr. King were alive, he would call on all parties to take a non-violent approach. However, I think he would draw some sort of line to establish a force necessary to prevent a genocide, if I may dare use that term to describe such mass killings.
From the first two paragraphs of Dr. King’s speech at the centennial observance of the  Emancipation Proclamation, we can see that Dr. King praised two documents that were forged through wars that emanated from civil disobedience towards tyrants. So while, Dr. King does see and recognize inequality within a system and calls for non-violence to resolve these issues, he also see a function of war that is beneficial for the establishment of liberty and freedom for all segments of that system.
Source Material:
http://johnbrownnotesandessays.blogspot.com/2013/08/honoring-martin-luther-king-and-bombing.html
http://www.jfklibrary.org/Education/Students/Leaders-in-the-Struggle-for-Civil-Rights/MLK-Jr.aspx
http://www.jfklibrary.org/Asset-Viewer/-crU2bLgN0CcGkys8dkuHg.aspx
http://www.nps.gov/anti/historyculture/mlk-ep.htm

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