Amid all the government officials who annually commemorate Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy, those with the toughest job are probably in the Defense Department. How do officials whose job is to prepare the country for war handle the legacy of a man who was vehemently anti-war?
A speech at the Pentagon last week by Jeh C. Johnson, the Defense Department’s top lawyer and, like King, a graduate of Morehouse College, has pushed that debate over King’s views back to the fore.
“People like to speculate about what Dr. King would believe and say if he were alive today. I believe that if Dr. King were alive today, he would recognize that we live in a complicated world, and that our nation’s military should not and cannot lay down its arms and leave the American people vulnerable to terrorist attack.”
Worried that King’s legacy was being misappropriated, a dozen Democratic members of Congress, led by Rep. Michael M. Honda, fired off a letter this week in an effort to clear the air.
“In fact, Dr. King was quite clear about his feelings on war. ‘War is not the answer,’ he said, suggesting that humanity could rise above its proclivity to wage war,” the members wrote, adding that King “never once legitimized violence as a tool for social change.”
“We trust that Dr. King’s efforts to promote nonviolence in the domestic and foreign conflicts of his time will not be contorted or distorted to support America’s current conflicts abroad,” they said.