Jeh C. Johnson, General Counsel for the Department of Defense:
In the final year of his life, King became an outspoken opponent of the Vietnam War, Johnson told a packed auditorium. However, he added, today’s wars are not out of line with the iconic Nobel Peace Prize winner’s teachings.“I believe that if Dr. King were alive today, he would recognize that we live in a complicated world, and that our nations military should not and cannot lay down its arms and leave the American people vulnerable to terrorist attack,” he said.
Johnson is a 1979 graduate of Morehouse College in Atlanta, where King graduated in 1948. He also attended school with King’s son, Martin Luther King III, and was privy to the elder King’s speaking engagements there.
Johnson said King criticized those who are compassionate by proxy, noting the civil rights leader told the audience in Memphis that night, “The question is not, ‘If I stop to help this man in need, what will happen to me?’ The question is, ‘If I do not stop to help the sanitation workers, what will happen to them?'”
Johnson compared today’s troops to the Samaritan, who chose to help instead of taking an easier path.
“I draw the parallel to our own servicemen and women deployed in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere, away from the comfort of conventional jobs, their families and their homes,” Johnson said.
Volunteers in today’s military, he said, “have made the conscious decision to travel a dangerous road and personally stop and administer aid to those who want peace, freedom and a better place in Iraq, in Afghanistan, and in defense of the American people.
“Every day, our servicemen and women practice the dangerousness — the dangerous unselfishness Dr. King preached on April 3, 1968,” Johnson told the audience.
Apparently, non-violent civil disobedience means wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
God didn’t call America to do what she’s doing in the world now. (Preach it, preach it) God didn’t call America to engage in a senseless, unjust war as the war in Vietnam. And we are criminals in that war. We’ve committed more war crimes almost than any nation in the world, and I’m going to continue to say it. And we won’t stop it because of our pride and our arrogance as a nation.
But God has a way of even putting nations in their place. (Amen) The God that I worship has a way of saying, “Don’t play with me.” (Yes) He has a way of saying, as the God of the Old Testament used to say to the Hebrews, “Don’t play with me, Israel. Don’t play with me, Babylon. (Yes) Be still and know that I’m God. And if you don’t stop your reckless course, I’ll rise up and break the backbone of your power.” (Yes) And that can happen to America. (Yes) Every now and then I go back and read Gibbons’ Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. And when I come and look at America, I say to myself, the parallels are frightening. And we have perverted the drum major instinct.
But let me rush on to my conclusion, because I want you to see what Jesus was really saying. What was the answer that Jesus gave these men? It’s very interesting. One would have thought that Jesus would have condemned them. One would have thought that Jesus would have said, “You are out of your place. You are selfish. Why would you raise such a question?”
But that isn’t what Jesus did; he did something altogether different. He said in substance, “Oh, I see, you want to be first. You want to be great. You want to be important. You want to be significant. Well, you ought to be. If you’re going to be my disciple, you must be.” But he reordered priorities. And he said, “Yes, don’t give up this instinct. It’s a good instinct if you use it right. (Yes) It’s a good instinct if you don’t distort it and pervert it. Don’t give it up. Keep feeling the need for being important. Keep feeling the need for being first. But I want you to be first in love. (Amen) I want you to be first in moral excellence. I want you to be first in generosity. That is what I want you to do.”
And he transformed the situation by giving a new definition of greatness. And you know how he said it? He said, “Now brethren, I can’t give you greatness. And really, I can’t make you first.” This is what Jesus said to James and John. “You must earn it. True greatness comes not by favoritism, but by fitness. And the right hand and the left are not mine to give, they belong to those who are prepared.” (Amen)
And so Jesus gave us a new norm of greatness. If you want to be important—wonderful. If you want to be recognized—wonderful. If you want to be great—wonderful. But recognize that he who is greatest among you shall be your servant. (Amen) That’s a new definition of greatness.
Even more annoying/worrying thing about Johnson’s attempt to co-opt MLK as a supporter of wars years after his death, is that he is trying to Christianize the current war effort in the same breath. When you hear about the leadership of government security contractors speaking in crusaders terms, Rumsfeld’s security updates for George W Bush prefaced with bible verses and a DOD attorney arguing that these wars are just in biblical terms shows a sense of self-delusion and/or fanaticism that should have us all wary of the primary actors in these wars.