Ira Chernus  


WWMD? What would Martin do?

If Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., were still with us, he would surely be standing against the Bush administration’s rush to war in Iraq. He would surely urge all of us to oppose the war, following the four-step process he used in every moral struggle.

Dr. King’s first step was to find out and give out the facts. When he risked his career to denounce the Vietnam war, he did not stick to moral platitudes. He gave a concise, hard-headed analysis of the political and economic roots of the conflict.

Today, he would show us how flimsy is the "evidence" the administration is offering as its excuse for war. He would recall that the U.S. supported Saddam Hussein throughout the 1980s. Our government gave him chemical weapons, knew he was using those weapons, and said nothing. He would explain that the International Atomic Energy Agency has pronounced Iraq, for all practical purposes, disarmed of nuclear capability.

He would point out that it was the U.S., not Iraq, that removed the international weapons inspectors in 1998. He would remind us that, according to UN resolutions, sanctions against Iraq will end if inspectors find no weapons of mass destruction. He would go on to talk about the risks of "blowback," the likelihood that a war will alienate other nations and sow the seeds of future conflict.

By the time he spoke out against the Vietnam war, Dr. King understood that the racism he fought all his life was directly tied to militarism and to economic injustice. He lamented that our own government has become the world’s greatest purveyor of violence, in the name of economic domination.

So he would ask us to consider who would benefit from a war against Iraq. Would it be the U.S. troops risking their lives there, so disproportionately made up of Americans of color? The brown-skinned Iraqis on whom bombs would fall, including depleted uranium bombs that go on irradiating for decades? Or would it be the predominantly white investors who own millions of shares of stock in oil companies? Many who revere Dr. King forget that, in the last years of his life, these were the kinds of questions he constantly put before the public.

The second step in Dr. King’s campaigns was negotiation. He would urge U.S. officials to take Iraq’s cooperation with the inspectors at face value and to accept Iraq’s offers to negotiate. He would tell us to negotiate with our own war-bent leaders. He would applaud the huge campaign to influence the recent Congressional vote. He would ask why so many legislators voted to authorize war, when their mail and phone calls ran so heavily against war.

With that route blocked, Dr. King would urge us to pressure our government by other means. He would be the featured speaker at many mass demonstrations against the war taking place around the country. He would lead delegations knocking on the door of the White House, asking to see the president. If turned away, he would come back the next day and knock again.

Finally, if war seems imminent, there can be no doubt that Dr. King would take the lead in moving toward the final two stages of moral struggle: self-purification and direct action. Sometimes one must break the government’s law in the name of a higher law, the law of love, he would tell us. As in all the civil rights campaigns, he would bring his followers to workshops on nonviolence. He would help them prepare to accept police violence without retaliating, to accept the punishments meted out by judges, and, if need be, to endure lovingly the ordeal of jail.

Dr. King had no simple rule to say when the time for direction action has come. That decision must come from the mind and heart of each individual. For some who abhor the idea of Americans dropping bombs on yet another foreign land, that time has come already.

When lovers of peace break the law, following in Dr. King’s footsteps, the TV cameras are sure to follow. As the civil rights movement showed, it often takes peaceful law-breaking to shake the public out of its lethargy. That is sad, but still true.

So when you turn on the evening news and see the police dragging away the protestors, remember to ask, WWMD? What would Martin do? Surely, he would be the first to be arrested. He would be the first to tell the police, the judge, the president, and all of us that violence can never bring peace and security. Violence can only bring more violence and injustice. Sometimes, the only way to peace, security, and justice is by nonviolent disobedience to the law.