Martin Luther King Jr. marching against the Vietnam War in Chicago in 1967.

King predicted endless marches and rallies until we reject militarism — it’s time we listened

Millions of Americans hope for peace with Iran. But we're not going to get there without a radical revolution of values here at home in the United States.
Martin Luther King Jr. marching against the Vietnam War in Chicago in 1967.

On the second day of this new year, the president of the United States ordered the killing of Iran’s Maj. Gen. Qassim Soleimani of Iran, and the U.S. military carried out those orders with a drone strike.

On the fifth day of this new year, vast throngs of mourning people filled the streets of Tehran for the funeral of Soleimani, during which his successor promised revenge on the United States.

Thus, this new year began as the last year ended: awash in old hate, old violence and old vision.

We have heard repeatedly from President Trump that this course of action was required to protect our “national security.” Of course, no one feels any safer because at no point in the history of the world have people anywhere found lasting safety and security through warring and death.

As we honor what would have been the 91st birthday of the late Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. his words convict us still. King said U.S. militarism was “but a symptom of a far deeper malady within the American spirit” and that if we ignored this sickness — which he identified as our obsession with things rather than people — we would find ourselves organizing “clergy and laymen concerned” committees for generations. “They will be concerned about Guatemala and Peru” he said. “They will be concerned about Mozambique and South Africa. We will be marching for these and a dozen other names and attending rallies without end unless there is a significant and profound change in American life and policies.” Over 50 years ago King’s words were eerily prescient. Tragically we now add Iran once again to that ever-growing list of “concerns.”

In the first week of this new year we read countless statements from faith leaders and groups of conscience urging this administration to step back from the brink of war with Iran. We believe those statements represent the hopes of millions of Americans and Iranians. Peace, however, seems unlikely, as this administration has no credible plan to deal with this self-created and unnecessary crisis.

This administration is pushing us closer and closer to an election-year war. While the defense industry salivates over the prospects of this war’s potential profitability, we must tell our exhausted and depleted selves the truth: We have always been on a war footing. We have been “at war” 222 years out of the 239 years this country has existed.  The logic of empire, along with the twin cancers of racism and violence, have always been part of our body politic. That will be the legacy we hand off to our children’s and grandchildren’s futures if we do not act now to actively pursue values of peace through justice for all people.

This may be the hardest thing that we as Americans have ever done, but we have the power to reject militarism, to reject an old and stale vision of the world as a place where security is guaranteed through fire power. Ultimately my faith is in people and, more importantly, in the power of the people who thirst for a different future for the world, who are ready to embrace the radical, and are not afraid to start at home with subversive faith and courage.  

Over the past century, my organization, the Fellowship of Reconciliation, or FOR, has helped to fashion the modern peace movement, making nonviolence the powerful current in the world that it is now. We are a 105-year-old global network of devoted people of faith and conscience who have confronted the hatred and violence — the breaking and killing — throughout the past century, in sometimes big, but more often small ways. As a member of FOR and its advisory council in 1957, King summed up the evergreen and overarching purpose of the organization’s work as that which leads to the creation of the Beloved Community — a world of equality, freedom, justice and peace. What we should have learned in the lessons from the last 239 years is that, no matter the power of our weapons, we will never get to that world King envisioned by traveling these same, tired, washed out roads of violence. We will never get there by desiring peace without justice.

We started this new year with violence. It’s not too late to start again, to return to the tables of diplomacy, to invest in the world we want to see. We echo and magnify every call for peace articulated by our faith allies and peace and justice partners. We have all said the same thing: We do not want war. We are tired of the violence and the killing. We all want peace.

We are also sure that the peace we want to see across the globe must begin with a radical revolution of values here at home in the United States.

As German theologian and martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “peace must be dared,” because it requires imagining a world we have yet to see. “The world is choked with weapons, and dreadful is the distrust … for what are we waiting?”

We are ready to do something different.

This story was produced by Fellowship Magazine

Since 1918, the Fellowship of Reconciliation has published the award-winning print magazine Fellowship. It is also now online, offering original grassroots analysis, movement research, first-person commentary, poetry and more to help people of faith and conscience build a nonviolent, compassionate world.

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