MLK Day: Remembering that Martin Luther King Condemned War

January 19th, 2021 - by Public Citizen & NNOMY & The Oakland Institute

The Pentagon Tries to Enlist Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Public Citizen

On January 18, the Pentagon sent out the following short Tweet acknowledging the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.:

Department of Defense:

Today, we honor the life and legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. as a national day of service. It’s a day on, not off. #MartinLutherKingJrDay

In response, Public Citizen president Robert Weissman, offered some of Dr. King’s own words—is the Pentagon listening?

From King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail” (April 16, 1963): 
I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.”

From King’s “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence” speech at Riverside Church (April 4, 1967): 
I am convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. … We must rapidly begin the shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights, are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.

From King’s speech announcing the Poor People’s March on Washington (December 4, 1967): 
America is at a crossroads of history, and it is critically important for us, as a nation and a society, to choose a new path and move upon it with resolution and courage. … Consider, for example, the spectacle of … a nation gorged on money while millions of its citizens are denied a good education, adequate health services, decent housing, meaningful employment, and even respect, and are then told to be responsible.

Martin Luther King’s Anti-war Legacy

National Network Opposing the Militarization of Youth (NNOMY)

On Martin Luther King, Jr, Day 2018, Secretary of Defense James Mattis proclaimed: “Our armed forces are stronger today because of the perseverance of Dr. King and many others in this country who fought for civil rights and equality for all.”

In response, NNMOY released the following short video along with this statement: “We honor Martin Luther King by recovering his antiwar and anti-militarist legacy. In this time of unprecedented political hypocrisy, we see the utilization of Doctor King’s words usurped by the militaristic and nationalistic Trump administration and a twisted and ironic usurpation of his ideals by military contractors in the United States of America in this last holiday honoring him.”

Today on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, we invite you to watch our video in which we look critically on the US Military’s constant attempts to pay homage to MLK Jr.’s legacy, while conveniently forgetting his consistent rejection of militarism and warmongering.

We honor Martin Luther King by recovering his antiwar and anti-militarist legacy. In this time of unprecedented political hypocrisy, we see the utilization of Doctor King’s words usurped by the militaristic and nationalistic Trump administration and a twisted and ironic usurpation of his ideals by military contractors in the United States of America in this last holiday honoring him. This Peace Pill is the remedy to this public relations illness.

Militarization in America


Over the last several decades, conservative forces and corporations have been systematically working to expand their presence in the K-12 learning environment and in public universities. The combined impact of the military, conservative think tanks and foundations, and of corporatization of our public educational systems has eroded the basic democratic concept of civilian public education.   It is a trend that, if allowed to continue, will weaken the primacy of civilian rule and, ultimately, our country’s commitment to democratic ideals. 

The most aggressive outside effort to use the school system to teach an ideology with ominous long-term implications for society comes from the military establishment. Over the last two decades, with relatively little media coverage or public outcry, the Pentagon’s involvement in schools and students’ lives has grown exponentially. Now, for example:

  • Every school day, at least half a million high school students attend Junior ROTC classes to receive instruction from retired officers who are handpicked by the Pentagon to teach its own version of history and civics. These students are assigned “ranks” and conditioned to believe that military and civilian values are similar, with the implication that unquestioning obedience to authority is therefore a feature of good citizenship.
  • Armed forces academies are being established in some public schools (Chicago now has eight), where all students are given a heavy dose of military culture and values.
  • A network of military-related programs is spreading in hundreds of elementary and middle schools. Examples are the Young Marines and Starbase programs, and military programs that sneak into schools under the cloak of Science / Technology / Engineering / Math (STEM) education.
  • Military recruiters are trained to pursue “school ownership” as their goal (see: “Army School Recruiting Program Handbook”). Their frequent presence in classrooms, lunch areas and at assemblies has the effect of popularizing military values, soldiering and, ultimately, war.
  • Since 2001, federal law has overridden civilian school autonomy and family privacy when it comes to releasing student contact information to the military. Additionally, each year thousands of schools allow the military to administer its entrance exam — the ASVAB — to 10th-12th graders, allowing recruiters to bypass laws protecting parental rights and the privacy of minors and gain access to personal information on hundreds of thousands of students.


“And Again the Brutality of a Dying Order Shrieks Across the Land”

Anuradha Mittal / The Oakland Institute

(January 18, 2021) — “And again the brutality of a dying order shrieks across the land.”

Almost 56 years ago, Martin Luther King Jr. said these words at the conclusion of the Selma to Montgomery March. This January 18th MLK Day, we stare into the face of this brutality again.

America reels from violent insurrection led by a mostly white mob at the behest of a president, while readying itself for more in the comings days. Core values and basic principles of equity, democracy, decency, and freedom came under attack.

Donald Trump is responsible for this. And his enablers who have normalized a new breed of white nationalism with open intolerance toward every group seen as “the other.”

Martin Luther King Jr. set an example, and we know what he would do today. He would hold elected officials accountable and urge all to join non-violent movements for equity and justice.

He would remind us not to forget that as the white mobs attempted to desecrate our democracy, record voter turnout in the state of Georgia — driven by Black voters — elected the first Black and first Jewish Senators. Historically disenfranchised Black and Brown voters have been pivotal in essentially all of the recent major elections in the United States of America.

Elevating the voice of resistance and joining the struggle for equity is key for social change!

The foundation of our work is to dismantle power structures and ideologies that prop up inequity, allow theft of lives and livelihoods — through corruption and collusion — both at home and abroad. To win the struggle for social, economic, and environmental justice, white supremacy and institutionalized racism has to be dismantled.

This is why we stand together with land defenders rising up against racist neo-colonialism and theft of their land and life.

On January 14th, 2018, Representative John Lewis reminded the nation, “we’re one people, we’re one family, we all live in the same house. Not just American house, the world house…” This is the vision that drives our work this MLK day — January 18th, 2021.

The march continues.

Anuradha Mittal is the Executive Director of the Oakland Institute