LIVING FOR CHANGE
To President Obama from MLK
By Grace Lee Boggs
Michigan Citizen, May 19, 2009
Last week I shared a letter written to President Obama in the name of Jimmy and myself by a student in historian Robin Kelley’s class at Duke University. This week, as the Afghanistan war has become Obama’s war, the following letter from another Duke University student in the name of Martin Luther King Jr. is especially timely.
Dear Mr. President,
In these twilight years of my life, as I contemplate my life’s work in the context of this nation’s history and see a black man occupying its highest position, I am tempted to claim that African Americans have indeed entered the Promised Land. However, the American Dream continues to elude Americans. Therefore, this is no time for self-congratulation by any person or group.
In your story each American, black or white, poor or rich, male or female, gay or straight, is offered the right to claim the material and spiritual prosperity of hope. I commend you, Mr. President, for making this reclaiming possible.
Your vision for a renewed America in The Audacity of Hope cautions against an embrace of traditional left or right wing remedies. The cure to a disarrayed American politics is, in your view, not centered around partisan divides but rather acknowledges the value each individual, left or right, brings to the table. Your emphasis on non-partisan unity resonates with me. We need a broad majority of Americans who are re-engaged in the project of nation renewal, and who see their own self-interest as inextricably linked to the interest of others.
Many have expressed apprehension over your inexperience in foreign affairs. I, too, admit to apprehension in regard to our maintaining and fostering positive relations with other nations.
As you know, opposition to the Vietnam War was the platform on which I stood to protest violence and hostile foreign relations. My very public disapproval of that war was based on an aversion to its immorality as well as an understanding of the destructive aftermath of war. The disproportional expense and allocation of funds during war time not only greatly reduces the funding of virtually all economic endeavors in the homeland, but further disadvantages the already economically disadvantaged more than any other socio-economic group.
Further, what does war bring, if not more war and suffering? My hope as a preacher, a man, and a member of the human race, is to eliminate suffering of all people. Non-violence is the only way to eradicate violence, for it provides people with an alternative way to gain commonality and sustain community.
Your opposition to the Iraq War gave me hope that non-violence can still prevail in these challenging times. You explained your opposition to the Iraq War by stating that “…war against Iraq will require a U.S. occupation of undetermined length, at undetermined cost, with undetermined consequence. Invasion of Iraq without a clear rationale and strong international support will only fan the flames of the Middle East, encourage the worst, rather than the best.”
However, you also say that you “[don’t] oppose all wars…I support [the] pledge to hunt down and root out those who would slaughter innocents in the name of intolerance and would willingly take up arms myself to prevent such a tragedy from happening.”
Your equivocation leads me to believe that you believe war with a time constraint, a capped allocation of funds and ‘determined’ consequences is justifiable war.
Tell me, Mr. President, what war justifies the human cost, the indeterminable amount of lives affected for the worse? What war justifies the slaughtering of another human being for the sake of retaliation and ‘protection’? The answer is, simply, none.
Thus I must say that your willingness to go to war [depending on its particulars], makes me question the basis of your initial position on the Iraq War. Most citizens see non-violence as a dangerous weakness that would threaten the nation’s security. You state that “the security environment we face today is fundamentally different from one that
existed years ago…the advent of nuclear weapons and mutual assured destruction.” Non-violence remains the only option due, in a roundabout way, to the destructiveness of nuclear power.
War does not foster positive foreign relations; it never has and never will. If you fail to understand this, you will falter.