Martin Luther King, Jr. would have been 75 years old today had he lived to grow older. At 75, he certainly would have been a wise man. He was already wise well beyond his years at 39 when he was assassinated. How valuable it would have been for our country and the world to have had him here to speak and take action on the issues of the day.
Above all else, Dr. King was a man of justice and peace. One can imagine how, were he able to see us today, he would have recoiled at the increasing gap between rich and poor in our country and the world; at the tax cuts for the rich and the deceptions by political leaders to achieve them; at the abuses of corporate leaders who cheated both their shareholders and their employees; and, most of all, at the lies of political leaders to take the country to war yet again.
He certainly would have remembered the Vietnam War that he spoke out against so eloquently, and he would have been struck by the similarities between that war and the war in Iraq. He would have been deeply saddened to see that America had built its military on the backs of the poor, and that US soldiers were still coming home in body bags.
Dr. King’s 75th birthday is a time for reflection about who we are as a people and who we want to be. It is a time to strengthen our resolve to work, as he did, for justice, peace and human dignity. It is a time to strengthen our resolve to create a just and decent country that upholds civil and human rights for all. It is a time to recognize our responsibilities to lead by example, not by force. It is a time to work to end the double standards of “do as I say, not as I do” policies that shame our country and tarnish it in the eyes of the world.
What would he have said about our Congress giving away its Constitutional authority to make war to the President? What would he have said about the President leading the country to war against Iraq illegally and without the approval of the United Nations Security Council?
What would he have said about our continued reliance on nuclear weapons long after the end of the Cold War, and our plans to conduct research on mini-nukes and “bunker-busting” nuclear weapons? What would he have said about the allocation of nearly half of our discretionary income as a society to prepare for and engage in war? What would he have said about our lack of universal health care, the breakdown of our educational system and the growing number of homeless in the streets?
Dr. King is not here to speak out and take action, but I can imagine that he would have been angered and deeply saddened by the state of our country and the world. He likely would have been disgusted by the poor quality of leadership and the continued prevalence of greed in our nation. He would have wanted us to do more and give more of ourselves. He would have called upon us to strengthen our efforts to build a peaceful and just world. Although he is not here to inspire us, that should not stop us from hearing the echoes of his deep, resonant voice. Although he is not here to lead, that should not stop us from acting.
The best birthday present we could give to Martin Luther King, Jr. is our commitment to his dream the dream of a more just and decent America, a country that could lead in justice and decency rather than military expenditures and number of billionaires. Remembering him helps us to realize how far we have strayed from our course and far we have to go.
*David Krieger is president of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation. He is the co-author of Choose Hope: Your Role in Waging Peace in the Nuclear Age and Peace: 100 Ideas. For more information on Martin Luther King’s 75th birthday click here.