According to the Pentagon’s lawyer, Martin Luther King Jr., if alive today, would view the US war on Afghanistan as both the act of a Good Samaritan and as necessary self-defense.
Jeh C. Johnson, the “Defense” Department’s general counsel, said, on the one hand:
“I believe that if Dr. King were alive today, he would recognize that we live in a complicated world, and that our nation’s military should not and cannot lay down its arms and leave the American people vulnerable to terrorist attack.”
On the other hand, he also said this:
“I draw the [Good Samaritan] parallel to our own servicemen and women deployed in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere, away from the comfort of conventional jobs, their families and their homes. [They] have made the conscious decision to travel a dangerous road and personally stop and administer aid to those who want peace, freedom and a better place in Iraq, in Afghanistan, and in defense of the American people. Every day, our servicemen and women practice the dangerousness — the dangerous unselfishness Dr. King preached on April 3, 1968.”
Now, when President Barack Obama in 2009 gave a Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, he had the decency to admit that he was disagreeing fundamentally with King’s position:
“There will be times when nations — acting individually or in concert — will find the use of force not only necessary but morally justified. I make this statement mindful of what Martin Luther King Jr. said in this same ceremony years ago: ‘Violence never brings permanent peace. It solves no social problem: it merely creates new and more complicated ones.’…But as a head of state sworn to protect and defend my nation, I cannot be guided by [King’s and Gandhi’s] examples alone.”
There has long been a segment of the U.S. population susceptible to the fear-mongering of “defensive” wars of aggression. When told that we have to go attack an impoverished nation halfway around the world and continue doing so for many years, certain people eagerly climb on board. But others need a war to be a humanitarian act of racist kindness before they’ll support it. So, by a happy coincidence, every nation in which our military wants bases and weapons or our oil companies want wells or pipelines happens to both threaten our very existence and desperately need the humanitarian aid of our military.
The humanitarian war sales pitch is made to those motivated by kindness. I call it racist kindness because we impose our “aid” on foreign nations fully aware that they don’t want it. Of course, two-thirds of Americans oppose the war on Afghanistan, so majority opinion may never matter. But Afghans overwhelmingly oppose the occupation of their country.
Now, the man aided by the Good Samaritan was half-dead, perhaps unconscious. It may be that Jeh Johnson thinks of the Afghans in the same way. They can’t possibly make the right decisions in their state, so we’ll decide for them. Dr. King rejected such logic in the case of Vietnam:
“As I ponder the madness of Vietnam and search within myself for ways to understand and respond to compassion my mind goes constantly to the people of that peninsula. . . . They must see Americans as strange liberators. . . . They languish under our bombs and consider us — not their fellow Vietnamese — the real enemy.”
A poll last spring found that 85% of Kandaharis consider the Taliban “our Afghan brothers.” The poll was commissioned by the Pentagon. The same poll found that 94% favored peace negotiations, not war. So, out of the goodness of our racist hearts, we brought them more war.
The parable of the Good Samaritan has been lost on the Pentagon’s lawyer. A Samaritan, to Jesus’ audience, was a foreigner of a disreputable sort. But this Samaritan was made a model of humanity for others to follow. The point was not only to help people you find half-dead on the side of the road. The revolutionary point was to see others as fully human despite superficial differences.
“I am convinced,” King said, “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 into a person-oriented society. . . . On the one hand we are called to play the Good Samaritan on life’s roadside; but that will be only an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life’s highway. . . . The Western arrogance of feeling that it has everything to teach others and nothing to learn from them is not just. A true revolution of values will lay hands on the world order and say of war: ‘This way of settling differences is not just.’ This business of burning human beings with napalm, of filling our nation’s homes with orphans and widows, of injecting poisonous drugs of hate into veins of people normally humane, of sending men home from dark and bloody battlefields physically handicapped and psychologically deranged, cannot be reconciled with wisdom, justice and love. A nation that continues year after year to spend more on military ‘defense’ than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.”
David Swanson is author of “War Is A Lie,“