The Fellowship for Reconciliation, a compassion-based interfaith activism organization that seeks to replace violence, war, racism, and economic injustice with nonviolence, peace, and justice, speaks its piece on the Shrub’s State of the Union address, which we share here:
There is Another Way: Building the ‘World House.’
Barely a week ago, President George W. Bush placed a wreath at the tomb of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., honoring his prophetic leadership and life. It appeared to be, as the many protestors in Atlanta pointed out, a fairly cynical gesture by the president, who unleashed pre-emptive war on Iraq and whose policies, laid out in his State of the Union address, contain a vision for this country and the world that runs so counter to the one the late Dr. King espoused.
Some years ago a famous novelist died. Among his papers was found a list of suggested plots for future stories, the most prominently underscored being this one: “A widely separated family inherits a house in which they have to live together.” This is the great new problem of mankind. We have inherited a large house, a great “world house” in which we have to live together–€”black and white, Easterner and Westerner, Gentile and Jew, Catholic and Protestant, Moslem and Hindu–€”a family unduly separated in ideas, culture and interest, who, because we can never again live apart, must learn somehow to live with each other in peace.
— Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., “The World House”
President Bush defended the chaos and destruction brought down on the people of Iraq as “liberation,” and promised to bring more “liberation” to the rest of the Middle East – or to any other region where he deems America’s interests are being challenged. Dr. King, in his prescient essay on international affairs, The World House, warned that history was cluttered with the wreckage of nations who came killing in the name of liberation and peace. This month, as we celebrate the 75th anniversary of Dr. King’s birth, we believe the great pacifist and civil rights leader would wince at Bush’s words, and weep to see what America has become.
President Bush justified the war on Iraq by pointing to Libya’s voluntary dismantling of its weapons of mass destruction. Dr. King believed that no goal, not even the goal of peace itself, justified violence or war, and that nations separated by religion, ideas, culture and interest had to learn to live together in peace or “perish together as fools.” President Bush dismissed the notion that America needs any sort of “permission slip” from the international community in order to act. Diplomacy, he said, was only successful when backed by threat, and he promised strategies to threaten, isolate and pressure North Korea and Iran. Dr. King, on the other hand, believed in diplomacy and the United Nations as the last best hope of reconciling differences without violence.
Americans are justifiably anxious about their safety after the events of Sept. 11, 2001, and terrorist acts are a real threat in many parts of the world. But in its efforts to heighten the kind of fear that justifies ongoing war, the Bush administration has created a terrorist bogeyman – much like the Communist bogeyman of the Cold War. In his State of the Union address, the president dismissed Iraqis opposed to the US occupation as “enemies of freedom,” and warned ominously that terrorists continued to plot against America and the civilized world. Dr. King rejected the objectification of others and spoke passionately against “the convenient temptation” to attribute the current turmoil and bitterness throughout the world to the presence of a conspiracy. Rather than waging war or threatening other nations, America should, in the spirit of Dr. King, “seek to remove those conditions of poverty, insecurity and injustice” which are the fertile soil in which the seeds of terrorism grow.
Despite his disclaimers that America has “no desire to dominate, no ambitions for Empire,” the president’s State of the Union speech was laced with the notion that it is America’s mission to bring American values, notably free markets, to the entire Middle East. Left out was any discussion of oil or US corporate profits to be derived from those “free markets.” Neither was there transparency about “free elections,” which almost certainly won’t take place in Iraq or anywhere else until the United States is satisfied that a malleable and friendly government will be elected.
Dr. King warned passionately against attempting to remake the world in America’s image. All war-makers, he wrote, have in common an arrogant belief that they are liberators, that their actions will bring about a peaceful world order. In reality, Dr. King wrote, they are seeking a world that personifies their own “egotistic dreams,” a world “fashioned after their selfish conceptions of an ideal existence.” He talked about “surreptitious” neo-colonialism, which almost always targets poorer and darker peoples and inevitably reaps widespread resentment. He spoke of control and manipulation masquerading as aid and assistance. Instead, Dr. King offered a just and compassionate version of American leadership: address the root causes of conflict and hatred with a global commitment to relieve poverty, combat racism and share earthly blessings with the entire world. “A true revolution of values,” he said, “will lay hands on the world order and say of war: “This way of settling differences is not just.’ ”
On the home front, the State of the Union address offered little to those of us who are deeply concerned about the state of our society – and little that would have satisfied Dr. Martin Luther King’s vision of justice and compassion. President Bush used the war on terrorism to lobby for renewal of the Patriot Act, with its assault on civil liberties. He cited education funding programs that have left thousands of schools unfunded, tax cuts that have profited the rich but not the working poor, and a Medicare program that benefits pharmaceutical and insurance companies, but not senior citizens. According to President Bush, the economy is growing stronger. He said nothing of the 2.3 million jobs lost since he took office, many of them exported abroad, or of the 8 million laid-off American workers still looking for jobs. He said nothing of the more than 2 million who have simply dropped out of the workforce in despair, or the 8 million whose right to overtime is being sacrificed to protect the interests of employers.
Is this the justice, sense of shared humanity and “people before profit” that Martin Luther King sought? We believe not. As Dr. King said in The World House about America and the global community: “There is no deficit in human resources; the deficit is in human will.” We believe Americans have the will and moral courage to say no to exploitation, war and injustice — at home and abroad. Dr. King believed in America’s potential to lead by example, with humility and compassion. We must explore alternatives to war and human destruction, to profit over the plight of people, to the threats that poverty, racism and militarism pose. Dr. King fervently believed in the attainability of these alternative goals. We urge those in power in America today to read The World House and rediscover a different vision from the presented in the State of the Union.
Finally, we invite the Bush administration and its supporters to embrace the spirit of Dr. King, to bring about “a revolution of values” that rejects war and joins us with the world community to wage peace and achieve justice for all. The United States is part of The World House; that is where our overriding loyalty resides. In that spirit, we need to make a supreme effort, in the words of Dr. King, to “generate the readiness, indeed the eagerness, to enter into the new world which is now possible, ‘The city which hath foundation, whose building and maker is God.’ ”
‘The World House’ is found in Dr. King’s book, Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?