On Monday, the United States will celebrate the life of Martin Luther King Jr. with a federal holiday. We will hear stories of his battles with segregation, his eloquent speech in Washington, and his fight for voting rights. This is the King with whom America is comfortable. These are the aspects of his life that we embrace and honor - because they are the safe parts.
America's commemoration of King's vision is only partial. King's life encompassed more than simply his moving rhetoric and desegregated lunch counters. The politics King espoused toward the end of his life - and the part that America has effectively ignored - may provide some invaluable lessons, given the current international climate.
King became a vocal critic of US foreign policy, denouncing America's "giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism," and calling the US "the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today." Across the globe, from Vietnam to Asia to Latin America, King believed the US was "on the wrong side of a world revolution."
What, then, would King make of our current war on terrorism? Although terrorism poses historically new and unique threats, communism in King's time presented an equally menacing peril. As a man who told his followers to "love your enemies," it is doubtful that he would embrace the war fever that has gripped this nation since Sept. 11, 2001. How to reconcile King's belief in "turning the other cheek" with President Bush's doctrine of preemptive strikes?