What Would Dr. King Say? End the War in Afghanistan!

What would MLK have to say about the war in Afghanistan if he was alive today? Astonishingly, the Pentagon suggests he would “recognize that we live in a complicated world” and that “our nation’s military should not and cannot lay down its arms.”


In honor of MLK Day, please watch the clip above and send it on to everyone you know. Then read this post by Robert Greenwald to learn about what one of the “most important peacemakers in our nation’s history” would likely say about the longest war in American history:

King decried the awful willingness of his country to spend $500,000 per each killed enemy soldier in Vietnam while so many Americans struggled in poverty. Yet last year, a conservative figure for the amount we spent per killed enemy fighter in Afghanistan was roughly $20 million.

King spoke of the “monumental dissent” that arose around the Vietnam War. “Polls reveal that almost 15 million Americans explicitly oppose the war in Vietnam,” he said. But today, 63 percent of Americans oppose the Afghanistan War, and when you do the math, that’s 196 million people, give or take the margin of error.

Dr. King also spoke of the “demonic, destructive suction tube” yanking resources and lives out of the fight to get Americans on their feet. That tube is still demonic and destructive: we’ve spent more than $360 billion on this war so far and it will cost us roughly $3 billion per week in the coming year. Add to that the 10,000 people, including about 500 U.S. troops and countless civilians who died last year alone, and you can see exactly what he’s talking about. The hope of our getting out of this abysmal economic vice is burning on the roadsides of Afghanistan every day we refuse to start bringing troops home.

No, it’s safe to say that Dr. King would not regard any conflict that killed 10,000 people in a year as a humanitarian exercise. Nor would he “understand” how a nation in the grip of an economic meltdown like this one could again throw lives and resources away for almost a decade. It’s safe to say that he would move beyond the “prophesying of smooth patriotism” and stand up to end this war that’s not making us safer and that’s not worth the cost.

12 thoughts on “What Would Dr. King Say? End the War in Afghanistan!

  1. Anne Ryan

    I certainly agree that Martin would oppose this war as he was committed to Peace and to change in the way we live in it. I believe he died for that. I do wonder about the 10,ooo figure regarding deaths. I think it is higher. If it is , its important to not down play it.
    Great article.

  2. Dave

    So? Gandhi wanted the Jews in Germany to do absolutely nothing to defend themselves against the Nazis.

    This is what pacifists believe.

    1. Shirin

      1. When I first hears Ghandi’s “advice” to the Jews, I was appalled, and it diminished Ghandi in my eyes. I am still appallled. No one has the right to advise any individual or group to commit suicide, or even risk death rather than resist.

      2. Please do not confuse a commitment to non-violence as pacifism. They are not the same thing.

  3. Ross

    Gandhi did not call for Jews to “do absolutely nothing” or to “commit suicide.” He encouraged nonviolent resistance. This should not be surprising. He encouraged everybody to resist nonviolently.

    1. Shirin

      He might have at some point, but I find it difficult to see Jews “offering themselves to the butcher’s knife”, and “throwing themselves into the sea from cliffs” as either non-violent or any form of resistance. I see that kind of action as suicidal, and in fact, when asked by an interviewer whether he was suggesting the Jews should commit mass suicide, he said he was.

      I also see Jews simply letting the Nazis take their homes (sorry, don’t remember the exact quote, and no time to look it up), although it is non-violent on the part of the Jews, as any form of resistance.

    2. Richard Kahn

      “But the Jews should have offered themselves to the butcher’s knife. They should have thrown themselves into the sea from cliffs.”

  4. Ross

    A set of statements by Gandhi on this topic, along with responses from Buber, Magnes and others are gathered here:
    The famous statement that Buber and Magnes both respond to is the one dated November 26, 1938. The closest thing to butcher knives and cliffs is “If I were a Jew and were born in Germany and earned my livelihood there, I would claim Germany as my home even as the tallest gentile German may, and challenge him to shoot me or cast me in the dungeon; I would refuse to be expelled or to submit to discriminating treatment. ”
    Diane Nash said that the civil rights movement was won when southern blacks decided that the choice they faced wasn’t between fighting to end segregation or putting up with it but between living as an equal citizen today or being killed as equal citizens today. I think this is the sentiment that Gandhi expressed. Notice that to Dianne Nash, winning was not defined by the ending of Jim Crow.
    You can see from Buber’s (Feb. 24, 1939) and Magnes’s (Feb 26, 1939) responses that they understood Gandhi to be advising satyagraha not “doing nothing” or suicide. They both asserted that many Jews were engaging in satyagraha (something that Gandhi, sadly, did not seem to acknowledge). It is incorrect to characterize their disagreement as one between doing nothing or suicide on the one hand and violence on the other. I believe it is a disagreement about what constitutes victory.
    If one believes that the purpose of the Holocaust was to kill Jews, then remaining alive at all costs, even violence, is resistance. If one believes that the purpose of the Holocaust was to kill Judaism (which was the belief of Kalonymos Kalman Shapira and many other traditional Jews who continued to practice and teach Judaism during the Holocaust) then living a traditional Jewish life is resistance, even if that means certain death.

    1. Shirin

      Ross, with respect, I know what Gandhi said in that 1938 essay, and I understood his meaning well. I also know that the quote Richard Kahn presented is true and accurate, and that Gandhi wrote it in a subsequent essay which I have read. In addition I know that when an interviewer asked him if he was saying in the “butcher’s knife”/”into the sea from the cliffs” quote that the Jews should have committed mass suicide he said that he was saying just that.

      So, if you insist that Gandhi at all times suggested that the Jews offer resistance and that he never suggested they should commit mass suicide by submitting themselves to the butcher’s knife or leaping into the sea from cliffs, or that they should do nothing by simply giving over their homes and property to the Germans, you are incorrect. He did say those things.

      I never expected to be arguing on the same side as Richard Kahn here, but here we are together for the first, and perhaps the last time, and we have the facts on our side. Pretty funny, eh, Richard?

      1. Rabbi Brant Rosen Post author

        Shirin, can you provide an actual citation for the Ghandi quote: “Jews should commit mass suicide by submitting themselves to the butcher’s knife or leaping into the sea from cliffs?”

      2. Shirin

        Of course, Rabbi. My apologies for not doing so earlier.

        One source is the book Gandhi and Stalin: Two Signs At The World’s Crossroads” by Gandhi’s biographer, Louis Fischer. I am sorry I do not have the page number. I will try to provide it if requested. Below is the full quote from that book. The context of the quote in this source is a conversation between Fischer and Gandhi on a prior exchange between Gandhi and Judah Magnes which too place as a result of the Gandhi essay Ross has referred t0, which by the way, was strongly criticized by Martin Buber, and to my recollection also by Judah Magnes, contrary to what Ross suggested.

        “Hitler,” Gandhi solemnly affirmed, “killed five million Jews. It is the greatest crime of our time. But the Jews should have offered themselves to the butcher’s knife. They should have thrown themselves into the sea from cliffs. I believe in hara-kiri. I do not believe in its militaristic connotations, but it is a heroic method.”

        “You think,” I said, “that the Jews should have committed collective suicide?”

        “Yes,” Gandhi agreed,” that would have been heroism. It would have aroused the world and the people of Germany to the evils of Hitler’s violence, especially in 1938, before the war. As it is they succumbed anyway in their millions.”

        And here is a quote from the 1938 essay that prompted a reaction from Buber and Magnes (emphasis is mine):

        If I were a Jew and were born in Germany and earned my livelihood there, I would claim Germany as my home even as the tallest Gentile German might, and challenge him to shoot me or cast me in the dungeon; I would refuse to be expelled or to submit to discriminating treatment. And for doing this I should not wait for the fellow Jews to join me in civil resistance, but would have confidence that in the end the rest were bound to follow my example. If one Jew or all the Jews were to accept the prescription here offered, he or they cannot be worse off than now. And suffering voluntarily undergone will bring them an inner strength and joy…the calculated violence of Hitler may even result in a general massacre of the Jews by way of his first answer to the declaration of such hostilities. But if the Jewish mind could be prepared for voluntary suffering, even the massacre I have imagined could be turned into a day of thanksgiving and joy that Jehovah had wrought deliverance of the race even at the hands of the tyrant….

        It appears that Buber and Magnes, as well as Fischer, in addition to quite a few other Jewish and gentile intellectuals, George Orwell among them, found Gandhi’s point of view very naive. I find his comments about accepting general suffering and massacre to be quite appalling when applied to anyone but himself. What right has anyone to suggest that Jews or any other group should greet suffering and massacre with thanksgiving and joy? And Jews did suffer en masse, and were massacred en masse, and I know of no one, Jew or not, who has an ounce of humanity who finds that cause for thanksgiving or joy.

        I agree with Fischer, who noted

        Mahatma Gandhi has never lived under a thoroughly totalitarian regime; his generosity and humanity make it difficult for him to realize how very cruel a dictatorship can be. In India, and in Palestine, and other plces, violence or organized nonviolence is a form of “public relations.” …

        Thus gandhian nonviolence as well as its ugly opposite — Zionist terror — implies the existence of a free democratic society in England (and in America). It is to this court of public opinion that the resisters in India and kidnappers in Palestine have appealed. But suppose there were no democracy in Western nations?

        A British prime minister could not order a million people dragged out of their houses and off the streets to be melted down to soap in fiery furnaces. Hitler could — and did.

        The “butcher’s knife” quote is also referenced in Fischer’s biography of Gandhi on page 348. There is an additional reference to it in George Orwell’s critical essay “Reflections on Gandhi”, and in Arthur Herman’s book Gandhi and Churchill, for which I will produce the page number if requested.

        PS: In proofing that comment I noticed that Gandhi appears to compare Jews to “the tallest Gentile German“. I have the often useful habit of paying attention to small details like this. Don’t want to over-interpret, but he does appear to be implying here that Jews are short, a pretty common stereotype of the time and one wonders whether this reveals some more general, and more significant stereotyping going on with him. I’m not suggesting he was anti-Semitic, although I don’t doubt some people have tried to interpret his “butcher’s knife” and other statements in that way. I think those comments are more a sign that he was, despite everything, still a normal human being with normal human limitations.

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