Between January 2014 and October 2015 nearly 19,000 civilians were killed in Iraq, according to a United Nations report. Another 36,000 were wounded and 3.2 million were internally displaced, including one million school aged children. None of this screams peace and brotherhood. ISIS is largely responsible, employing “shooting, beheading, bulldozing, burning alive and throwing people off the top of buildings” as preferred methods of destruction.” Lest we forget, however, it was the US-led invasion of Iraq that brought these conditions into reality. ISIS exists, in large part, due to those actions. That invasion- against a country which had not provoked attack from us- must be considered a “war of aggression.” The Tribunal at Nuremberg after WWII defined wars of aggression as the “supreme international crime.” Are we sure we still want to sing Dr. King’s praises?
In 1999, Gallup determined that Dr. King was, among Americans, the second most admired individual of the 20th century behind Mother Teresa. In his lifetime, King made the list twice: in 1964 and 1965. It’s natural that his popularity would wane after that point. In 1963 the world saw King and his followers attacked in Birmingham fighting segregation and oppression. In 1965, the world saw untold brutality on the Edmund Pettus Bridge as marchers were seeking the right to vote. All that was fine. In 1965, however, King’s organization began planning to desegregate the good ol’ north, targeting Chicago for a campaign. By 1967, King was denouncing the Vietnam War and calling out his “own government” as “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world” while also pointing out that we spent $500,000 to kill every Vietcong soldier but merely $53 annually on poverty programs. King failed to “win friends and influence people” those days.
As I awoke to the report on Iraq, I thought that while an inconvenient truth, those 19,000 Iraqi civilian deaths must be, in part, laid at our feet. We still compete favorably for the title of “greatest purveyor of violence in the world.” We still spend a great deal on war and destruction while our own nation’s capital has lost roughly half of its affordable housing in the last decade (a lifeline for low- and moderate-income people). Concurrently, students in Detroit are breathing black mold and sharing company with rodents when they attend school and just down the road in Flint another disaster is yet unfolding. This is the America of 2016.
Still, we celebrated the legacy of Dr. King yesterday. In truth, most of us simply got a day off of work. We honor his memory for we hated his reality. We secretly rejoice that King isn’t here for surely he would call us out this morning. 19,000 innocent civilians and counting. While we pretend the evil monster of ISIS is solely responsible, I suspect King would have words for his own nation. Yes, it’s a good thing he’s dead.