Mary Carrick (The Mail, 9/21) asks if Martin Luther King Jr. actually said that “the U.S. is the greatest purveyor of violence in the world” and proposes rescinding “his holiday” if he spoke such words.
On April 4, 1967, King spoke at a meeting of Clergy and Laity Concerned, and, for the first time, publicly opposed the Vietnam War:
“…Their questions hit home, and I knew that I never could again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world todaymy own government.”
Within the sermon, and against the backdrop of the escalation of the Vietnam War, these words are justified. Alone, these words stand bereft of meaningand cannot in any case be applied to today’s United States. At present, though the United States may practice a foreign policy at odds with nonviolence, it is not currently at war.
I do not know what King’s response to the World Trade Center bombings would have been, but more likely it would have been words of comfort and reason rather than a single out-of-context quotation.
King was not honored by the U.S. Congress for his philosophy of nonviolence but for his contributions to the civil rights movement. The two are, in many respects, inseparablebut, in any case, his dedication to nonviolence should not be viewed as a character flaw.
In any event, criticisms of U.S. policy, especially in a nonviolent context, cannot serve as a justification for terrorist atrocities.