Tuesday, March 30, 2010

When Ideologies Collide

The last 1:15 of President Obama's speech accepting the Nobel Peace Prize is the source of what may become fresh controversy.

"We must begin by acknowledging the hard truth: We will not eradicate violent conflict in our lifetimes. There will be times when nations -- acting individually or in concert -- will find the use of force not only necessary but morally justified."

"I make this statement mindful of what Martin Luther King Jr. said in this same ceremony years ago: "Violence never brings permanent peace. It solves no social problem: it merely creates new and more complicated ones." As someone who stands here as a direct consequence of Dr. King's life work, I am living testimony to the moral force of non-violence. I know there's nothing weak -- nothing passive -- nothing naïve -- in the creed and lives of Gandhi and King."

"But as a head of state sworn to protect and defend my nation, I cannot be guided by their examples alone. I face the world as it is, and cannot stand idle in the face of threats to the American people. For make no mistake: Evil does exist in the world. A non-violent movement could not have halted Hitler's armies. Negotiations cannot convince al Qaeda's leaders to lay down their arms. To say that force may sometimes be necessary is not a call to cynicism -- it is a recognition of history; the imperfections of man and the limits of reason."

Tavis Smiley Reports, a new installment of his quarterly hour long special, examines the divide and apparent contradiction between Obama's attribution of his rise to our nation's highest office and his role as a war time president. Does this mean that Obama denigrates King's non-violent commitment? Does his role as a Commander-in-Chief of a nation prosecuting two wars, put him at variance with the King's legacy as a pacifist and non-violent crusader? Is it possible to be a head of state and be committed to non-violence?

I must admit, I listened to Obama's speech on December 10th of last year, with some of those questions on my mind. King's own Nobel Peace Prize speech in 1963, made no room for a world of 'just war'. He spoke of a world in which the problems of mankind marked by 'violence and oppression' would be solved without 'resorting to oppression and violence'.

King's anti-war speech, put him at odds with, indeed extreme odds with Civil Rights leaders, politicians - including President Lyndon Johnson - journalists, and many of his own followers. His anti-war speech at the Riverside Church in New, York city, given one year to the day of his assassination (April 4, 1967), was King's prophetic declaration that he was a proclaimer of truth that transcended politics and personal convenience. He considered the Viet Nam War a moral evil, an evil that diverted badly needed resources from the War on Poverty at home and which disproportionately committed the lives of the poor, and minority citizens in a conflict which was another country's civil war.

While I agree with King's stance on war in general and the Viet Nam war in particular, and while I believe that we are currently engaged in two wars (certainly one), which should never have been started in the first place. I wonder how fair it is to compare the position in which Obama finds himself and the conditions about which King spoke out in 1967.

Coming into office with a commitment to end the Iraq War and the Afghanistan War, Obama has essentially adopted, if not ratified the Bush plan to end the war in Iraq and has sent additional troops into Afghanistan to deal with terrorist there. While the causes for these wars is to me not an irrelevant issue: is it really possible to immediately stop a war in which we've been engaged for almost ten years?

Let me confess that I don't have answers to these questions. And while I admire Tavis Smiley and most of his supporters (Dr. Cornell West among them), I have problems with the style of accountability to which they employ when it comes to Obama. Smiley has mixed motives at best and with each criticism (or critique), it becomes more obvious. Nearly every president, certainly in our lifetimes, has come into office finding the issues about which they campaigned more complex than initially understood. How those issues are handled once confronted by them, is how a president must be judged.

In a war that has been declared upon ideological grounds and against no sovereign nation, there are indeed more complexities than whether or not one holds fast to an ideology of strict non-violence.

Or are there?

Smiley's special will be aired on Wednesday night 7:00 p.m. CST on your local PBS station. It should be extremely interesting.

Whether you agree with Tavis or not.


Anonymous said...


Gerald Britt said...

That's ok. I'm pretty sure you're not the target audience...