At the Intersection of Faith and Culture

At the Intersection of Faith and Culture

Neocons, “Isolationism,” and Martin Luther King, Jr.

As the mess in Iraq—a mess predicted by the likes of such “isolationists” as Patrick J. Buchanan and Ilana Mercer a dozen years ago—deepens, it is with renewed gusto that the Iraq War’s most impassioned neoconservative supporters argue for a robust “interventionist” American foreign policy.

At the same time, they never waver in heaping praise upon praise upon Martin Luther King, Jr.

But when rhetorical exhibitionism collides with ideological fervor, the inconsistency promises to be explosive.

King, you see, is every bit as much of an “isolationist” as are any of the so-called “isolationists” who neoconservatives have lambasted.

On April 30, 1967 King gave a sermon at Ebenezer Baptist Church titled, “It’s A Dark Day in Our Nation.”  He cautioned his audience against being deceived into thinking that “God chose America as his divine, messianic force to be a sort of policeman of the whole world.”  Just the opposite, in fact, is the case.  King said that he “can hear God saying to America, ‘You’re too arrogant!  And if you don’t change your ways, I will rise up and break the backbone of your power, and I’ll place it in the hands of a nation that doesn’t even know my name.”


King, obviously, was no fan of “American Exceptionalism.”

He continued, referring to the war in Vietnam not just as “unjust,” but as “futile” and “evil.

Had King been alive to make these remarks today about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, it goes without saying that their neoconservative supporters in the GOP, talk radio, and Fox News would have eviscerated him for both his lack of “moral clarity” as well as his disregard—and perhaps even disdain—for “the troops” and their families.

In the first place, King would be convicted of either characteristic left-wing moral idiocy or characteristic libertarian “amorality” for charging, not the “Islamists” (or communist North Vietnamese) with evil doing, but America, the only superpower ever willing to fight the globe over for “liberty.”


And for his description of the war as “evil,” King would render himself vulnerable to the allegation that he is contemptuous of “the troops,” for there would be no evil war if not for the evil-doing soldiers waging it.

Yet King would also be accused of being disrespectful of “the troops” and their families for claiming that the war(s) were “futile.”  How dare he suggest that American soldiers sacrificed life and limb “in vain?”

Of course, if the neoconservative opponents of “isolationism” were consistent, then they should be saying these things of King now for his comments then.  After all, the Red Menace of North Vietnam was much more formidable a force for evil than anything with which we’ve had to reckon in Iraq or Afghanistan, and exponentially more Americans lost their lives fighting in Vietnam than have lost their lives fighting in the Middle East.


There is the additional consideration that, to the present day, neoconservatives continue to blame “the left” for having lost Vietnam, being particularly relentless in their criticism of that emblem of left-wing “anti-Americanism,” Jane Fonda.

Yet MLK was every bit as outspoken a critic of the war in Vietnam as was Fonda.

For all of the resources invested in it, King characterized the Vietnam War as a “demonic, destructive suction tube” (emphasis mine).  The war entailed “cruel manipulation of the poor” and made America into “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today,” a country mired in its own “deadly arrogance,” hubris “that has poisoned the international situation for all of these years.”  America, King declared, tried “to sabotage the Geneva Accord.”


But it gets even worse, as King starts to sound like John Kerry sounded when he testified in 1971 to the evils allegedly perpetrated by American soldiers in Vietnam.  Not only are Americans guilty of placing Vietnamese in “concentration camps;” not only do Americans “poison their water” and “kill a million acres of their crops.”  The Vietnamese see their children “degraded by our soldiers as they beg for food. They see the children selling their sisters to our soldiers, soliciting for their mothers.” America, King insists, “destroyed” the “two most cherished institutions” of the Vietnamese: “the family and the village.”

The Vietnam War embodies “the giant triplets of racism, militarism and economic exploitation [.]”


Whether King was correct in his analysis is neither here nor there.  The point is that if, as neoconservatives insist, “isolationism” is an intellectually and morally impoverished position, then King deserves not the reverence that they show him, but unqualified condemnation, for King was an “isolationist.” Worse, King—a Nobel Peace Prize winner and world figure—did far more, by neoconservatives’ reasoning, to undermine America’s cause during war than anything of which a Ron Paul or Pat Buchanan could be said to be guilty.  In fact, given his stature, King was even more harmful than “Hanoi Jane.”

Conclusion: Disdain for “isolationism” is radically incompatible with praise for Martin Luther King, Jr.


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