I am a veteran. Sitting in the sands of Iraq in 1991, I remember how wonderful it felt to receive expressions of support from home. I once received a letter from an elementary school class and it made me feel good to know that people back home cared about me, and wanted me to safely return home. Citizens coming together to think about service members and take action to support them is a good thing, but not in the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
To my surprise and disappointment, I recently heard that the non-profit organization Points of Light included assembling care packages for U.S. troops serving overseas as one of its activities to honor Dr. King. This is an extreme misreading of King’s legacy. Dr. King cared for and loved all people. If alive today, he would certainly be concerned about our troops and veterans; perhaps he would even participate in packing care boxes for service members overseas. But his main concern would be to end the killing caused by war, and to bring the service members home. He would proclaim that many of the challenges service members and their families face are caused by the wars they are sent to fight and the resources to wage the wars should be used here at home to meet human needs.
We must keep his views in mind when deciding how to honor him. He believed in serving people, detested war and championed peace and justice. In fact King wrote that if war ever provided a “negative good,” today it is obsolete. Moreover, when talking about how he would like to be remembered in The Drum Major Instinct sermon given on February 4th 1968, exactly two months before his death he said, “Yes, if you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice; say that I was a drum major for peace; I was a drum major for righteousness.”
Sending care packages to troops, while good for the individual service member, indirectly supports war. To honor King we should follow his wishes and do nothing in his name that remotely supports war.
To honor King I ask us to read his words and remember his life. He served people, but he did not serve on easy issues. He was chastised by colleagues for opposing the Vietnam War. He was reviled for his work on civil rights and he died while working for economic justice for sanitation workers.
To honor King do something you don’t want to do to help someone, but you know is the right thing to do. Take an unpopular stand on an issue that you know it is the right stance. Get out of your comfort zone and do something that will help transform communities. I’m not saying forget the troops, but pick another day of service to send packages to them.