Santa Clausifying Martin Luther King, Jr.

Picture: Library of Congress (PD)

David Sirota writes at Truthdig:

Every year, right around the time between Martin Luther King Day and the beginning of Black History Month, the effort to distort Dr. King’s life and legacy seems to intensify. Some years, we see conservatives preposterously assert that if Dr. King were alive today, he would join today’s neo-confederate Republican Party. Other years, it is deception via omission—we see replays of Dr. King’s 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech, but do not see any of his speeches about war and poverty.

Princeton professor Cornel West accurately labels all this the “Santa Clausification” of Dr. King, and if you have ever heard or read a snippet of King’s 1967 Riverside Church speech, you will understand how apt the label is. You will also understand why this year’s most grotesque attempt to Santa Clausify Dr. King’s life is at once abhorrent and yet somewhat encouraging.

As The Guardian’s Glenn Greenwald first reported, the United States Air Force’s Global Strike Command last week posted an online essay saying that Dr. King would cheer on soldiers “ensuring the most powerful weapons in the U.S. arsenal remain the credible bedrock of our national defense.” Further, claimed the Air Force, “maintaining our commitment to our Global Strike team … is a fitting tribute to Dr. King.”

At the same time, the U.S. Marines commemorated Martin Luther King Day by tweeting out a famous King line—“a man who won’t die for something is not fit to live”—in a not-so-subtle attempt to depict him as a war supporter. That was a follow-up to a 2011 article posted on the Defense Department’s website with the headline: “King Might Understand Today’s Wars, Pentagon Lawyer Says.”

That gets us to the special relevance of the Riverside Church speech—the one that the Santa Clausifying Pentagon so obviously wants suppressed.

In that oratory, America’s most famous preacher of nonviolence deplored “a nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.” He argued that militarism is not the way to protect America and decried “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today—my own government.” And he insisted that “there is nothing except a tragic death wish to prevent us from reordering our priorities so that the pursuit of peace will take precedence over the pursuit of war.”

Comparing the Pentagon’s historical revisionism with King’s words, Greenwald says: “The U.S. military is actually publicly claiming that the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize winner and steadfast critic of U.S. imperialism would be an admirer of its massive stockpile of nuclear weapons, its global assassination programs and its covert use of violence in multiple countries around the world, including where no wars are declared. Merely to describe this agitprop is to illustrate its repulsiveness.”

He’s absolutely right, but in that repulsiveness there is a promising revelation from a political system in which lies signal desperation.

In this particular case, the Pentagon’s willingness to so boldly lie about Dr. King betrays its desperation to reverse accelerating public opinion trends. Specifically, Pentagon spinmeisters seem to realize that, according to polls, more Americans are raising King-like questions about our government’s profligate defense spending and its attempts to preference militarism over other priorities.

Read more here.

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  • saint_al

    Agree. MLK is currently an “I have a dream…” soundbite. The rewriting/ deletion of history continues.

    • Ittabena

      Why shouldn’t it continue? it has gone on for so long now… And in part we have the wondrous public education system to thank for sending us out completely unprepared to be citizens of a working republic. It was from one of Russ Kicks books that I learned that Andrew Carnegie – who championed the German style form of education – has contributed more to the public education system than the US Gov. ever has. So that we can rank 24th in the world. We have even surpassed Germany’s original model in creating a subservient and dependent citizenry.

      Does this make anyone happy? Oh, yeah Dancing With The Stars. I forgot. Be right there…

      • Apathesis

        And yet NPR is proud to advertise for the Carnegie Corporation. And Bank of America. Et cetera, et cetera.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=647058614 Will Coles

    A great man that became a great enemy of the government when he talked of poverty, of it being part of the repression of the workers & their being used to fight corporate wars. THEN he had to be silenced so he could be a martyr, but only for black people, not the poor or the working class as well.

  • Ittabena

    As I said in another post today, most of us feel that the end came when Martin took on the Viet Nam war. At least those of us who took history past the drivel they taught us in school seem to feel that way.

    He was a great man and I agree they are using the average man’s lack of historical knowledge to portray Dr. King however they like.

    What? Dancing with the stars is on? Oh, gotta go…

  • f_galton
  • f_galton
    • kowalityjesus

      badly needed reference…I was quite disappointed when I found out that this article is about bleaching away his anti-war bent. Bless him for speaking against war (even though it’s hardly unique for the time). Any mention of the morality of his lifestyle is thoroughly taboo.

  • Hadrian999

    why not, they do it to everyone. they did it to Gandhi and Mandela. it’s easy to turn radical leaders into neutered muppets when you control the flow of information

  • Hadrian999

    why not, they do it to everyone. they did it to Gandhi and Mandela. it’s easy to turn radical leaders into neutered muppets when you control the flow of information

  • “Big” Richard Johnson

    Well, my friends, the truth is why the Internet must be destroyed. At all costs.

    Truth is a weapon. It is a more violent and destructive weapon than even atom bombs where lies rule.

    Truth must be destroyed, and lies put in place. But how, when so many can freely converse?

  • http://www.zoboprepublic.wordpress.com/ zobop republic

    Santa Clausification? I thought Dr. M.L. King was turned into a commodity. The US Black community spend over $100 million to erect “another” statue of Dr. King in Washington D.C. That kind of money could have been used for something more progressive. I don’t think Dr. King would’ve liked that wastefull honor.

  • JaiGuru

    This is inevitable. All of the US’s major demagogues have always been turned into mythological characters, often very shortly after their death. Washington was barely cold in the ground before he was magically chopping down cherry trees and not telling lies, despite the fact that none of that ever happened.

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