Department of Defense General Counsel Jeh Johnson, for example, has a bizarre, unsettling interpretation of Dr. King’s dream. In an otherwise fine speech last week, Mr. Jones suggested that King would have endorsed the war in Afghanistan.  I quote: “…if Dr. King were alive today he would recognize that our Nation’s military should not and cannot lay down its arms and leave the American people vulnerable to terrorist attack.”

This strikes me as a presumptuous and manipulative distortion of everything Dr. King represented. King was fierce and resolute in his opposition to the Vietnam War. It was a courageous, controversial stand that cost him friends and allies. He believed nothing as strongly as the idea that nonviolence was the only route to social change. He left little ambiguity about his feelings on war.

“The chain reaction of evil – wars producing more wars – must be broken,” he once said. “Or we shall be plunged into the dark abyss of annihilation.” 

I don’t know how you get much clearer than that. 

Violence, he preached, “is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. Through violence you may murder the hater, but you do not murder hate. In fact violence merely increases hate… returning violence for violence multiplies violence.”

We’ve seen exactly this in our misguided struggle to defeat terrorism through warfare. Killing one Taliban or al-Qaeda insurgent emboldens his movement and simply creates more terrorists.

Dr. King added that “a nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.” 

Which are words we ought to reflect on as we continue a debate about federal budget priorities.

Far from supporting the war in Afghanistan, I believe Dr. King would be much more likely to embrace the principles of  the Smart Security platform I’ve spoken of many times. 

It calls for cooperation, not conquest… dialogue, not destruction…engagement, not invasion. It pursues the goal of global peace and security by focusing on our common humanity. It is an agenda that respects human rights, that seeks to empower and lift up the poor people of the world, instead of dropping bombs on their villages and communities. 

Mr. Jones of the Pentagon couldn’t be more wrong about the lessons of Martin Luther King’s life. I have every confidence that, were he alive today, Dr. King would join me in a call to bring our troops home.