Martin and Julian: Reflections on the Arrest of Julian Assange
Richard E. Rubenstein
Will someone please explain to me why Martin Luther King, Jr. is considered a hero for violating laws sustaining the system of racial discrimination, while Julian Assange is considered a villain for violating laws sustaining the system of imperial war?
Democratic Party bigwigs are celebrating the arrest of the Wikileaks founder in London and the request of Donald Trump’s Justice Department for his extradition to the U.S. According to Senators Chuck Schumer, Mark Warner, and Joe Manchin – and, of course, ex-Senator Hilary Clinton – Assange deserves to be punished severely for plotting with Chelsea Manning to obtain and release classified military information, and for allegedly helping the Russians to influence the election of 2016. These are War Democrats, of course, who never met a defense corporation or armed intervention that they didn’t like. One is not surprised to hear them howling for revenge against the “traitor” who revealed American war crimes to the world.
Democrats calling themselves progressives are more inclined to defend Assange – sort of – on the ground that his imminent prosecution represents an attack on journalistic freedom that may make it difficult for the media to publish classified documents like those contained in the Pentagon Papers. More legalistic progressives aren’t so sure about this, since they consider publishing classified info OK so long as it has been “sanitized” to avoid exposing intelligence agents, but obtaining the info by hacking into a government computer not ok: i.e., a crime.
What neither camp wants to talk about, however, is whether it’s ok to break securities laws in order to expose the American Empire’s war plans, errors, and misdeeds.
Thus, my earlier question: why is lawbreaker Martin Luther King, Jr. a hero and lawbreaker Julian Assange a villain? Intelligent people whom I’ve asked about this give the most convoluted and irrelevant answers! “Dr. King never threatened American security the way Assange did.” “Dr. King submitted to arrest, but Assange fled to the security of an embassy.” “King loved his enemies, but Assange hates America.”
The assumption disguised by these rather scholastic distinctions is that Martin attacked an obviously evil system – American institutional racism – while Julian only attacked . . . the American Empire. So if you don’t want to admit that the empire is evil (or even that it exists), you talk about national security or journalistic freedom or something. Anything but imperialist warmaking.
Dr. King himself did not make that mistake. What he finally came to understand was that racism, the oppression of the poor, and empire-building are co-dependent, interrelated diseases that can only be cured by strenuous efforts to heal all three conditions simultaneously. He called this a “revolution of values.” On April 4, 1967, at the Riverside Church in New York, he delivered an address called “Beyond Vietnam” that contained these lines:
A true revolution of values will lay hands on the world order and say of war, “This way of settling differences is not just.” This business of burning human beings with napalm, of filling our nation’s homes with orphans and widows, of injecting poisonous drugs of hate into the veins of peoples normally humane, of sending men home from dark and bloody battlefields physically handicapped and psychologically deranged, cannot be reconciled with wisdom, justice, and love. A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death. [sustained applause]
I think there is not the slightest question that, were he alive, Dr. King would applaud the sort of civil disobedience that exposes the empire’s secrets to the world and makes people aware of the crimes and errors committed in places like the Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib prisons, the battlefields of Iraq, and the drone-infested provinces of Afghanistan.
Julian Assange is no saint, and neither was Martin Luther King. They were very different personalities, to be sure. But both put their “lives, fortunes, and sacred honor” on the line in order to expose the inhumanity, violence, and lies of the powerful elites that rule the globe. On the scale of human values, both ranked Truth and Justice well ahead of Obedience to Authority.
Listen, Schumer and the rest of you! If you honor Martin, you must also honor Julian. And if you don’t understand why this is true, what is the difference between you and Trump? If the U.S. government succeeds in extraditing Assange, let’s get ready to celebrate his arrival with a protest recalling the 1963 March on Washington. It’s what King would have done.