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Martin Luther King, Jr. Essay Contest

The URI Chaplains, the Multicultural Center, the URI Center for Nonviolence and Peace Studies, and the African and Afro-American Studies Program  invite you to participate in an essay contest in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  The theme of the 2002 essay contest is:

You have seen the newspaper and television reports on the United States¡¯ response to the September 11th tragedy.  Discuss whether you believe this response should have been one of force or nonviolence.  Why?

 Essay Winner: Richard Brown:My name is Richard Brown; I am a final year honor student from Oxford Brookes University in England. My major is modern History; I came to URI for this semester as an exchange student, arriving here on the third of September. Just over a week later I watched in disbelief as the tragic events of the eleventh unfolded. I was deeply moved. Even though I am not an American, I shared the sadness and uncertainty of the next weeks, as America decided on its response. I now believe that America¡¯s response (of force) was pre-ordained; to me, the more important question is ¡®How well did America respond with force?¡¯ I will argue that America could nothave responded in any other way, and that the way in which it responded was the best possible.
During the 20th Century, America has positioned herself as a strong leader in international politics. She has benefited enormously from the devastation caused in Europe by two world wars and the collapse of the Soviet Union. Each crisis further strengthened the US economy. America has chosen such responses to domestic and international threats in the  past century. I refer to the state repression of the Black Power movements during the late sixties and seventies. A reaction of non-violence would have undermined America¡¯s position, at home and abroad.
America has a massive defense industry, manpower and resources, and one of the best-trained, equipped and largest armed forces in the world. The US economy is capable of fighting a prolonged overseas war. Indeed the US proved that the Gulf War in 1991 that they could conduct a land war against a poorly organized enemy with a relatively small loss of their own forces¡¯ lives. An Iraqi soldier was 675 times more likely to be killed in action than a US soldier.
The attack was carefully calculated to draw a violent response. The nature and scale of the attacks were intended as a declaration of war. It has become clear that Osama Bin Laden¡¯s objective of the September 11thterrorism was to polarize the Muslim world against America and her allies and initiate ¡®Jihad¡¯. This was avoided through careful diplomacy. Although the planned outcome of an attack does not justify a certain response, I believe it would have been impossible for America to react in a non-violent manner.
The US is currently under a conservative government, which would have found it politically difficult to justify a non-violent reaction with its supporters.
With options limited by these factors, I believe that America responded well. America has sought to minimize further death and destruction by working alongside the Arab nations, and courting their favor. That the conflict has not yet escalated into a ¡®holy war¡¯ signifies this achievement. I believe that the continued careful management of this situation is imperative, and this will be the true test of America¡¯s reaction to the September 11th terrorism. I believe that the removal of the Taliban will destabilized regional politics for some years to come. I am against war in principle, but I am a realist. I think a violent reaction was inevitable, and I am thankful that another world war has not broken out ¨C so far. I believe the American government deserve some credit for this. The essay question does not raise the issue of whyAmerica was the target of such an attack, which I think is an important when considering questions of reprisal. The whole Muslim world is watching, and if America uses her position to exert an unscrupulous influence over the continent¡¯s most valuable natural resource (oil, as the Taliban had done), then the whole conflict will re-ignite, and with some conviction, Osama Bin Laden will have won after all.

Richard Brown ¨C Kingston RI, December 2001.

 Essay Winner: Brian Toomey: 

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said “my nation is the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today.” It is in his spirit that I seek to explore what an appropriately peaceful reaction to the WTC attack would look like.As we all know, on September 11, 2001 jets collided into the WTC killing several thousand people. The US mourned deeply, as they prepared for war.

Yet sadly, this tragedy does not stand alone.

On September 11, 1973, jets attacked the presidential palace in Santiago, Chile. The Nixon administration and CIA were working closely with the Chilean army to overthrow the freely elected socialist president, Salvador Allende.  The US was directly complicit in a series of kidnappings and key assignations The coup was successful in installing a military dictatorship and led to 17 years of torture and human rights abuses under General Augusto Pinochet. this gross injustice, however, has escaped both our historical memory and our compassion.

What made September 11, 2001 unique was not the severity of the crime; these things are a matter of routine in world affairs. What lacked modern precedent was that this time the assault was directed at us.

We can and should be stern in condemning this action, and bring the perpetrators to justice in a competent international court. However, we must be careful in assigning responsibility, for to blame another is never enough. The true substance of a nonviolent response would be found in following the advice of Gandhi and working to “become the change we want to see in the world.”

Nonviolence invites us to engage in self-purification before condemning others. In the struggle against terrorism the US needs to reappraise its policy of covertly working to overthrow noncompliant governments and installing brutal dictatorships – examples include Afghanistan, Chile, El Salvador, Iran, Indonesia, etc. We need to rethink our pattern of economically convenient diplomatic alliances with states that have no respect for human rights – consider Colombia, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, etc. And we need to rethink our spending priorities as we currently allocate 48.9% of our discretionary income to the military budget. We spend $310.6 billion a year on our military in a world where roughly 40,000 children starve to death each day. While, it is commonly estimated that it would require only $19 billion per year to eliminate this systemic starvation and malnutrition.

A practical and compassionate response to September 11th would include working to strengthen international law, realigning our diplomatic ties to reflect more democratic values, ceasing our own terrorist style covert military actions, and rebudgeting our spending priorities to reflect humanitarian aims. We have the power to do all these things; the questions that remain are ones of will. May we have the courage, clarity, and heart to choose the path of nonviolence.


Brian Toomey ¨C Kingston RI, December 2001.

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