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MLK, American Aid, and the Crisis in Haiti

Today’s holiday in honor of the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King Jr. places emphasis on his great efforts in the name of civil rights and social justice. Some decry the fact that our popular conscience only sees King’s life through rose-colored glasses, ignoring his strong criticism of involvement in the Vietnam War and American shortcomings on matters of economic justice. Dr. Cornel West, for example, calls this the “Santa Clausification” of King – a phenomenon that has converted the historical image of King into that of a benign fantasy figure. Regardless of where one’s opinion falls on this matter of historical interpretation, it is crucial to reflect on King’s legacy, and how his message exhorts the powerful to come to the aid of the disadvantaged. This has critical implications for how America projects its power, and uses its national security apparatus.

Although America is still a relatively young nation with an imperfect foreign policy record, no streak of isolationist political sentiment has ever been enough to deaden our humanitarian instinct. In the face of crises such as those that faced Indonesia and now confront the beleaguered nation of Haiti, America has responded quickly. The current relief effort in Haiti, to which the United States has committed much money and significant military aid, is admittedly imperfect. For example, French officials have criticized the United States as wanting to occupy rather than aid Haiti in this time of crisis. Putting aside these distractions, there is an important lesson that should be kept in mind – altruistic action also yields practical benefits for the United States national interest.

Consider the American response to tsunami-stricken Indonesia in 2004 – aid greatly increased the favorable view of the United States, while support for Bin Laden plummeted in the world’s most populous Muslim nation. This lesson warrants further application in Haiti. With that in mind, please give a moment to consider the aid efforts conducted through,, and those listed at


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