Army Chief of Staff Staunchly Supports King Legacy
By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Dec. 13, 1996 Steve Kline of the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change in Atlanta praises Army Chief of Staff Gen. Dennis J. Reimer as "a staunch supporter of the King observance."
Reimer met King's widow, Coretta Scott King, and other family members, Kline said.
The top Army general responded to questions about the importance of military participation in the King holiday observance and what role the military can play in moving the nation toward the slain civil rights leader's dream of a "color blind society."
Q. Steve Kline of the Martin Luther King Jr. Center said you attended all, or most, of the King Week celebrations while you were stationed in Atlanta in charge of Forces Command. Are you a firm believer in Dr. King's dream for America?
Reimer. The Army as an institution has great respect for any individual, military or otherwise, who clearly strives to make a difference. Martin Luther King Jr. saw a cause and devoted his entire life to changing ideals of a culture to ensure equity for all.
The United States is the greatest country on this globe. Our society mirrors the people that live here. America is a superb lesson in pluralism. We are blacks, whites, Jews, Christians, Muslims and many other people living together and making it work. Even with our problems, few countries, if any, have ever been able to succeed with such diversity.
King's contributions are one reason we are succeeding. His greatness derived principally from his insight that the American dream was for all people and his ability to make so many others see the same thing and dream the same dream. King understood our potential as a nation far better than most of us and had the dedication and devotion to go after it.
Q. Dr. King preached nonviolence and was against countries settling their difference through war. In your opinion, what can military people who constantly prepare for war do to perpetuate King's dream?
Reimer. The military prepares for war only to ensure this country stays safe from outside aggression and to protect our vital interests at home and abroad. Our aim is to prevent war, but we have to be trained and ready. Our Army has never advocated war, and we always work hard to stay out of harm's way when peaceful resolution is possible.
Like King, the Army would prefer nonviolence, and we work hard to achieve that state. But when we are directed by our civilian leadership to fight, it is our job to be able to respond to that call. War is not an amateur sport, and as history has shown, sometimes we can't avoid conflict even though it is our desire to do so.
Q. What role can the military play in moving the nation toward King's dream of a "color blind" society?
Reimer. The Army has come a long way in the past 50 years toward achieving a "color blind" institution. We are far from perfect, and we still have some work to do, but we're continually working towards the desired endstate. We must keep equal rights foremost in everyone's mind. Martin Luther King was great because he never lost focus on what he wanted the "American Dream" to look like. Our Army must never lose sight of King's vision. We, like King, believe firmly in equality regardless of race or gender it is a fundamental principle of our Army.
Q. Did you ever meet King or participate in any of his efforts to make America a better place for all races and ethnic groups?
Reimer. I never met him, but did have the honor of meeting his widow and other members of the family while stationed in Atlanta. I also attended the celebration of his birthday each year while I was there and have as one of my prized possessions an autographed photo of Mrs. King. I have tried to do everything I could to make Martin Luther King's dream a reality throughout my career by basically trying to live by the Golden Rule: Treat others as I would have them treat me.
Q. Kline said nonviolent training is the best way to resist violence. He thinks the Department of Defense should provide nonviolent training, which he says, is the best way to resist violence, particularly where there is a threat of terrorism. Gene Sharp of the Albert Einstein Institution in Cambridge, Mass., said the practice of nonviolent struggle techniques can be very effective if properly prepared and planned against foreign aggression, coup d'etats and existing dictatorships. What is your view on Kline's and Sharp's concepts?
Reimer. I have not read Sharp. The Army spends a great deal of time teaching how to resolve conflict peacefully. I don't think anyone in positions of authority in our military advocates violence. We spend a lot of resources on what we call nonlethal technology and intervention, and we send soldiers to schools of all kinds to ensure we understand what others are thinking. We are learning more about extremist behavior and continue to study the actions of different terrorists groups.
We have always advocated nonviolence when possible. You just have to look at some of the things we've recently done in Haiti and Bosnia to see how nonviolent Army intervention has helped stop violence and give people in those troubled nations a chance for peace.
So I'd say we clearly understand and fully support nonviolent intervention as the best possible option in most scenarios. But I'd also add that there are some, such as terrorists, who do not share our value base, and for those who wish to do innocent people harm in that manner, we have to send a strong message that they understand to ensure they do not misunderstand our intentions and thus harm or kill more people. We find that in dealing with people like that it helps to deal from a position of strength.
Q. The Army is widely credited with doing the best job among the services toward perpetuating equality and fairness in the ranks. To what do you attribute such praise?
Reimer. First of all, I know all of the services put considerable emphasis on equal opportunity and believe deeply in fair and equal treatment for all. However, within the Army, constant awareness has been one of the main factors for our success. We have trained equal opportunity advisers in every brigade and soldiers with equal opportunity duties in every company throughout the Army. We never put equal rights on the "back burner."
It is one of our core values to treat everyone with respect. Like all organizations, we have work to do, but this is foremost in our minds and we will continue to work at it. We will continue to strive to have everyone in the Army live by the Golden Rule.
Q. Do you have any further thoughts about the King holiday?
Reimer. Following a speech a few years ago in Pennsylvania, Gen. Chuck Domini, who was director of the Army staff at the time, told an audience that the young soldiers of our country have kept us safe from harm's way. He said the American public owes them a great deal of thanks.
After the speech, a lady came up to Gen. Domini's speech writer. She was crying and said her son had been killed in Vietnam and she'd been waiting 25 years for someone to tell her that her son's life mattered.
Martin Luther King's life mattered. He spent his entire existence making all of our lives better. One of our principles in the Army is that we treat others like we want to be treated, what many people refer to as The Golden Rule. Martin Luther King lived by that creed, and we all owe him a great deal. He improved the world and made it a better world for everyone. It is important for us as a nation to pay tribute to him each year and to strive to achieve his goal on a daily basis.