Opinion: Germany needs heroes like Martin Luther King Jr. | Opinion | DW | 04.04.2018
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Opinion: Germany needs heroes like Martin Luther King Jr.

Germans find few heroes outside the realm of sports. The 50th anniversary of the murder of Martin Luther King Jr. is an appropriate day to think about the ongoing need for iconoclasm, DW Editor-in-Chief Ines Pohl writes.

"Unhappy the land that needs heroes," the German playwright Bertolt Brecht wrote in his play "Life of Galileo" at the end of World War II. With the quote, Brecht, himself a target of the Nazis, summed up his denouncement of hero worship in authoritarian society. He was strongly convinced that liberal and democratic societies do not require heroes to solve problems. On the contrary, individual responsibility is elevated, and hero worship amounts to blind obedience that leads to self-created incapacitation.

Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated 50 years ago Wednesday. The preacher never gave up his struggle against injustice, the Vietnam War and the oppression of black Americans. He and his supporters remained committed to a strategy of nonviolence in the face of the incredible violence used against them. Even today, he instills courage in people who are dissatisfied with the status quo and who believe that a different life is possible.

Ines Pohl

DW Editor-in-Chief Ines Pohl

Recently in Washington, DC, and around the United States, hundreds of thousands of people protested the gun lobby's influence on US politics. The main demonstrations were led and organized by students from Parkland, Florida, after 14 of their classmates and three members of the staff at Stoneman Douglas High School were killed in a mass shooting in February. At the rally in the nation's capital, 9-year-old Yolanda Renee King put a 21st-century spin on her grandfather's iconic "I Have a Dream" speech. And the legacy of the civil rights movement has been clear in the words and actions of 18-year-old Emma Gonzalez, one of the organizers of the "March for Our Lives" rallies.

It is not a matter of blind obedience to make heroes of King and people like him. Such figures give us strength and courage. They help movements grow, and movements are stronger than individuals.

Sources of hope

Heroes such as King give us hope. They show us that it is worth rising up to leave our comfort zones, demonstrate moral courage and show solidarity; to build networks and never give up; and to shake people from their positions of privilege and call on them to take part.

It is precisely this energy that Germany and many other countries need to tackle a complicated world and not lose hope amid myriad, seemingly futile conflicts. Ultimately, it is vital for maintaining faith in the strength and possibility of the democratic state, which conscious citizens need to function and ward off the lethargy that lurks when alternatives seem to be absent.

The world remembers Martin Luther King Jr. today — not only because of how much he accomplished in his lifetime, but also because of how much he is still needed.

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