- By Thomas E. RicksThomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military for the Washington Post from 2000 through 2008. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I’ve been reading a fine biography of Bayard Rustin, one of the least appreciated of our Civil Rights leaders. (He kept in the background partly because of his old leftist ties and partly because he was promiscuously gay in an era when that was a political problem.)
Rustin, a lifelong pacifist, played a key role in advising Martin Luther King Jr. on the Montgomery bus boycott in 1955. He also was the central figure in conceiving and planning the March on Washington in 1963, about which King initially was quite wary.
In both cases, he showed a fine military mind both in developing strategy and also in using tactics consistent with that strategy. When he arrived at King’s house in Montgomery he found guns all around the place. He told King that the firearms were inconsistent with a nonviolent approach, and could lose him the moral high ground.
Rustin also understood the key aspect of the Montgomery bus boycott, recognizing it "the first mass protest that was completely Negro and completely nonviolent." Other actions had been those of courageous individuals challenging segregation in restaurants and schools, but this was something new, an entire community acting as one. As Rustin put it in a Clausewitzian memo to King:
"The center of gravity has shifted from the courts to community action. . . . We must recognize that in this new period that direct action is our most potent political weapon."
In organizing the March on Washington, Rustin also brought a military-like intelligence to logistical planning.
This whole subject would make a fine paper for a smart, imaginative student at a staff or war college.
Kevin Baron is a national security reporter for Foreign Policy, covering defense and military issues in Washington. He is also vice president of the Pentagon Press Association. Baron previously was a national security staff writer for National Journal, covering the "business of war." Prior to that, Baron worked in the resident daily Pentagon press corps as a reporter/photographer for Stars and Stripes. For three years with Stripes, Baron covered the building and traveled overseas extensively with the secretary of defense and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, covering official visits to Afghanistan and Iraq, the Middle East and Europe, China, Japan and South Korea, in more than a dozen countries. From 2004 to 2009, Baron was the Boston Globe Washington bureau's investigative projects reporter, covering defense, international affairs, lobbying and other issues. Before that, he muckraked at the Center for Public Integrity. Baron has reported on assignment from Asia, Africa, Australia, Europe, the Middle East and the South Pacific. He was won two Polk Awards, among other honors. He has a B.A. in international studies from the University of Richmond and M.A. in media and public affairs from George Washington University. Originally from Orlando, Fla., Baron has lived in the Washington area since 1998 and currently resides in Northern Virginia with his wife, three sons, and the family dog, The Edge.| The E-Ring |