To reflect on the historical significance of Osama bin Laden's death while maintaining a decidedly non-celebratory stance, many social media hacks have been passing around touching quotes from Martin Luther King, Jr. and Mark Twain.
"I mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy. Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that," MLK is supposed to have said.
“I have never killed a man, but I have read many obituaries with great pleasure," Twain allegedly quipped.
The only problem is that neither of the quotes belong to either of these esteemed historical figures.
MLK never mourned thousands of lives. Instead, King's actual quote -- from his book "Strength to Love" -- includes everything but the first part:
"Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that."
(Click here see the whole story on how MLK's quote was mangled)
Twain didn't read obituaries with pleasure -- but ACLU champion Clarence Darrow did. Darrow's actual quote is this: “Everybody is a potential murderer. I've never killed any one, but I frequently get satisfaction reading the obituary notices.” (h/t Buzzfeed)
The Atlantic's Megan McArdle notes the oddity of falsely attributed quotes following the news of bin Laden's death in this way:
What's fascinating is the speed of it. Someone made up a quote, attributed it to MLK, Jr., and disseminated it widely, all within 24 hours. Why? What do you get out of saying something pithy, and getting no credit for it?
Perhaps they only wanted to say this thing, and knew that no one would pay attention unless it came from someone else. Or, perhaps they are getting a gargantuan kick out of seeing people repeat their lie ad infinitum. Either way, it seems strange to me.
Trust but verify, folks!