Forty years ago last month, on April 4, 1967, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. rose to the pulpit of New York’s Riverside Church to deliver his first public anti-war speech regarding Vietnam. As anticipated, critics railed against him roundly at the time, not only those from the mainstream media, but also from allies such as the NAACP. Now, however, history has vindicated the truths that Dr. King so bravely spoke that day, and his testimony is widely seen as a prophetic masterpiece.
….Before describing how the United States betrayed the Vietnamese, first by supporting “ the French in their abortive effort to re-colonize Vietnam, ” then by propping up the “ vicious” dictator Diem, and finally by nearly wiping the country off the map through its extensive bombing and use of napalm, Dr. King said: “ They must see Americans as strange liberators. ”
In Iraq, parallels abound. The United States supported Saddam Hussein as he massacred his own people during the 1980 s, obliterated the country during the first Gulf War, imposed deadly sanctions for nearly 13 years, and finally invaded and occupied it in 2003. In place of napalm, the U. S. military now uses a more effective chemical to burn Iraqis — white phosphorous. And in our noble effort to bring democracy, we’ve also littered the country with cluster bombs and thousands of tons of poisonous depleted uranium.
Strange liberators, indeed.
Speaking of the soldiers, Dr. King said: “ We are adding cynicism to the process of death, for they must know after a short period there that none of the things we claim to be fighting for are really involved. Before long they must know that their government has sent them into a struggle among Vietnamese, and the more sophisticated surely realize that we are on the side of the wealthy, and the secure, while we create a hell for the poor. ”
One can only imagine the cognitive dissonance of our soldiers today, knowing that every reason that they originally were given to kill and be killed has been thoroughly debunked. Moreover, the U. S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority’s effort to privatize nearly everything in Iraq, and our current advocacy for Iraq’s new oil law — which if passed by the Iraqi Parliament will be highly advantageous to American oil companies — can leave little doubt whose side we’re currently on.
Speaking on the bogeyman of his time, Dr. King declared: “ War is not the answer. Communism will never be defeated by the use of atomic bombs or nuclear weapons. ” The greatest defense against communism, he argued, “ is to take offensive action in behalf of justice. We must with positive action seek to remove those conditions of poverty, insecurity, and injustice, which are the fertile soil in which the seed of communism grows and develops. ” The same undoubtedly can be said for terrorism, which cannot be defeated by violence. Even the U. S. intelligence community has concluded that our wars have only worsened the threat of another attack and fanned the flames of extremism.
Excerpt from the speech: http://www.hartford-hwp.com/archives/45a/058.html
Delivered 4 April 1967 at a meeting of Clergy and Laity Concerned at Riverside Church in New York City
A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies. On the one hand we are called to play the good Samaritan on life’s roadside; but that will be only an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life’s highway. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it is not haphazard and superficial. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.
A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth. With righteous indignation, it will look across the seas and see individual capitalists of the West investing huge sums of money in Asia, Africa and South America, only to take the profits out with no concern for the social betterment of the countries, and say: “This is not just.” It will look at our alliance with the landed gentry of Latin America and say: “This is not just.” The Western arrogance of feeling that it has everything to teach others and nothing to learn from them is not just. A true revolution of values will lay hands on the world order and say of war: “This way of settling differences is not just.” This business of burning human beings with napalm, of filling our nation’s homes with orphans and widows, of injecting poisonous drugs of hate into veins of people normally humane, of sending men home from dark and bloody battlefields physically handicapped and psychologically deranged, cannot be reconciled with wisdom, justice and love. A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.
America, the richest and most powerful nation in the world, can well lead the way in this revolution of values. There is nothing, except a tragic death wish, to prevent us from reordering our priorities, so that the pursuit of peace will take precedence over the pursuit of war. There is nothing to keep us from molding a recalcitrant status quo with bruised hands until we have fashioned it into a brotherhood.