Meditations on Martin Luther King Jr. Day

Posted: January 18, 2010 in Nibbling on The Empire, Peace, War

It’s Martin Luther King Day in the United States. It’s a big deal in the land of toxic derivatives; even the stock markets are closed in his memory.

Once harassed and stalked by the the FBI, King’s memory is now regularly and hypocritically invoked by those who stand on his shoulders.

Were King alive he would have just celebrated his 81st birthday. Had he survived the assassin’s bullet he would still be followed by spooks and menaced by that which he famously described as “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today” — the U.S. government.

Speaking at Riverside Church in New York City on April 4, 1967, King exposed the hypocrisy of the U.S. government and called on it to end the war in Vietnam. His words sent shock waves through the land because he articulated a truth that millions of Americans had not been allowed to hear.

He shared with them his outrage at the subversion of democracy, the murder of men, women and children, the destruction of cultures and livelihoods and cruel irony that black and white Americans were being sent to kill and die together by a country that segregated them at home.

Martin Luther King exposed the Big Lie of American imperialism that day in New York City; exactly one year later, in Memphis, Tennessee, he would pay for his truth-telling with his life.

In reading his speech today I’m struck by the parallels between Vietnam (and America’s other wars in Laos and Cambodia) and the current day “war on terrorism” in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and increasingly, in Yemen.

Read King’s speech for yourself; then re-read it and make a few substitutions:

  • “terrorists” for “communists”
  • “Al-Quaida” for “Viet Cong”
  • “Afghanistan” for “Vietnam”
  • “America” for “America”

Most of the actors have different names but the script is the same weary, blood-soaked, tear-stained tale.

The antidote remains the same, as well. King called upon his fellow Americans to oppose the war nonviolently, creatively and without letting up. But he acknowledged that anti-war protests were not enough. As King put it:

The war in Vietnam is but a symptom of a far deeper malady within the American spirit, and if we ignore this sobering reality we will find ourselves organizing clergy- and laymen-concerned committees for the next generation. They will be concerned about Guatemala and Peru. They will be concerned about Thailand and Cambodia. They will be concerned about Mozambique and South Africa. We will be marching for these and a dozen other names and attending rallies without end unless there is a significant and profound change in American life and policy.

King maintained that America needed make radical changes.

We must rapidly begin the shift from a “thing-oriented” society to a “person-oriented” society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.

Sounds like 2010, to me.

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