Home > War & Dystrophy > Easter 2010: Way Past Time To Break Silence On Militarism

Easter 2010: Way Past Time To Break Silence On Militarism

By Gary G. Kohls, MD

“A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death,” warned Martin Luther King Jr. in his famous speech at Riverside Church in New York City on April 4, 1967, 43 years ago this Easter Sunday.

The speech was titled “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence.” It was delivered exactly one year to the day before his 1968 assassination in Memphis.

The people who heard that speech recognized it as one of the most powerful speeches ever given articulating the immorality of the Vietnam War and its destructive impact on social progress in the United States. In explaining his decision to speak out, King said:

“I knew that America would never invest the necessary funds or energies in rehabilitation of its poor so long as adventures like Vietnam continued to draw men and skills and money like some demonic destructive suction tube. So I was increasingly compelled to see the war as an enemy of the poor and to attack it as such.”

But King went farther, diagnosing a broader disease of militarism and violence that was afflicting the United States.

“I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today — my own government,” King said.

King added that this disease of violence was killing more than social progress in America, but the nation’s soul as well. “If America’s soul becomes totally poisoned, part of the autopsy must read Vietnam,” he said.

King urged his fellow citizens to take up the causes of the world’s oppressed, rather than taking the side of their oppressors. He said:

“I am convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. 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.”

In a segment of the speech, cited often by President Barack Obama, King added: “We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history there is such a thing as being too late. Procrastination is still the thief of time. Life often leaves us standing bare, naked and dejected with a lost opportunity. …

“We still have a choice today; nonviolent coexistence or violent co-annihilation. We must move past indecision to action. We must find new ways to speak for peace and justice throughout the developing world – a world that borders on our doors.

“If we do not act we shall surely be dragged down the long, dark and shameful corridors of time reserved for those who possess power without compassion, might without morality and strength without sight.”

King pointed to an alternate path into the future: “Now let us rededicate ourselves to the long and bitter – but beautiful – struggle for a new world. This is the calling of the sons of God, and our brothers wait eagerly for our response.

“Shall we say the odds are too great? Shall we tell them the struggle is too hard?”

Signing His Own Death Warrant

In hearing the speech, some of King’s followers understood that he was, most likely, signing his own death warrant by denouncing so forcefully the war crimes that the U.S. military was committing daily in the killing fields of Vietnam.

But King was speaking from a deep sense of moral outrage over the horrible suffering of the millions of Vietnamese civilians.

He knew that women and children were the main victims of modern warfare, especially wars that utilized so indiscriminately the massive arsenal of highly lethal weapons, including one of the U.S. Air Force’s favorites, napalm, which burned the flesh off of whatever part of the body that the flaming, jellied gasoline splashed onto.

King also connected the killing of dispensable “gooks” and “slants” on the battlefields of Southeast Asia to the oppression, impoverishment, imprisoning and lynching of dispensable blacks in America.

King linked the violence of racism to the violence of poverty to the violence of militarism. He traced them to the same sources, fear of “the other” and the perceived need to defend one’s own wealth and privilege, no matter how unjustly acquired.

King knew, too, that fortunes are made in every war, with the Vietnam War no exception. That, in turn, meant his Riverside Church speech was threatening not just the powerful interests already arrayed against his civil rights movement but also the interests of the national security establishment.

As the Vietnam War wore on, weapons manufacturers thrived. With their money, they financed battalions of industry lobbyists and pro-military propagandists to surge over political battlements in Washington to claim even more billions and billions of dollars for weapons research, development and manufacture.

With that funding secured, armies of workers were hired to staff hundreds of weapons factories, strategically located in congressional districts around the nation. Thus, arms manufacturing and wars became vital for the budgets of millions of Americans who directly or indirectly benefited from the unspeakable suffering of others in the war zone.

King’s strong anti-militarism stance – and his standing as an international icon for peace – made him a particularly dangerous threat to the military-industrial complex. There was a powerful motive to discredit and silence him, first by smear campaigns and later by an assassin’s bullet.

King’s Prophetic Vision

Now, more than four decades after his speech and his assassination, it’s clear how prophetic King’s observations were. Violence has become an American epidemic, especially the “triple evils” that King preached against: poverty, racism and militarism.

Gun violence results in world record-breaking levels of homicides and suicides in the United States. Yet, the influential gun industry has sabotaged even the most modest and common-sense handgun and assault rifle controls.

Both upper- and middle-class Americans have succumbed, starry-eyed, to the lure of well-propagandized predatory capitalism, looking for get-rich-quick schemes that eventually will tank in the predictable overblown economic bubbles that are bursting with increasing regularity. Those bubble bursts have wiped out many small investors, leaving the taxpayers to clean up the messes that were created by the so-called “invisible hand” of high-flying, conscienceless corporate gamblers whose dirty deals are done in the proverbial “smoke-filled rooms” that virtually guarantee the success of their investments in compliant politicians. These “investments” are also known as “political campaign contributions”, and some of the most nefarious of the big winners are now bankrolling the attempts to destroy the Obama presidency that has been trying to deal with the economic crash that clearly originated in the previous administration.

For most Americans, who don’t have the cash to get into the big-money Wall Street casinos, there are lower-end addictive behaviors that result in occasional emotional “highs” such as entertainment, gambling, shopping, drugs (both legal and illegal), sex, sports and charismatic religions. Sadly, these adrenalin highs are always followed by emotional crashes, which are then usually self-treated by another hit with the substance or activity that produced the “high” in the first place, as commonly happens when the nicotine, caffeine, Paxil, Valium, Ritalin, cocaine or methamphetamine addict runs out of his stash, decreases his dose or tries to quit the addicting substance suddenly.

And, besides the many millions of domestic violence victims inside America, including tens of thousands of annual gun violence victims, there also are tens of millions of people around the world who have suffered from U.S. military interventions and the greedy exploiters whose interests invariably get protected – in Asia, Latin America, Africa and the Middle East.

The hundreds of billions of American tax dollars wasted annually for war, war preparations and the massive, endless costs of the physical and mental health care that are needed by the combat-traumatized veterans is money that is then unavailable for programs of social uplift, including hunger relief, poverty reduction, affordable housing, education, health care or meaningful jobs.

The federal debt reached a crippling $7 trillion during George W. Bush’s open-ended wars of the past decade, and that was before the economic crash of 2008, which pushed the debt to $12 trillion. This unsustainable debt obligation will make social projects otherwise worth paying for unaffordable for decades into the future.

The Wall Street financiers and members of the investor class still profit handsomely from war – partly because federal borrowing to pay for war pays interest mostly to the upper classes (as well as foreign investors) – but the extravagant bill will eventually have to be paid back by us taxpayers, including Tea Partiers and Coffee Partiers, and our innocent children and grandchildren.

Regarding King’s warning about America’s spiritual death, many observers feel that the corpse has already been placed on the idolatrous altars of the Gods of War and Greed.

America’s non-peace churches (whether fundamentalist, conservative, moderate or liberal, with very few exceptions) have failed King’s vision. “Patriotic” churches have refused to take a consistent stand both for peace and against war.

On a political level, warmongering administrations, particular Bush’s, have been eliminating, one by one, the individual rights and noble ideals that America’s Founders articulated more than 200 years ago.

Possible Awakening? Or Are We Past the Point of No Return?

Yet, it may not be too late for a resuscitation attempt. But that can only happen if we awaken from our slumber and stop being distracted by the trivia that fills up our waking hours.

True democracy would require rejection of the clever political ad campaigns designed to get Americans to buy answers that further empower corporations and the military-industrial complex. There needs to be sharper awareness, too, of the slick propaganda that often masquerades as mainstream “news.”

There are other necessary steps as well: shaking off addictions to dangerous substances and behaviors that prevent clear-headed action; demanding the restoration of lost freedoms, especially from the latest Bush years; supporting the few true peace patriots hanging on in a broken Congress, most of whom are barely surviving in the “democratic wing of the Democratic Party.”

But perhaps most importantly, King’s central warning must be listened to. There must be an end to the financial and moral hemorrhaging from the many hot and cold wars that have entangled the United States around the globe, in the 130 countries where the U.S. maintains budget-busting military bases.

The Pentagon budget lately averages around $700 billion per year which amounts to about $2 billion per day with no visible return on investment, except for the military contractors, the oil industries and Wall Street financiers.

And, if peace doesn’t happen soon – if King’s 43-year-old warning continues to be ignored – America’s future is bleak. It holds the dark seeds of economic chaos, hyperinflation, worsening poverty, hunger, armed rebellion, street fighting, and perhaps, ultimately, a totalitarian police state.

Martin Luther King Jr. pointed toward a very different future in 1967. At that time, many Americans considered his vision too idealistic, the task too great, the obstacles too imposing and no will for the churches to reverse age-old religious dogmas. But many of them probably wish now they could turn the clock back and give King’s path a try.

King finished his speech with this conclusion and these challenges:

“War is not the answer. We still have a choice today; nonviolent coexistence or violent co-annihilation. We must move past indecision to action. We must find new ways to speak for peace and justice throughout the developing world – a world that borders on our doors. If we do not act we shall surely be dragged down the long dark and shameful corridors of time reserved for those who possess power without compassion, might without morality and strength without sight.”

And he had these sobering words for the churches that are immersed in a polytheistic culture and thus are tempted to quietly ally themselves with the gods of wealth and war rather than the “one true God” of Love:

“I have traveled the length and breadth of Alabama, Mississippi and all the other southern states. I have looked at her beautiful churches with their lofty spires pointing heavenward. I have beheld the impressive outlay of her massive religious education buildings. Over and over again I have found myself asking: ‘What kind of people worship here? Who is their God?'”

Today, the task is even tougher, the obstacles much more imposing, but the path remains. This Easter season should be a good time to seriously reconsider King’s challenges.

Dr. Kohls is a retired physician who writes about peace, justice, militarism, mental health and religious issues. He is a founding member of Every Church A Peace Church (<a href="http://www.ecapc.org/”>www.ecapc.org).

Source: Counter Currents

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