White supremacist society seems to only allow Martin Luther King, Jr. to be associated with a “dream.” A dreamer is discounted as naive, foolish, with head in the clouds and out of touch with reality. We don’t call George Washington a dreamer. We call other folks visionaries. But, subconsciously, this society discredits and discounts King by focusing on his “dream.” And there’s little in the mainstream press about his connecting nonviolence and militarism and war.
Reverend Dr. King wasn’t killed for his dream expressed in August 1963. He was killed for his vision for this country and Vietnam, expressed April 4, 1967, and beyond. He was killed because the powers that be in this country found his talk (and action) too dangerous to the stutus quo. So much for being a pacifist. And, now, safely dead, King’s anti-militarism and pro-nonviolence stance gets ignored. Nonviolence is mentioned in descriptions of King, of course, but never defined or explained for those of us who spent our school years studying history that mainly consisted of explaining wars and preparing and recovering from them.
Read King’s “Beyond Vietnam: A Time To Break Silence” speech given at Riverside Church in New York City one year to the day before he was assassinated. Substitute “Iraq” for “Vietnam.” Here is an excerpt:
“…I am as deeply concerned about our troops there as anything else. For it occurs to me that what we are submitting them to in Vietnam is not simply the brutalizing process that goes on in any war where armies face each other and seek to destroy. 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.
“Somehow this madness must cease. We must stop now. I speak as a child of God and brother to the suffering poor of Vietnam. I speak for those whose land is being laid waste, whose homes are being destroyed, whose culture is being subverted. I speak for the poor of America who are paying the double price of smashed hopes at home and death and corruption in Vietnam. I speak as a citizen of the world, for the world as it stands aghast at the path we have taken. I speak as an American to the leaders of my own nation. The great initiative in this war is ours. The intiative to stop it must be ours…
“If we continue there will be no doubt in my mind and in the mind of the world that we have no honorable intentions in Vietnam. It will become clear that our minimal expectation is to occupy it as an American colony and men will not refrain from thinking that our maximum hope is to goad China into a war so that we may bomb her nuclear installations…
“The world now demands a maturity of America that we may not be able to achieve. It demands that we admit that we have been wrong from the beginning of our adventure in Vietnam, that we have been detrimental to the life of the Vietnamese people. The situation is one in which we must be ready to turn sharply from our present ways.” (pp. 238-239, A TESTAMENT OF HOPE – The essential writings and speeches of Martin Luther King Jr., edited by James M. Washington. HarperCollins, New York, NY, 1986.)
Pacifists still are dismissed as naive and idealistic. Where nonviolence is tried, it often works. I look at militarists and think: They are naive and idealistic to continue to try to solve problems with war and killing. Theodore Roszack said, “People try nonviolence for a week, and when it ‘doesn’t work’ they go back to violence which hasn’t worked for centuries.” Numerous colleges and universities offer Peace Studies programs because of demand for them.
Yet, there is much money to be made in producing and selling armaments to whomever will buy them. And these arms manufacturers don’t care where the war is, or by which faction their arms are being used, they just want war to happen. Our men and women in uniform will continue to kill and die, so these arms manufacturers can make money. That’s why I protest. I don’t want anyone to have to kill in order to raise a family. It’s not about patriotism. And King would join the protests today.
The United States has a Department of Defense (read Department of War), with a mind-boggling budget to violently try to solve disputes. There’s a campaign under way to urge Congress to create a Cabinet-level Department of Peace, with its funding being only 2 percent of the Defense Department budget.
My favorite King quote is from his April 16, 1967, sermon at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, “Why I Oppose the War in Vietnam,” which is similar to his Riverside speech: “There’s something strangely inconsistent about a nation and a press that will praise you when you say be nonviolent toward Jim Clark but will curse and damn you when you say be nonviolent toward little brown Vietnamese children.”
Why is it heroic for U.S. military personnel to kill Iraqis? Yet if one of them killed a single person here, s/he’d be charged with murder. A favorite button that I wear reads: “Killing one is murder. Killing 100,000 is foreign policy.”
Years ago, Ma Vynee Betsch — the Beach Lady of American Beach, Florida — listened to me rant about the inconsistency of ROTC units marching in the Martin Luther King Jr. parade and military folk praising King. She said, “Oh, Wendy, let them have their heroes.” What a lesson. Regarding King, the historian of the African American experience, Vincent Harding, oft quoted a poet’s words about Malcolm X: “He became much more than there was time for him to be.”
[Photo: Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivering his “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence” sermon on April 4, 1967 at the Riverside Church in New York City. Creative Commons license.]