Thursday, January 24, 2008

“The madness of militarism”

Martin Luther King, Jr. had a dream. It was a dream that drove his life onward – the dream of civil rights for all Americans, the dream of justice for all in America. I share that dream, but where I really agree with, and appreciate, Dr. King’s work is in the area of resistance to war-mongering and the ending of the madness of militarism. In April 1967, he delivered a speech at Manhattan’s Riverside Church. Here are some clips:

Over the past two years, as I have moved to break the betrayal of my own silences and to speak from the burnings of my own heart, as I have called for radical departures from the destruction of Vietnam, many persons have questioned me about the wisdom of my path. At the heart of their concerns this query has often loomed large and loud: Why are you speaking about the war, Dr. King? Why are you joining the voices of dissent? Peace and civil rights don’t mix, they say. Aren’t you hurting the cause of your people, they ask. And when I hear them, though I often understand the source of their concern, I am nevertheless greatly saddened, for such questions mean that the inquirers have not really known me, my commitment or my calling. Indeed, their questions suggest that they do not know the world in which they live.

……As I have walked among the desperate, rejected and angry young men, I have told them that Molotov cocktails and rifles would not solve their problems. I have tried to offer them my deepest compassion while maintaining my conviction that social change comes most meaningfully through non-violent action. But, they asked, what about Vietnam? They asked if our own nation wasn’t using massive doses of violence to solve its problems, to bring about the changes it wanted. Their questions hit home, and I knew that 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.

……As if the weight of such a commitment to the life and health of America were not enough, another burden of responsibility was placed upon me in 1964; and I cannot forget that the Nobel Prize for Peace was also a commission, a commission to work harder than I had ever worked before for the “brotherhood of man.” This is a calling that takes me beyond national allegiances, but even if it were not present I would yet have to live with the meaning of my commitment to the ministry of Jesus Christ. To me the relationship of this ministry to the making of peace is so obvious that I sometimes marvel at those who ask me why I am speaking against the war. Could it be that they do not know that the good news was meant or all men, for communist and capitalist, for their children and ours, for black and white, for revolutionary and conservative? Have they forgotten that my ministry is in obedience to the One who loved His enemies so fully that He died for hem? What then can I say to the Viet Cong or to Castro or to Mao as a faithful minister of this One? Can I threaten them with death, or must I not share with hem my life?

…….There is something seductively tempting about stopping there and sending us all off on what in some circles has become a popular crusade against the war in Vietnam. I say we must enter that struggle, but I wish to go on now to say something even more disturbing. 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. We will be marching and attending rallies without end unless there is a significant and profound change in American life and policy.

….A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies. 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.

Yes, we needed restructuring then and now. And the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, like the war in Vietnam and in a dozen other places over the years, is but a symptom of a far deeper malady within America. It is a reflection of the racism and fears that drive most Americans. It is a reflection of the power of the military-media-industrial complex that continually sucks up so much of our financial resources, which would only be possible with the continuation of the level of fear and ignorance and prejudice seen in America. In a couple of weeks, there will be a march on Raleigh called the H K on J March. The main gist of the platform behind this march is to put an end to poverty, war and racism. It is being lead by Reverend Barber, who is leader of the NC chapter of the NAACP. I plan on being on the bus that leaves Asheville at 6 AM to go to Raleigh for this march. And I plan to continue to speak out and work towards the end of the “madness of militarism” in our country. Unfortunately, I don’t see the problem as any better than it was under Dr. King’s time. I think it is worse.

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