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Friday, January 13, 2006

I Oppose Bad Things 


The latest news:


Peace activists are protesting plans for a military flyover at the city's annual Martin Luther King Jr. march, saying the gesture runs counter to the nonviolent beliefs of the civil rights leader.

The city's MLK Commission said the flyover by two fighter jets from Randolph Air Force Base is meant to be patriotic and an honor to King in a city with a strong military presence.

The Rev. Herman Price, the commission's chairman, said he was dismayed by the divisiveness the flyover was causing.

"They say the planes represent war and bombs and death, but at the same time those planes can also represent our freedom and peace," Price said.



Undoubtedly King supported the use of nonviolent tactics in the civil rights movement.


King promoted non-violent means to achieve civil-rights reform and was awarded the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts....

While at seminary King became acquainted with Mohandas Gandhi's philosophy of nonviolent social protest. On a trip to India in 1959 King met with followers of Gandhi. During these discussions he became more convinced than ever that nonviolent resistance was the most potent weapon available to oppressed people in their struggle for freedom.



And King undoubtedly opposed the Vietnam War:


Four years after the start of American involvement in Vietnam, Martin Luther King, Jr. issued his first statement on the War. While addressing a crowd at Howard University on 1 March 1965, King uncharacteristically concluded his talk with a discussion of the Vietnam War, calling for a negotiated peace settlement....On 15 June 1965...[King delivered] the speech, "Why Are You Here?" During his speech, King called for the application of "nonviolent direct action in international dimensions" and proposed a negotiated settlement coordinated by the United Nations....

Fearful of alienating President Lyndon Johnson, King continued for much of 1966 to approach the issue of Vietnam with some wariness and reticence. However, after Johnson announced plans to divert funds from the War on Poverty to Vietnam in December of 1966, King began to reassert his criticism of the War....

On 4 April 1967, King made his most public and comprehensive statement against the War. Addressing a crowd of 3,000 people in Riverside Church in New York City, King delivered a speech entitled "Beyond Vietnam."



But was King opposed to war in general? For example, how would King have responded to Iraq's invasion of Kuwait? Hard to say. On the one hand, King obviously speaks against war, but on the other hand he speaks of liberation. Emphasis mine:


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. Such thoughts take us beyond Vietnam, but not beyond our calling as sons of the living God.

In 1957 a sensitive American official overseas said that it seemed to him that our nation was on the wrong side of a world revolution. During the past ten years we have seen emerge a pattern of suppression which now has justified the presence of U.S. military "advisors" in Venezuela. This need to maintain social stability for our investments accounts for the counter-revolutionary action of American forces in Guatemala. It tells why American helicopters are being used against guerrillas in Colombia and why American napalm and green beret forces have already been active against rebels in Peru. It is with such activity in mind that the words of the late John F. Kennedy come back to haunt us. Five years ago he said, "Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable."



The same Kennedy who ordered actions in Cuba, Vietnam, and elsewhere. Let's continue:


Increasingly, by choice or by accident, this is the role our nation has taken -- the role of those who make peaceful revolution impossible by refusing to give up the privileges and the pleasures that come from the immense profits of overseas investment.

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....

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....

This kind of positive revolution of values is our best defense against communism. War is not the answer. Communism will never be defeated by the use of atomic bombs or nuclear weapons. Let us not join those who shout war and through their misguided passions urge the United States to relinquish its participation in the United Nations. These are days which demand wise restraint and calm reasonableness. We must not call everyone a Communist or an appeaser who advocates the seating of Red China in the United Nations....We must not engage in a negative anti-communism, but rather in a positive thrust for democracy, realizing that our greatest defense against communism is to take offensive action in behalf of justice....

These are revolutionary times. All over the globe men are revolting against old systems of exploitation and oppression and out of the wombs of a frail world new systems of justice and equality are being born. The shirtless and barefoot people of the land are rising up as never before. "The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light." We in the West must support these revolutions. It is a sad fact that, because of comfort, complacency, a morbid fear of communism, and our proneness to adjust to injustice, the Western nations that initiated so much of the revolutionary spirit of the modern world have now become the arch anti-revolutionaries. This has driven many to feel that only Marxism has the revolutionary spirit. Therefore, communism is a judgement against our failure to make democracy real and follow through on the revolutions we initiated. Our only hope today lies in our ability to recapture the revolutionary spirit and go out into a sometimes hostile world declaring eternal hostility to poverty, racism, and militarism....

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. The "tide in the affairs of men" does not remain at the flood; it ebbs. We may cry out deperately for time to pause in her passage, but time is deaf to every plea and rushes on. Over the bleached bones and jumbled residue of numerous civilizations are written the pathetic words: "Too late." There is an invisible book of life that faithfully records our vigilance or our neglect. "The moving finger writes, and having writ moves on..." 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 in Vietnam 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.



A couple of comments. First, the thrust of King's speech tends to assume that the Third World nations will always be the oppressed ones, and not the oppressors. Perhaps King can be excused on this misunderstanding, since during the Cold War the activities of the major powers were so dominant. Only after the Soviet Union disappeared did it become clear that Third World nations could oppress as easily as anyone else.

Second, I believe that we can't really answer the question I asked earlier about King's reaction to Iraq's invasion of Kuwait. I'm sure that King would agree that the Kuwaitis were the oppressed, and that we should support them in some way. But in what way? A massive, United Nations-sanctioned effort with the sole purpose of liberating and protecting Kuwait? Or would that we an instance of militarism, and would King instead propose Kuwaitis sit at lunch counters?

Remember, however, that militarism and racism were only two of the evils King mentioned. The third was materialism. Note the difference between "materialism" and "having materials." Remember that the Bible does not say that money is the root of all evil, but that the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Which brings up the irony of setting up a holiday to honor King. You know what happens to holidays around here. The birth of our Lord has become the major retail selling season. The Maccabean liberation of Israel has become an adjunct to the same. The resurrection of our Lord has become a chocolate-seller's retail bonanza. And so on and so forth with the day honoring our war dead, a day honoring the birth of our nation, a day honoring all workers, et al.

So how do you honor King? Sales, sales, sales. I was surfing at a Family Education web site and found the following jaw-dropping ad:


The Anything-But-White Sale

Come home to color with rich towels and bedding in stylish shades. Save on everything you need to stock up or start fresh in vivid color during the JCPenney Anything-But-White Sale.





Personally, I don't think King stood for that.

From the Ontario Empoblog (Latest OVVA news here)

Comments:
Very interesting. And I agree with your conclusions.
 
I enjoyed reading your comments. It is rare to see someone actually analyze King's speeches. Being originally from Memphis, TN where King was shot, we were almost not allowed to really critique King's life and work. Your comments about King come at a great time, not only because of MLK day, but also because of the recent comments of one of MLK's most loyal friends, Harry Belafonte. The question should be, would King support Belafonte, Danny Glover, and other present African American leaders?
 
I haven't really delved into the Belafonte issue - I barely heard about Belafonte's comments - but I'm wondering if he's still on the board of Disney, or if he left when Eisner left.
 
Oops. Belafonte never served on Disney's Board of Directors. (His friend Sidney Poitier did.)
 
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