Jay Janson / OpEdNews – 2009-02-28 22:33:43
Onve Again, Black History Month Ignored
Martin Luther King Jr.’s Condemnation of
US Wars and Predatory Capitalism
(March 1, 2008) — February Black History Month 2008 is now past. It goes without saying, that Black History Month is meant to be celebrated by all Americans. It is certainly welcomed by Afro-Americans, but is of increasingly keen interest to everyone who is grossly uneducated about black history and especially those who might have not have had the good fortune and pleasure of growing up in close friendship with black brothers and sisters, and of appreciating the charm, grace and nobility of black culture.
“We owe the celebration of Black History Month, and more importantly, the study of black history, to one Dr. Carter G. Woodson. Woodson’s parents were both former slaves. Carter spent his childhood working in the Kentucky coal mines and enrolled in high school at age twenty. He graduated within two years and went on to earn a Ph.D. from Harvard.
The scholar was disturbed to find in his studies that history books largely ignored the black American population-and when blacks did figure into the picture, it was generally in ways that reflected the inferior social position they were assigned at the time.” (from The History of Black History, by Elissa Haney.)
There is a nicely formatted Black History Time Line one can click on to view a synopsis of salient personalities and events that every American who aspires to a good education should be familiar with.
What is strikingly absent from standard and corporate media Black History time lines, are quotes from, or references to, the more poignantly educating and sorely needed critical statements of black historical celebrities on United States foreign policy – notably missing are the biting condemnations of America’s imperialist wars and predatory international capitalism by Dr. Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
One begins to wonder if there is perhaps an unwritten law that keeps even black leaders from quoting Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’ 1967 condemnations of U.S. wars and covert criminal CIA activities to support overseas investments and trade. During Black History Month, leaders of all political factions in American society, including of course black leaders, as usual, quoted Rev. King Jr.’ inspiring civil rights, equality and antiracism pronouncements. Full Stop. As usual.
One did not hear Andrew Young, Jessie Jackson, Rev. King Jr.’ widow, Rev. Sharpton or Barack Obama refer to Rev. King Jr.’ 1967 denunciations of U.S. foreign policy in their statements to the public.
Representatives Barbara Lee, John Conyers, Charles Rangel, Jessie Jackson Jr., and all the other congressional black caucus and progressive caucus members have NOT been quoting Rev. King Jr. on the floor of Congress to try to stop the Democrats from continuing to fund the wars of occupation and to unblock the Bush and Cheney impeachment bills pending. If they had, we would have witnessed such bold moves on C-span telecasts of sessions of the House of Representatives, and most likely the conglomerate owned entertainment/news channel would have felt forced to give coverage as well.
This writer received not a single response upon faxing every single member of the Black Congressional Caucus and the Progressive Caucus his article published on April 15, 2007.
Quote A Martyred Progressive’s Condemnation of U.S. Wars_
“Asks why Congressional Black Caucus and Progressive Caucus do not repeat MLK Jr.’ condemnation of U.S. war policies on the floor of Congress. The fourth article in the series appearing on the 15th of each month exhorting peace and justice activists to follow the example of Howard Zinn, who, in radio interviews quotes King Jr.’ strong condemnations of U.S. murderous war policies and the use of its military throughout the 3rd world.”
As our national hero Rev. King Jr. was a man of the cloth, your servant wrote on May 16, 2007.
The Silence of Clergy Today versus Rev. King’s “Silence is Betrayal!”
“At the polls, citizens have finally expressed themselves against the war in Iraq. Candidates and incumbents feel the need to call for an end to the war. But we rarely hear even a peep from Clergy. Is this for its observing the doctrine of ‘Separation of Church and State’ or because the Church has become BOUND to the State and SEPARATED from its faith?”
_Heaven knows, the country and the world could make good use of the easy going fellowship, the vibrant and embracing kindness of Afro-American clergy, following in King’s tradition, to lead the U.S. out of the up tight worried Anglo-Saxon culture of fear and ignorant pretense of world superiority that is finally catching up with America for its excesses and often called ‘mistaken’ wars of domination.
Maybe prominent black clergy politicians, editors and journalists don’t want to make waves. Don’t want to rile up the powerful white American jingoist’s war promoting corporate governance personalities who control what is seen and heard and what is not seen and heard on corporate Big Brother TV, radio, newspapers and magazines.
But this can be seen as a backing off from the full participation in political life and planetary responsibilities which King embarked us upon in his bold headline making address on April 4, 1967 at Riverside Church in New York City, titled Beyond Vietnam. This detailed white paper was heard and read as ‘beyond national politics’ and to an inclusion of citizen responsibility for America’s monstrously lethal foreign policies.
All brave and concerned Americas and can enjoy the shielding protection and galvanizing encouragement of the words of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., our unassailable public icon. But few are taking advantage of what King so eloquently and powerfully laid down for us. Few are taking up the words of King and using them to promote the peace movement. Activists cannot help but notice that during Black History Month, with the wars of occupation going on, even going on badly for the U.S., King’s blistering condemnations of U.S. foreign policy were neither heard nor read.
“The greatest purveyor of violence in the world today [is] my own government. … For the sake of the hundreds of thousands trembling under our violence, I cannot be silent.” spoke out Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. from the pulpit of Riverside Church, New York City, April 4th, 1967. And King explained his agonizing over his years of silence.
MLK Jr. cried, “Silence is Treason!” (This writer figures that puts the number of American traitors both during the Vietnam War and the Iraq, Afghanistan and Somalia wars of today in the millions – one could call it free speech in reverse: the freedom of irresponsible silence.)
Many are those who have long realized the reason we hear the “I Have a Dream” speech so often – even used as advertising commercial! It is meant to preclude our ever ever hearing his above Beyond Vietnam speech quoted words, herewith continued below, and which could be subtitled in counter-reference, Rev. King’s ‘nightmare speech.’ Midway through King said,
“As we counsel young men concerning military service, we must clarify for them our nation’s role in Vietnam and challenge them with the alternative of conscientious objection.
Moreover, I would encourage all ministers of draft age to give up their ministerial exemptions and seek status as conscientious objectors. These are the times for real choices and not false ones. We are at the moment when our lives must be placed on the line if our nation is to survive its own folly. Every man of humane convictions must decide on the protest that best suits his convictions, but we must all protest.”
For having not been featured during Black History Month 2008, let us now read King’s detailed description of the history of America’s crucifixion of Vietnam, which would continue through six U.S. presidents and for another seven merciless years after King’s assassination:
“And as I ponder the madness of Vietnam and search within myself for ways to understand and respond in compassion, my mind goes constantly to the people of that peninsula. … I speak … simply of the people who have been living under the curse of war for almost three continuous decades now. I think of them, too, because it is clear to me that there will be no meaningful solution there until some attempt is made to know them and hear their broken cries. …
The Vietnamese people proclaimed their own independence in 1945 after a combined French and Japanese occupation and before the communist revolution in China. They were led by Ho Chi Minh. Even though they quoted the American Declaration of Independence in their own document of freedom, we refused to recognize them.
Instead, we decided to support France in its reconquest of her former colony. Our government felt then that the Vietnamese people were not ready for independence, and we again fell victim to the deadly Western arrogance that has poisoned the international atmosphere for so long. With that tragic decision we rejected a revolutionary government seeking self-determination and a government that had been established not by China — for whom the Vietnamese have no great love — but by clearly indigenous forces that included some communists. For the peasants this new government meant real land reform, one of the most important needs in their lives.
For nine years following 1945 we denied the people of Vietnam the right of independence. For nine years we vigorously supported the French in their abortive effort to recolonize Vietnam. Before the end of the war we were meeting eighty percent of the French war costs. Even before the French were defeated at Dien Bien Phu, they began to despair of their reckless action, but we did not. We encouraged them with our huge financial and military supplies to continue the war even after they had lost the will. Soon we would be paying almost the full costs of this tragic attempt at recolonization.
After the French were defeated, it looked as if independence and land reform would come again through the Geneva Agreement. But instead there came the United States, determined that Ho should not unify the temporarily divided nation, and the peasants watched again as we supported one of the most vicious modern dictators, our chosen man, Premier Diem.
The peasants watched and cringed as Diem ruthlessly rooted out all opposition, supported their extortionist landlords, and refused even to discuss reunification with the North. The peasants watched as all this was presided over by United States’ influence and then by increasing numbers of United States troops who came to help quell the insurgency that Diem’s methods had aroused. When Diem was overthrown they may have been happy, but the long line of military dictators seemed to offer no real change, especially in terms of their need for land and peace.
The only change came from America, as we increased our troop commitments in support of governments which were singularly corrupt, inept, and without popular support. All the while the people read our leaflets and received the regular promises of peace and democracy and land reform. Now they languish under our bombs and consider us, not their fellow Vietnamese, the real enemy. They move sadly and apathetically as we herd them off the land of their fathers into concentration camps where minimal social needs are rarely met. They know they must move on or be destroyed by our bombs.
So they go, primarily women and children and the aged. They watch as we poison their water, as we kill a million acres of their crops. They must weep as the bulldozers roar through their areas preparing to destroy the precious trees. They wander into the hospitals with at least twenty casualties from American firepower for one Vietcong-inflicted injury. So far we may have killed a million of them, mostly children. They wander into the towns and see thousands of the children, homeless, without clothes, running in packs on the streets like animals. They see the children degraded by our soldiers as they beg for food. They see the children selling their sisters to our soldiers, soliciting for their mothers.
What do the peasants think as we ally ourselves with the landlords and as we refuse to put any action into our many words concerning land reform? What do they think as we test out our latest weapons on them, just as the Germans tested out new medicine and new tortures in the concentration camps of Europe? Where are the roots of the independent Vietnam we claim to be building? Is it among these voiceless ones?
We have destroyed their two most cherished institutions: the family and the village. We have destroyed their land and their crops. We have cooperated in the crushing of the nation’s only noncommunist revolutionary political force, the unified Buddhist Church. We have supported the enemies of the peasants of Saigon. We have corrupted their women and children and killed their men.
Now there is little left to build on, save bitterness. Soon the only solid physical foundations remaining will be found at our military bases and in the concrete of the concentration camps we call “fortified hamlets.” The peasants may well wonder if we plan to build our new Vietnam on such grounds as these. Could we blame them for such thoughts? We must speak for them and raise the questions they cannot raise. These, too, are our brothers.
Perhaps a more difficult but no less necessary task is to speak for those who have been designated as our enemies. What of the National Liberation Front, that strangely anonymous group we call “VC” or “communists”? What must they think of the United States of America when they realize that we permitted the repression and cruelty of Diem, which helped to bring them into being as a resistance group in the South? What do they think of our condoning the violence which led to their own taking up of arms? How can they believe in our integrity when now we speak of “aggression from the North” as if there were nothing more essential to the war? How can they trust us when now we charge them with violence after the murderous reign of Diem and charge them with violence while we pour every new weapon of death into their land?
Surely we must understand their feelings, even if we do not condone their actions. Surely we must see that the men we supported pressed them to their violence. Surely we must see that our own computerized plans of destruction simply dwarf their greatest acts.
How do they judge us when our officials know that their membership is less than twenty-five percent communist, and yet insist on giving them the blanket name? What must they be thinking when they know that we are aware of their control of major sections of Vietnam, and yet we appear ready to allow national elections in which this highly organized political parallel government will not have a part?
They ask how we can speak of free elections when the Saigon press is censored and controlled by the military junta. And they are surely right to wonder what kind of new government we plan to help form without them, the only party in real touch with the peasants. They question our political goals and they deny the reality of a peace settlement from which they will be excluded. Their questions are frighteningly relevant. Is our nation planning to build on political myth again, and then shore it up upon the power of new violence?
Here is the true meaning and value of compassion and nonviolence, when it helps us to see the enemy’s point of view, to hear his questions, to know his assessment of ourselves. For from his view we may indeed see the basic weaknesses of our own condition, and if we are mature, we may learn and grow and profit from the wisdom of the brothers who are called the opposition.
So, too, with Hanoi. In the North, where our bombs now pummel the land, and our mines endanger the waterways, we are met by a deep but understandable mistrust. To speak for them is to explain this lack of confidence in Western words, and especially their distrust of American intentions now. In Hanoi are the men who led the nation to independence against the Japanese and the French, the men who sought membership in the French Commonwealth and were betrayed by the weakness of Paris and the willfulness of the colonial armies.
It was they who led a second struggle against French domination at tremendous costs, and then were persuaded to give up the land they controlled between the thirteenth and seventeenth parallel as a temporary measure at Geneva. After 1954 they watched us conspire with Diem to prevent elections which could have surely brought Ho Chi Minh to power over a united Vietnam, and they realized they had been betrayed again. When we ask why they do not leap to negotiate, these things must be remembered.
Also, it must be clear that the leaders of Hanoi considered the presence of American troops in support of the Diem regime to have been the initial military breach of the Geneva Agreement concerning foreign troops. They remind us that they did not begin to send troops in large numbers and even supplies into the South until American forces had moved into the tens of thousands.
Hanoi remembers how our leaders refused to tell us the truth about the earlier North Vietnamese overtures for peace, how the president claimed that none existed when they had clearly been made. Ho Chi Minh has watched as America has spoken of peace and built up its forces, and now he has surely heard the increasing international rumors of American plans for an invasion of the North. He knows the bombing and shelling and mining we are doing are part of traditional pre-invasion strategy.
Perhaps only his sense of humor and of irony can save him when he hears the most powerful nation of the world speaking of aggression as it drops thousands of bombs on a poor, weak nation more than eight hundred, or rather, eight thousand miles away from its shores.
At this point I should make it clear that while I have tried in these last few minutes to give a voice to the voiceless in Vietnam and to understand the arguments of those who are called “enemy,” I am as deeply concerned about our own 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 one who loves America, to the leaders of our own nation: The great initiative in this war is ours; the initiative to stop it must be ours.
This is the message of the great Buddhist leaders of Vietnam. Recently one of them wrote these words, and I quote:
Each day the war goes on the hatred increases in the heart of the Vietnamese and in the hearts of those of humanitarian instinct. The Americans are forcing even their friends into becoming their enemies. It is curious that the Americans, who calculate so carefully on the possibilities of military victory, do not realize that in the process they are incurring deep psychological and political defeat. The image of America will never again be the image of revolution, freedom, and democracy, but the image of violence and militarism (unquote).
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. If we do not stop our war against the people of Vietnam immediately, the world will be left with no other alternative than to see this as some horrible, clumsy, and deadly game we have decided to play.
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. In order to atone for our sins and errors in Vietnam, we should take the initiative in bringing a halt to this tragic war.
I would like to suggest five concrete things that our government should do immediately to begin the long and difficult process of extricating ourselves from this nightmarish conflict:
• Number one: End all bombing in North and South Vietnam.
• Number two: Declare a unilateral cease-fire in the hope that such action will create the atmosphere for negotiation.
• Three: Take immediate steps to prevent other battlegrounds in Southeast Asia by curtailing our military buildup in Thailand and our interference in Laos.
• Four: Realistically accept the fact that the National Liberation Front has substantial support in South Vietnam and must thereby play a role in any meaningful negotiations and any future Vietnam government.__Five: Set a date that we will remove all foreign troops from Vietnam in accordance with the 1954 Geneva Agreement.
Part of our ongoing…part of our ongoing commitment might well express itself in an offer to grant asylum to any Vietnamese who fears for his life under a new regime which included the Liberation Front. Then we must make what reparations we can for the damage we have done. We must provide the medical aid that is badly needed, making it available in this country, if necessary.
Meanwhile… meanwhile, we in the churches and synagogues have a continuing task while we urge our government to disengage itself from a disgraceful commitment. We must continue to raise our voices and our lives if our nation persists in its perverse ways in Vietnam. We must be prepared to match actions with words by seeking out every creative method of protest possible.
As we counsel young men concerning military service, we must clarify for them our nation’s role in Vietnam and challenge them with the alternative of conscientious objection. I am pleased to say that this is a path now chosen by more than seventy students at my own alma mater, Morehouse College, and I recommend it to all who find the American course in Vietnam a dishonorable and unjust one.
Moreover, I would encourage all ministers of draft age to give up their ministerial exemptions and seek status as conscientious objectors.* These are the times for real choices and not false ones. We are at the moment when our lives must be placed on the line if our nation is to survive its own folly. Every man of humane convictions must decide on the protest that best suits his convictions, but we must all protest.
Now 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…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.
And so, 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 has now justified the presence of U.S. military advisors in Venezuela. This need to maintain social stability for our investments accounts for the counterrevolutionary action of American forces in Guatemala. It tells why American helicopters are being used against guerrillas in Cambodia and why American napalm and Green Beret forces have already been active against rebels in Peru.
… 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 investments. 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…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, extreme materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.
A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies. … A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth. With righteous indignation, it will look across the seas and see individual capitalists of the West investing huge sums of money in Asia, Africa, and South America, only to take the profits out with no concern for the social betterment of the countries, and say, “This is not just.” It will look at our alliance with the landed gentry of South America and say, “This is not just.” The Western arrogance of feeling that it has everything to teach others and nothing to learn from them is not just.
A true revolution of values will lay hand on the world order and say of war, “This way of settling differences is not just.” This business of burning human beings with napalm, of filling our nation’s homes with orphans and widows, of injecting poisonous drugs of hate into the veins of peoples normally humane, of sending men home from dark and bloody battlefields physically handicapped and psychologically deranged, cannot be reconciled with wisdom, justice, and love. A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.
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. There is nothing to keep us from molding a recalcitrant status quo with bruised hands until we have fashioned it into a brotherhood”
Although the onus for confronting the gung-ho promotion of wars for whatever pretence, excuse or reasoning is firmly on the white community rather than on Afro-Americans, and King’s 67 blistering anti-war words are public domain and right there on the internet for the googling by any and all sincerely motivated activists for peace and justice, one cannot help but wonder at the recalcitrance of those highly profiled Afro-Americans in the public eye to come forward and pick up where King left off – in a pool of blood.
If the hesitancy to quote King’s call for each of us to protest America’s wars and covert actions in third world nations be out of fear? ‘There is safety in numbers’: numbers of us quoting the words of the only American allotted the national recognition of a public holiday honoring his birth. How dangerous would that be? (Almost like quoting the bible.)
One and all could simply quote King verbatim without interpretation or making unnecessary connection to current wars, which the mass media could slander and call ‘unpatriotic’.
Sound bites of a few words:
“My country, the greatest purveyor of violence in the world!”
“Silence is treason!”
“Everyone must protest!”
Today, tomorrow, and the next day. Over and over, until these phrases become as second nature to Americans as the phrases in I Have a Dream… and Letter from a Birmingham Jail. Copy the successful sound bite technique of commercial TV war promotion and war continuance, and counter them with MLK Jr. vintage ’67 war condemnation!
Acknowledgement: written on the suggestion of Alonzo, who deserves whatever credit is due. P.S. CounterCurrents.org did publish a Jay Janson selection of articles on Rev. King, and CommonDreams.com: the entire Beyond Vietnam speech without comment.
Author’s Bio: Musician and writer, who has lived and worked on all the continents and whose articles on media have been published in China, Italy, England and the US, and now resides in New York City.