Saturday, January 13, 2007

Martin Luther King on Iraq

What he might have said

Thanks to Colbert I. King of the Wapo (From Dr. King, a Reminder on Iraq) , I was reminded of King's monumental speech at Riverside Church, where made clear his opposition to the Vietnam War. Because I retired and am no longer teaching my seminar on the civil rights movement, I haven't heard the speech since 2001--before 9/11 and Iraq. Rereading it this morning (Beyond Vietnam -- A Time to Break Silence), I, too, am struck with its relevance. To be sure much was specific to Vietnam, but by substituting the words Iraq and terrorism for Vietnam and communism, I am made sadly aware of the moral voice squelched in Memphis so long ago. Below are some excerpts with my word changes:
Then came the buildup in [Iraq]and [anti-poverty programs] broken and eviscerated, as if [they] were some idle political plaything of a society gone mad on war, and I knew that America would never invest the necessary funds or energies in rehabilitation of its poor so long as adventures like [Iraq] 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. . . .

This I believe to be the privilege and the burden of all of us who deem ourselves bound by allegiances and loyalties which are broader and deeper than nationalism and which go beyond our nation's self-defined goals and positions. We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for the victims of our nation and for those it calls "enemy," for no document from human hands can make these humans any less our brothers. . . .

[Many Iraqis] 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? . . .

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 [Iraq] 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 [Iraq] 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. . . .

Somehow this madness must cease. We must stop now. I speak as a child of God and brother to the suffering poor of [Iraq]. 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 [Iraq]. 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. . . .

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 [Iraq], that we have been detrimental to the life of the [Iraqi] 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 [Iraq], we should take the initiative in bringing a halt to this tragic war. . . .

Five years ago [John Kennedy] said, "Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable." 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.


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