Listen to Dr. Martin Luther King
Recently we celebrated the 50th anniversary of Dr. King's speech in Washington, D.C. in which he spoke of his dream of a post-racial America.
Today, we would do better to pay attention to Dr. King's speech given four years later at The Riverside Church in New York City to an organization of clergy and lay leaders who were firmly opposed to the war in Vietnam.
Sadly, American leaders have learned nothing from the experience in Vietnam.
Let me quote some passages from Dr. King's anti-war speech:
“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 -- 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. .. “
It is with such activity in mind that the words of the late John F. Kennedy come back to haunt us. Five years before he 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” Dr King said, “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, extreme materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.”
After withdrawing from Iraq defeated and planning to leave another defeat behind in Afghanistan, we are now getting more and more deeply involved in the series of revolutions taking place in the Near East. Our leaders, regardless of political party, have not understood the “far deeper malady within the American spirit” that Dr. King diagnosed as Western corporations “ 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. . .”. They have been unable to see that malady because we live in a “thing-oriented society. . . [rather than] a person-oriented society. ”
Intent as ever, our leaders are continuing their campaigns to try to create stable governments, currently in the Near East, in order to assure safety to the investments of American corporations, regardless of the cost in human lives and misery of those campaigns. They have continued to conceal that campaign behind moralistic talk about the “moral obscenity” of using poison gas. They continue to lie to their own citizens and thereby betray their continued advocacy of democracy to be no more than a cynical public relations move.
You can be sure that when the 50th anniversary of Dr. King's Riverside Church speech rolls around, there is not going to be a national celebration. We like Dr. King as our beloved dreamer and remain silent about Dr. King the harsh critic who calls for a “radical revolution of values.”