It is said when a righteous man lives in a society full of evil deeds and he refuses to condemn it, he bears responsibility for the actions of the evil doers. That is why it is incumbent upon all of us to speak against the crimes in our various societies. Although we can dispute the existence of God and Satan, none of us can dispute the existence of good and evil.
The reverend Dr Martin Luther King Jr. was the leader in the Civil Rights Movement (CRM) in the United States. King was best known for his oratory skills. The ‘I Have a Dream’ speech he delivered during a peaceful march in Washington D.C. on August 28, 1963, to advance the cause of minority racial groups in the country, is considered the greatest speech in history.
His advancement of civil rights for minority groups in the United States was based on the tenet of nonviolent civil disobedience. Dr King never encouraged people to use force to get what is due to them. Instead, he preached for peace and love, believing that they are the powerful tools humans can use to settle their differences.
During the prime time of King in the CRM, the United States was in Vietnam, fighting. The Korean War had ended in armistice on July 27, 1953. Exiting Korea, the United States was planning another war in Southeast Asia, unable to stay away from fighting.
In November 1, 1955, a little over two years when the United States left Korea, it jumped into Vietnam. By the 1960s, President Lyndon B. Johnson had escalated the United States presence in Vietnam. The Communist-controlled north sustained aerial bombardment from the United States Air Force (USAF). All kinds of deadly weapons were used in North Vietnam. Chemical weapons, including Agent Orange, poisonous herbicides, napalm, and fleshettes were used by the USAF in Vietnam.
The sheer brutality of the use of chemical weapons and heavy bombs is reflected in the opinion of the then Chief of Staff of the USAF, Curtis LeMay who said “we’re going to bomb them back into the Stone Age.”
In the year 1967 alone, the USAF conducted over 2,000 weekly bombing campaigns in Vietnam. The total bombing that year stood at 15 million tons of explosives. In fact, by the time the United States withdrew from Vietnam, the country had dropped three times the total tonnage of bombs used in World War II. In neighboring Laos, the United States dropped 2.5 million tons of munitions, seven bombs for every Laotian.
At the least, three million Vietnamese civilians died in the war. The Vietnamese depended, and still depend heavily on agriculture for their livelihood. The poisonous bombs destroyed their water, land, livestock and crops. This devastating impact is still felt in Vietnam today.
While the United States carried out the atrocities in Vietnam, Dr King had remained silent – even until the point young men were forcefully drafted into the army to fight in the Vietnamese War. Unbeknownst to many people, King was preparing to speak at the right time against the war. When the right time finally came, King spoke beyond the war, revealing what was fueling it — greediness among both the political and economic establishments of the United States.
On April 4, 1967 at New York’s Riverside Church, Dr King delivered a talk titled ‘Beyond Vietnam: A Time To Break the Silence’. He spoke directly against the war, reminding the gathering how the Vietnamese were suffering.
“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 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…Now there is little left to build on, save bitterness,” King told the congregation.
Dr King’s entry into the anti-war movement was both lyrical and decisive. He did not merely speak against the war on moral grounds. The war, he argued, would divert the energy of the United States from the promise of the Civil Rights movement. Precious public funds were being moved from tending to the American poor to warfare.
The war must end, Dr King said, and to bring it to an end, those who had been drafted must object. They must not go to war. The war machine must be paralyzed. The working-class that is forced to go fight the war of the rich must demand that the resources go toward their own broken lives. This was a powerful statement and echoes in our current times.
King said the United States – as the leader of global capitalism – wanted to suffocate the aspirations of Americans and the rest of the world. According to King, the greed of the country would break the spirit of humanity, and would be a difficult trend to reverse once the harm is done.
He said: “When machines and computers, profits 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 this speech, Dr King became a primary target for secret agents. He was constantly monitored. King was shot dead on April 4, 1968 in Memphis, Tennessee. He was murdered by the government for speaking the truth. The speech itself is 50 years old in this month of April. King’s truth then is a truth evident today. The current United States spends over half a trillion dollars on defense, all the while social welfare issues are neglected.
In one of President Johnson’s speeches on the war in Vietnam, he said, “We fight because we must fight.”
Truly, the United States has continued to fight until today. What is the United States really fighting for? Dr King provided the answer in his speech — extreme materialism.
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