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On April 4, 1967, exactly one year before an assassin's bullet took his life, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr delivered a powerful message at Riverside Church in New York City that "War is not the answer." He was discouraged that America seemed to have lost its spiritual way, and called upon the clergy to lead the nation to a rebirth of spiritual values. Dr. King remains one of America's strongest moral voices, and I speak out today to remind us in some of Dr. King's own words of his dreams for peace and justice, as we celebrate his birthday this weekend. I am alarmed that we are again urgently in need of a way beyond the darkness of unjust war. I recommend everyone read his entire speech, of which I only have snippets included here.
Dr King said, "We are deeply in need of a new way beyond the darkness that seems so close around us." He called for a revolution of values. He proclaimed that, "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... a true revolution of values will lay hand on the world order and say of war, 'This way of settling differences is not just...' A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death... We must with positive action seek to remove those conditions of poverty, insecurity, and injustice, which are the fertile soil in which the seed of communism grows and develops...or 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."
Dr. King said in this speech that those in Vietnam must see Americans as "strange liberators," as they "languished under our bombs and considered us, not their fellow Vietnamese, the real enemy." They watch, he said, "as we poison their water, as we kill a million acres of their crops. 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? There is little left to build on, save bitterness." He said much more, very powerfully, of the terrible suffering we inflicted upon the Vietnamese people.
I ask today what the Iraqi people must think of our liberation as we send our best and most patriotic in our names to bomb their cities, and destroy their economy, privatize their precious national resources for international auction, poison their land forever with depleted uranium, and terrify and infuriate their citizens as we kick down their doors at night, torture their now unemployed brothers and sons in the new gulags as American corporations and hired foreign mercenaries make mighty profits. I do not wonder why they resist, I wonder why so many go so quietly to their national destruction, and why the rest of the world does not step in to stop us.
Dr. King was discouraged that day that even amongst his own followers, so many people did not understand the connection between civil rights and human rights, between deep personal poverty and huge greedy corporations gorging on false nationalism and militarism, or the true power of nonviolence and Love, the central tenet of every major world religion, to solve the urgent problems of civilization and dawn a new day of global peace. Perhaps that very lack of understanding is why, 40 years later, we stand again in urgent need of a new way beyond the darkness.
Maybe we just got tired of the drain on American lives and treasure and finally left Vietnam, but did not in fact nurture Dr. King's call for a rising spirit of Radical Love. Instead we allowed the deep spirit of the movement to languish and sputter and almost drown in a tidal wave of materialism, escapism, and a false globalism that does not consider the real human needs of the people of the world. Again, we have an identified enemy to fear and hate, "radical Islamism" replacing "communism" as the reason brave young Americans must kill and die, and the reason why we cannot take care of Americans drowning in Louisiana and Mississippi, or see to Americans needing health care and a good education, or invest in a vibrant infrastructure of clean energy for power, manufacturing, and transportation that might restore our place as a world leader in scientific innovation.
America is finally awakening again from the deep slumber of the mindless pursuit of personal pleasures to take up the yoke of responsibility for the destruction of people and planet committed in our name to power our pleasure. 70% of Americans oppose gambling further US lives and treasure in an Iraq set ablaze in centuries-old civil strife, addictively bankrupting our country by trying desperately to win back what at least we have lost.
I too have a dream. Imagine a world where America uses her vast resources for peaceful and sustainable development at home and abroad rather than being the schoolyard bully that beats the world up for its bus money. Imagine a world where America is again seen as a beacon of equality, freedom and opportunity, leading the world to a new day of hope and prosperity rather than down the long, dark, and shameful corridors of deep poverty and wars without end. Imagine America dedicating courageous young men and women and national treasure to eliminate the deaths of 30,000 children worldwide every single day of preventable diseases, or to end the epidemic of HIV/AIDS and provide for the care and education of millions of AIDS orphans, and to address the rest of the urgent human needs worldwide instead of waging war. Imagine enough food, clean water, basic education and health care for every human being. "For we hold these truths to be to be self-evident, that ALL men (human beings) are created equal." Just imagine being spiritually alive world leaders!
To paraphrase Dr. King, "Somehow this madness must cease. We must stop now. I speak as a child of God and family to the suffering poor of the Middle East. 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 bear a disproportionate double burden of poverty and death and dismemberment in a distant desert. I speak as a citizen of the world, a world that 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."
Not one more death, not one more dollar, in our name. It is done.
Happy birthday, Dr. King.