Monday, January 21, 2008

MLK: On the Impact of War

I didn't get the day off today - I like to think that I celebrated Dr. King's birthday in a way the man himself would have approved: working at my job, on a project to benefit the public.

But it's worth a moment to reflect on the man and his meaning. Here's some selections from Dr. King's speech "On the Domestic Impact of War", given in November, 1967."Now what are some of the domestic consequences of the war in Vietnam? It has made the Great Society a myth and replaced it with a troubled and confused society. The war has strengthened domestic reaction. It has given the extreme right, the anti-labor, anti-Negro, and anti-humanistic forces a weapon of spurious patriotism to galvanize its supporters into reaching for power, right up to the White House. It hopes to use national frustration to take control and restore the America of social insecurity and power for the privileged. When a Hollywood performer, lacking distinction even as an actor can become a leading war hawk candidate for the Presidency, only the irrationalities induced by a war psychosis can explain such a melancholy turn of events."

Sound familiar? Here's some more:

"Second, the government will resist committing adequate resources for domestic reform because these are reserves indispensable for a military adventure. The logical war requires of a nation deploy its well fought and immediate combat and simultaneously that it maintain substantial reserves. It will resist any diminishing of its military power through the draining off of resources for the social good. This is the inescapable contradiction between war and social progress at home. Military adventures must stultify domestic progress to ensure the certainty of military success. This is the reason the poor, and particularly Negroes, have a double stake in peace and international harmony. This is not to say it is useless to fight for domestic reform, on the contrary, as people discover in the struggle what is impeding their progress they comprehend the full and real cost of the war to them in their daily lives.

And finally the whole nation is living in a triple ring of isolation and alienation. The government is isolated from the majority of the people who want either withdrawal, de-escalation, or honest negotiation. Not what they now given, steady intensification of the conflict. In addition to the isolation of the government from its people there is our national isolation in the world. We are without a single significant international ally. Every major nation has avoided active involvement on our side. We are more alone than we have been since the founding of the Republic. Lastly, and more ironically, we are isolated from the very people whom we profess to support, the South Vietnamese.

The war that began with a few thousand Americans as advisors has become almost totally an American war without the consent of the American people. This is an historic isolation that can not be rationalized by self righteousness or the revival of unproved dangers of imminent aggression from China. China's incredible internal turmoil suggests it presently threatens only itself. The war domestically has stimulated a profound discussion of the nature of our government. Reported members of Congress and distinguished political scientists are questioning the trend towards excessive executive power."

We forget, because of his status as a martyr, that Martin Luther King, Jr., was a leader and a politician, often a brilliant political leader. He saw then what none of our "leaders", including most of the candidates running for President this year, are willing to admit: that regardless of the potential costs of "defeat" in our Middle Eastern wars, the cost of "victory" will likely be higher. Too high, perhaps, for our Republic to bear. And remain a Republic.

And then there's the financial axe poised to fall tomorrow...

We certainly live in uneasy times.


Carolyn said...

The speech is brilliant, isn't it? Very a propos.
I agree, we're all in worrying times.

Seema said...

People should read this.