Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Not much has changed

On Monday, in true spirit of the holiday, I listened to Martin Luther King, Jr.'s speech "Beyond Vietnam." Although - as you might infer from the title - Dr. King was speaking of Vietnam and the ill-begotten notions of war justifications, the speech uncannily portrays what is going on in our days. Simply replace "Vietnam" with a litany of words - terrorism, Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, North Korea, and on... and on... As many of you may know, I am borderline obsessed with promoting peace. Dr. King's speech is so moving and rings so true, reminding me that there is something to fight for.

In his speech, Dr. King talks of the war in Vietnam (which we can replace with more relevant issues) as being "but a symptom of a far deeper malady within the American spirit." If we ignore {Vietnam}, we will only find ourselves dealing with the next Vietnam. If we are listless, refusing to act, the US will grow concerned with one country after the next. He warns that "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." John F. Kennedy said, "Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable." This is the role our nation has assumed time after time.

King states: "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 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, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.
"A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies. On the one hand we are called to play the good Samaritan on life's roadside; but that will be only an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life's highway. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it is not haphazard and superficial. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring. A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth. With righteous indignation, it will look across the seas and see individual capitalists of the West 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, and say: "This is not just." The Western arrogance of feeling that it has everything to teach others and nothing to learn from them is not just. A true revolution of values will lay hands on the world order and say of war: "This way of settling differences is not just." This business of burning human beings with napalm, of filling our nation's homes with orphans and widows, of injecting poisonous drugs of hate into veins of people normally humane, of sending men home from dark and bloody battlefields physically handicapped and psychologically deranged, cannot be reconciled with wisdom, justice and love. A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death."

He goes on to emphasize that this positive revolution of values will be the proverbial sword hanging over communism. We will never defeat the forces of communism, terrorism - whatever we believe America is fighting for today - by weilding physical power via guns, bombs, and torture. "These are days," Dr. King says, "which demand wise restraint and calm reasonableness." Instead, lack of education and ignorance breed hatred toward people we have never met, causing us to act in irrational ways. Our best weapons for peace, so to speak, are actions to ameliorate those very conditions in which negative forces thrive: poverty, illteracy, injustice, and insecurity. "Communism [terrorism] is a judgement against our failure to make democracy real and follow through on the revolutions we initiated."

"Therefore, Now let us begin. Now let us rededicate ourselves to the long and bitter -- but beautiful -- struggle for a new world. This is the callling of the sons of God, and our brothers wait eagerly for our response. Shall we say the odds are too great? Shall we tell them the struggle is too hard? Will our message be that the forces of American life militate against their arrival as full men, and we send our deepest regrets? Or will there be another message, of longing, of hope, of solidarity with their yearnings, of commitment to their cause, whatever the cost? The choice is ours, and though we might prefer it otherwise we must choose in this crucial moment of human history."

1 comment:

ashsan said...

thank you so much for this post, heath. I also read this talk on martin luther king day (sisters!. Someone asked me the other day, in great exasperation: "Well, what would YOUR ideal president look like then?!?" And I said, "Martin Luther King." I think that he is better than almost anyone at saying what we all feel under the politics and helping people to transcend the mucky muck policy debates to truly inspire. Imagine if he had been pres! But no, instead we say that the only people who are electable are people with no imagination or people who have to pander it to get attention. and then kucinich and gravel and edwards drop like flies.