Thoughts on O-Nauguration Day II and
Obamayahu‘s abject betrayal of the MLK Legacy
The third Monday in January was declared Martin Luther King Day as signed into law by Ronald Reagan in 1983 and first observed in 1986. Whatever our reservations as libertarians to Dr. King’s political oeuvre, most of us will agree that his unique application of the Gandhian nonviolence ethic to civil rights activism and to protesting the US War Machine is balls-out, Bill-of-Rights inspirational. His principled opposition to the Warcrime of Vietnam also undoubtedly got him assassinated by that Machine.
Fast forward to our Drone-Wielding Pakistani Wedding Party Crasher who took the oath of office today and invoked Dr. King’s civil libertarian spirit while swearing allegiance to the Constitution on Dr. King’s personal Bible. If that isn’t the Pictionary definition of blasphemy, what is?
For the remainder of today’s column contributed by several sources indicated in the links, I want to excerpt Glenn Greenwald’s pointed column from Common Dreams as originally published in the UK Guardian. It focuses on the nature of the blasphemy. That is, we now have a president who wholly embraces the unending imperial war agenda of the US federal leviathan while hijacking the legacy of a genuine man of the cloth whose life’s mission was peace and social uplift of those crushed by the state.
MLK’s Vehement Condemnations of
US Militarism are More Relevant Than Ever
by Glenn Greenwald (ref. Common Dreams)
The civil right achievements of Martin Luther King are quite justly the focus of the annual birthday commemoration of his legacy. But it is remarkable, as I’ve noted before on this holiday, how completely his vehement anti-war advocacy is ignored when commemorating his life (just as his economic views are). By King’s own description, his work against US violence and militarism, not only in Vietnam but generally, was central – indispensable – to his worldview and activism, yet it has been almost completely erased from how he is remembered.
King argued for the centrality of his anti-militarism advocacy most eloquently on April 4, 1967, at Riverside Church in New York City – exactly one year before the day he was murdered. That extraordinary speech was devoted to answering his critics who had been complaining that his anti-war activism was distracting from his civil rights work (“Peace and civil rights don’t mix, they say. Aren’t you hurting the cause of your people, they ask?”). King, citing seven independent reasons, was adamant that ending US militarism and imperialism was not merely a moral imperative in its own right, but a prerequisite to achieving any meaningful reforms in American domestic life.
One of the best decisions the US ever made was to commemorate King’s birthday as a national holiday. He’s as close to a prophet as American history offers. But the distance between the veneration expressed for him and the principles he espoused seems to grow every year.
In that speech, King called the US government “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today“, as well as the leading exponent of “the deadly Western arrogance that has poisoned the international atmosphere for so long” (is there any surprise this has been whitewashed from his legacy?). He emphasized that his condemnations extended far beyond the conflict in Southeast Asia: “the war in Vietnam is but a symptom of a far deeper malady within the American spirit.”
He insisted that no significant social problem – wealth inequality, gun violence, racial strife – could be resolved while the US remains “a nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift” – a recipe, he said, for certain “spiritual death”. For that reason, he argued, “it should be incandescently clear that no one who has any concern for the integrity and life of America today can ignore the present war.” That’s because:
“If America’s soul becomes totally poisoned, part of the autopsy must read Vietnam. It can never be saved so long as it destroys the deepest hopes of men the world over.”
Working against US imperialism was, he said, “the privilege and the burden of all of us who deem ourselves bound by allegiances and loyalties which are broader and deeper than nationalism and which go beyond our nation’s self-defined goals and positions.” For King, opposing US violence in the world was not optional but obligatory: “We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy . . . .” The entire speech is indescribably compelling and its applicability to contemporary US behavior obvious. I urge everyone who hasn’t already done so to take the time to read it.
Barack Obama’s grand inaugural ceremony will take place today on the holiday memorializing King’s birthday. Obama will always be linked in history to King because his election (and re-election) as America’s first African-American president is, standing alone, an inspiring by-product of King’s work on racial justice. But this symbolic link has another, less inspiring symbolic meaning:
Obama’s policies are a manifestation of exactly the militaristic mindset which King so eloquently denounced. Obama has always been fond of invoking King’s phrase “fierce urgency of now”, yet ironically, that is lifted from this anti-war speech, one that stands as a stinging repudiation of the continuous killing and violence Obama has spent the last four years unleashing on many countries around the world (Max Blumenthal suggested that Obama’s second inaugural speech be entitled “I have a drone”).
What I always found most impressive, most powerful, about King’s April 4 speech is the connection he repeatedly made between American violence in the world and its national character. Endless war wasn’t just destructive in its own right, but is something that ensures that America’s “soul becomes totally poisoned”, fosters “spiritual death”, perpetuates the “malady within the American spirit”, and elevates “the Western arrogance of feeling that it has everything to teach others and nothing to learn from them.” In sum, to pursue endless war is “to worship the god of hate” and “bow before the altar of retaliation”.
This is the overarching point that drives our current debates about war and militarism through today. The debasement of the national psyche, the callousness toward continuous killing, the belief that the US has not only the right but the duty to bring violence anywhere in the world that it wants: that is what lies at the heart of America’s ongoing embrace of endless war. A rotted national soul does indeed enable leaders to wage endless war, but endless war also rots the national soul, exactly as King warned. At times this seems to be an inescapable, self-perpetuating cycle of degradation.
The way in which “America’s soul is totally poisoned” is evident in virtually every debate over US policies of militarism. Over the weekend, several pro-war national security “experts” argued: “I’d pay closer attention to critics of drone strikes if they explained their recommended alternative.” This is a commonly heard defense of Obama’s drone assaults: I support drones – despite how they constantly kill innocent adults and children – because the alternative, “boots on the ground”, is worse.
Those who argue this are literally incapable even of conceiving of an alternative in which the US stops killing anyone and everyone it wants in the world…. [full Greenwald column]
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