(NNPA)—Some will notice that the title of this column comes from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech, “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence,” when he challenged the war then being waged in the name of global anti-Communism that conflicted with fighting the evils of racism, militarism and materialism at home.
These evils still rage today. Racism still presides over the attitudes and actions of many who shoot unarmed Blacks before bringing them to justice, or spit on Black congressmen, calling them the “N-word.” Militarism is still regarded as the ultimate tool by which we regain our revenge and global standing in Afghanistan, and materialism causes many of us not to care about those less fortunate who are growing by the minute in the wake of an economic disaster.
Dr. King spoke out because having won the Nobel Prize for Peace, he considered how that should shape his attitude toward achieving peace, not only at home but abroad as well. His first task was to redefine the work of “civil rights” out of the narrow frame of reference that made his friends and allies in struggle think that “peace” was outside of their parameter and castigated him, and others thought that it excluded him not only from participating in international affairs, but in even understanding the issues involved. King, on the other hand, was fighting for a definition of “civil rights” that encompassed human rights and the enrichment of the human condition around the world. We need to think about that today.
In other words, many people in this country considered civil rights as a problem of Black people, but he was attempting to move it into the moral center of the country. That is important because, as Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr. has often said, today many consider the Civil Rights Movement that is fighting oppression to be on the “left.” But the issues it raises about fixing home foreclosures, unemployment, poverty, and fairly distributing national resources places it in the moral center.
What I think we could not anticipate was that the growth of post-war affluence that built the American middle class would also strengthen a self-centered materialism that would resist the expansion of human rights to other people. Thus, the fight to extend health care to 30 million more people should be a moral calling that should excite rather than annoy us; it raises the contradiction of Tea Partyers and others opposing health care for Americans, moving past the moral question to the political view that it expands the size of government. Why are moral institutions not challenging this?
Today in Iraq and Afghanistan we are regarded by many as the “strange liberators” that Dr. King saw in Vietnam. The civilian casualties of firefights and raids —unintended or not—leave behind a carnage that is not the face of benevolent liberators. Lately, perhaps too late, the Obama administration has sought to blunt the casualties of counter-insurgency warfare to employ tools of economic and social development. If we do not, at some point, reach a stage where the task of human reconstruction outweighs the military campaign, we are creating the next generation of combatants against the United States.
Let me add my voice to those who have concluded that the comparison between President Obama and Dr. King is the wrong one, and that Obama is not the fulfillment of Dr. King’s dream. I would concede that he is one of the shining elements of that fulfillment, but that Dr. King’s dream was focused not on individuals but on the well-being of Black people, the nation and the oppressed around the world.
President Obama himself acknowledged, in his Nobel Prize speech, that he and Dr. King had different roles in history and therefore, different responsibilities. He went on to say that there were times when the use of violence for a righteous (such as 9/11) cause was justifiable and an action that furthered the human condition. I believe that, too. But I also believe that the use of American military power in pursuit of a war in Afghanistan when the force that wounded the U.S. on Sept. 11, 2001 is global, is something of a fallacious exercise in the extended use of resources that could go to human needs and must be questioned.
If America is 35th in health care and in the lower fifth of education globally and failing economically, we are also failing to get on what Dr. King called “the right side of the world revolution.” So, the fierce urgency of now is to adopt his view of “the radical revolution of values” to make it happen.
(Dr. Ron Walters is a political analysts and professor emeritus at the University of Maryland College Park.)