Seeing the world through the eyes of Dr. King – Part I
The speech, entitled, “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break the Silence,” was revolutionary on many levels. In this speech, which further marginalized him from the Civil Rights community, Dr. King identified what he called the Evil Triplets – racism, capitalism and militarism.
This reflection is the first in a three-part series that looks at the commentary of the Beyond Vietnam speech, the larger body of work by Dr. King and what relevance it has for us today. In other words, if King were alive today, how would he see racism, capitalism and militarism? What would we see if we were to look through his eyes or use the lens of someone who was assassinated because he dared to challenge the systems of power and oppression in the US?
“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 the veins of peoples 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.”
With these words, Dr. King sheds light on several aspects of US militarism and Imperialism. As if wielding a sharp knife, King makes it painfully clear that there is no way to reconcile the realities of war with “wisdom, justice and love.” King points out that the harm done during war is lasting and impacts people on a physical and psychological level. King punctuates this moral discernment about war with the last sentence in this paragraph, in a statement that leaves no wiggle room for apologists of war.
“A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.”
In some ways King speaks to the whole world with this statement, yet it is clear that he is speaking specifically about the US. Such an assessment was haunting then and it continues to be so ever since in the US.
Every US administration since the Johnson administration in 1967, has spent more of the taxpayers money on militarism than on programs of social uplift. I emphasize every, because for some reason in 2016, there are lots of good willed people who think the current administration does not engage in the kind of militarism that Dr. King was condemning in 1967.
Lets look at the facts. The US budget, every year continues to spend more on militarism than anything else. In fact, the US spends nearly as much on militarism as it does on everything else combined. According to the War Resisters League research on the US budget, US military spending is roughly 45% of the budget.
Another resource on US military spending is the National Priorities Project, which has a running counter for numerous aspects of US militarism. If we were to look at the amount of money spent on militarism by the US since 2001, the total as of this posting is $1,633,820,000,000. This is a number that is hard to fathom, so another way of looking at it is that the US government has spent $8.36 million of taxpayers money on militarism every hour since 2001.
However, militarism is more than just money, it involves a larger system of oppression that one could identify as the Military Industrial Complex. But before we look at the details of current US militarism, lets look at other points that Dr. King made in his Beyond Vietnam speech.
“Then came the buildup in Vietnam, and I watched this program broken and eviscerated, as if it were some idle political plaything of a society gone mad on war, and I knew that America would never invest the necessary funds or energies in rehabilitation of its poor so long as adventures like Vietnam continued to draw men and skills and money like some demonic destructive suction tube. So, I was increasingly compelled to see the war as an enemy of the poor and to attack it as such.”
This comment by Dr. King re-enforces what he said earlier, but in a more descriptive way. His words are like a hot knife through butter when he says, “so long as adventures like Vietnam continued to draw men and skills and money like some demonic destructive suction tube.” This is a haunting visual about how US militarism impacts communities all across the country. It’s not just a suction tube, but a demonic suction tube. $8.36 million dollars are being sucked out of our communities every hour to fuel militarism.
So what is all this money being spent on and what does the US Military Industrial Complex look like? The graphic shown here is a good starting point, but it doesn’t provide a real picture of what the Military Industrial Complex looks like on the ground, especially what it looks like around the world.
Currently, the US has roughly 1,000 military bases around the world, with several hundred thousands soldiers, tens of thousands of private contractors (mercenaries), millions of vehicles that negatively impact the countries where these bases are located. The US is currently involved in military actions in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Colombia, parts of North Africa, in Cuba and Mexico. Then there are countries that the US provides weapons, advisors and military training, which number in the dozens.
The Military Industrial Complex includes operations under the guise of the War on Terror and the War on Drugs, which includes other agencies like the CIA, the DEA and the FBI.
On the domestic front, the Military Industrial Complex involves bases, training centers, military recruiters, defense contractors, lobbyists, virtually all members of congress, detention centers, border patrol and the massive advertising budget that is used to convince the public how wonderful the various branches of the US military are.
This last point, about how we are all indoctrinated to embrace the necessity of US militarism can only be counteracted when we exercise our critical thinking skills and see US militarism for what it is. In addition, since US militarism is so deeply entrenched in every facet of US society and culture, we can no longer afford to exclude US militarism in our analysis and actions against any and all systems of oppression – White Supremacy, Capitalism, Heterosexism, Ableism and all forms of ecological destruction.
However, ask yourself, how often does US militarism get connected to other forms of oppression in the US? How often to we employ an intersectional analysis that connects US militarism to police violence against communities of color, the detention and deportation of immigrant communities, rape culture, climate injustice, environmental racism, health disparities or food justice? The links are there, we just need to find them, expose them and act on them.
Making these connections is exactly what Dr. King did. He made it clear in his powerful 1967 speech that the Black Freedom Struggle in the US was directly connected to US militarism. Here is what King had to say:
“My third reason moves to an even deeper level of awareness, for it grows out of my experience in the ghettoes of the North over the last three years — especially the last three summers. As I have walked among the desperate, rejected, and angry young men, I have told them that Molotov cocktails and rifles would not solve their problems. I have tried to offer them my deepest compassion while maintaining my conviction that social change comes most meaningfully through nonviolent action. But they ask — and rightly so — what about Vietnam? They ask if our own nation wasn’t using massive doses of violence to solve its problems, to bring about the changes it wanted. Their questions hit home, and I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today — my own government.”
Again, the clarity of such analysis is sobering. King not only makes the connection between militarism and the struggle that Black and Brown people were engaged in on a daily basis, he called himself out by what he acknowledged in the last sentence. “I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today — my own government.”
Indeed, if Dr. King were alive today, he would still be calling the US government the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today. Maybe it is time we start doing the same.