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Like some demonic, destructive suction tube: Martin Luther King Jr and US militarism Part III

January 20, 2019

In Part I, we looked at Dr. King’s Beyond Vietnam speech, to demonstrate that the civil rights leaders was deeply critical of US militarism. We also look at the ways in which US militarism was impacting the world from the time of his speech in 1967, to the present, looking at what each administration was doing in terms of militarism. 

In Part II, explored the organized resistance movements against US militarism, since Dr. King’s 1967 Beyond Vietnam speech. In particular, we looked at how that organized resistance to US militarism manifested itself in Grand Rapids and when it took place, which should illuminate the contradictions of when anti-militarism organizing occurred.  

In Part III, we want to propose a way to envision resisting US militarism in the future that is intersectional and embraces Dr. King’s notion of redirecting resources from militarism to “programs of social uplift.”

US Militarism impacts everything

One thing that has often been missing from organized resistance to US militarism is a recognition that it impacts everything. Think about it. US militarism is a manifestation of White Supremacy, since it primarily is used against people of color and relies disproportionately on communities of color as soldiers. US militarism abroad is primarily waged against people in Latin America, Asia, Middle Eastern countries and African nations. On the domestic front, black and brown communities are targeted by military recruiters through programs like JROTC and because of the fact that we have an economic draft. An economic draft means that higher percentages of communities of color experience poverty and are therefore more susceptible to joining the military because of a lack of job or higher education opportunities.

US militarism impacts the environment. US military bases generate a tremendous amount of waste and impact eco-systems wherever they exist. US militarism relies on massive amounts of fossil fuels, thus contributing to climate change on a global scale. US militarism in the form of weaponry is a massive destructive force, such that, in addition to killing people, it kills animals, plant life, birds, aquatic life and destroys entire eco-systems because of its destructive nature.

US militarism is also a manifestation of patriarchy. As feminist researcher Cynthis Enloe has documented, wherever a US military base exists, women around the world are used by US soldiers as sex objects, many of whom are forced into sex trafficking.

Another way that US militarism impacts everything is the amount of weaponry that wounds people, thus creating large numbers of people with disabilities. In countries like Vietnam, there are still place were US mines are either killing people or causing them to lose limbs or eyesight or hearing.

US militarism also promotes heterosexism, contributes to agribusiness, is often a form of spiritual violence, since it is endorsed and even promoted by Christianity. In other words, US militarism impacts everything.

So, if we recognize that US militarism impacts everything, then we should also recognize that war and militarism are not just a moral issue, but one that should involved organized resistance by any and all social movements.

If you are part of an environmental group, you should ask yourself if that have as part of their mission to oppose US militarism? If your organization is a feminist organization, does it have as part of its mission the end to US militarism? If you are part of a group that works on anti-racism, then it would follow that resisting US militarism should be part of the platform. Again, the point should be clear, that no matter what issues we work on, part of it should be to oppose US militarism.

A great example of groups that are not explicitly anti-US militarism is the environmental justice movement. This movement has 17 principles and number 15 is, “Environmental Justice opposes military occupation, repression and exploitation of lands, peoples and cultures, and other life forms.” 

These principles of Environmental Justice are rooted in an intersectional analysis, which should govern our own collective work and movements.

How do we move forward?

Recognizing that resisting US militarism should become part of our collective work, while important to acknowledge, is not that practical for people who are most affected by systems of power and oppression. Communities of color, immigrants, queer and disabled people have more immediate and urgent matters to deal with just to survive in this harsh world.

Then there is the reality that of those of us who carry more privilege wanting to see marginalized communities “get involved” in anti-militarism work. This is not only a matter of white, male privilege, it fails to acknowledge that asking marginalized people to join anti-militarism movements is NOT what we should be doing. In fact, the question for those of us who carry a great deal of privilege should ask is, how can we be an ally/accomplice in the struggles of oppressed communities?

Now, if those communities want our solidarity, then we need to avoid white saviorism and practice an ethos of accompaniment and radical solidarity. Second, in our work as allies/accomplices, we will realize that those who are most marginalized have always thought about and resisted US militarism, even if we are not aware of it. But here is the thing, if we stand with those most marginalized by systems of oppression, it provides a cushion for those communities, along with emotional and physical space, to then devote more energy to fighting systems of oppression. Dr. King recognized this dynamic and stated in his Beyond Vietnam speech that, “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.

In fact, there are numerous examples of communities of color resisting US militarism, even being out front in that resistance. We often recognize US soldiers returning from Vietnam to become part of the anti-war movement, but we generally think of white soldiers. However, there were many black, latinx and native soldiers who returned to be part of the anti-war movement and to start other insurgent movements.

For example, some of the early members of the Black Panther Party for Self Defense were former GIs and realized that the police in the US were just a domestic manifestation of US militarism. Robert Williams, who was in the Korean War, joined the NAACP and then organized his community to take up arms for self defense, a decade before the Panthers came on the scene. In addition, many of the hundreds of members of the Deacons of Defense were also former GIs and completely recognized that fighting white supremacy in the US WAS a form of fighting US militarism.

Many of those involved in the Chicano movement, the Brown Berets and the American Indian Movement, were also former GIs, who also used their experience within US imperialism to organize within their own communities against the various ways that US militarism manifests itself across the country. In fact, their efforts to fight colonialism and settler colonialism in what we refer to as the US, was and is a form of resistance to US militarism.

Those of us who are part of the white community tend to see anti-militarism work as opposing specific wars that occur on foreign soil, when in fact US militarism is everywhere and has been and continues to be resisted by marginalized communities. We just don’t see it. So you see, for those of us who identify as white need to continue to learn from communities of color, to do the work of resisting our own role in white supremacy and to learn from the radical history that we celebrate today with Dr. King’s birthday.

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