Martin Luther King jr. was more than a spiritual and revolutionary leader. He was, as was the Buddhist leader he quoted in that speech, a prophet. These words relate to the wrongly named “War on Terror” 55 years later. “It is curious that the Americans, who calculate so carefully on the possibilities of military victory, do not realize that in the process they are incurring deep psychological and political defeat. The image of America will never again be the image of revolution, freedom, and democracy, but the image of violence and militarism.”–Buddhist leader in Vietnam.
Martin Luther King Jr. understood history. He said, “These are revolutionary times. All over the globe men are revolting against old systems of exploitation and oppression and out of the wombs of a frail world new systems of justice and equality are being born.”
He went on, “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, extreme materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.”
Knowing that revolution to overturn systems of oppression takes many forms, he did not have a simplistic view of revolution but said in 1967, “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 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.” Think how true that is today as the rate of military suicides climb and the Pentagon budget has skyrocketed–obscene as people everywhere struggle for housing, food and medical care.
A day before his death in 1968, King warned, “We have been forced to a point where we are going to have to grapple with the problems that men have been trying to grapple with through history, but the demands didn’t force them to do it. Survival demands that we grapple with them. Men, for years now, have been talking about war and peace. But now, no longer can they just talk about it. It is no longer a choice between violence and nonviolence in this world; it’s nonviolence or nonexistence.”
Tarak Kauff is the editor-in-chief of Peace and Planet News. He was a paratrooper in the U.S. Army from 1959 to 1962 and is a lifetime member and former board member of Veterans For Peace. He is a longtime activist for peace, justice, and the environment.