From the media to politicians to education and history books, Martin Luther King is revered as the civil right hero and martyr, but he actually had a much broader understanding of the political and economic complexities of American society. And the same media that today celebrate him, then condemned him for it.
Alternet has an interesting article on King’s political views and speeches in his last year, which not only show a much more radical King but also his silencing by the media, including the so-called liberal one. In 1967 and 68, mainstream media saw Rev. King a bit like they now see Rev. Jeremiah Wright. The only difference between between then and now are the methods: back then they denounced King’s critical comments; today they simply cover them with a blanket of silence.
King did not just criticise the Vietnam War but he decried U.S. militarism in general: “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”, he said in a 1967 speech against the Vietnam War. “God didn’t call America to engage in a senseless, unjust war … We’ve committed more war crimes almost than any nation in the world.” And in the same speech he also criticised the economic underpinnings of the American system, railing against “capitalists of the West investing huge sums of money in Asia, Africa and South America, only to take the profits out with no concern for the social betterment of the countries.” And Martin Luther King spoke out against the three evils of American society, “racism, economic exploitation and militarism”, and he did so because he was in his own words “disappointed” in America.
While today’s media never make reference to any of these of his views that go beyond civil rights issues, the reactions of the media in the 60s were furious – despite the obvious fact that wars always hit the poor the hardest, both financially and in terms of lives lost, or that America’s ‘wars for freedom’ stand in stark contrast to the lack of freedom and racial equality it practices on its own bounds. Rather than admitting those truths, he was attacked by the New York Times for drawing links between the civil rights and anti-war movements. Rather than reflecting on the strange contradiction between the media praising the non-violence of the civil rights movement and justifying the violence of killing innocent civilians abroad, Newsweek accused him of being part of a race conscious minority that wanted to dictate US foreign policy. Rather than acknowledging his statement that “there can be no true disappointment if there is no true love” for his country, Life magazine described the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize winner as a communist pawn who advocated “abject surrender in Vietnam”. And in a nation that sees its values grounded in a religion which has its ‘saviour’ bringing the ‘good news’ of peace and justice for all, the Washington Post got the top score for arrogance when patronizingly shooting down the messenger: “King has diminished his usefulness to his cause, to his country, and to his people.”
Thankfully, we now have the Internet as an information source, even though it requires the ability to critically ask the right questions in the first place that most people unfortunately don’t possess. For those though that do, answers are available – like the deeply moving excerpts of the above quoted sermon at the Ebenezer Baptist Church on April 30, 1967 (on the YouTube clip below) or the stirring article at CommonDreams on the Declaration of Independence from the War in Vietnam, delivered by King in April 1967 at the Manhattan Riverside Church.
Both are exemplary accounts of the passion and deep convictions Martin Luther King held for what he saw was the true message of the Ministry of Christ. And while the media would not argue against this interpretation, it nevertheless (driven by political and economic expediency and other system constraints) was and still is not willing to support his call for a radical overhaul of our contradictory value system to establish one of wisdom, justice and love. So, one can only hope that non-mainstream information will slowly lead to a better understanding of history as well as reminding us of and inspiring us to developing humane, just and peaceful perspectives on alternatives to our current hypocritical and violent world order.
Martin Luther King: “Why I Am Opposed to the War in Vietnam” – words spoken in 1967 whose relevance is still the same 30 years later, because neither America nor the rest of the western world has learned the lesson.