THINKING FOR OURSELVES
War and the Economy
By Shea Howell
Michigan Citizen, Jan. 24-30, 2010
The annual celebration of Martin Luther King's birthday is an opportunity for us to re-examine his insights. In following his all-too-short journey from the 1955 Montgomery Bus Boycott to the Memphis hotel balcony in 1968. I am always struck by how his vision of America matured. In the last years of his life, as cities erupted and the war in Vietnam escalated, Dr. King spoke ever more forcefully about the totality of the transformation we need to redeem ourselves as a people.
King pushed us to recognize that war "is but a symptom of a far deeper malady within the American spirit, and that if we ignore this reality" we will become a nation committed to perpetual war. " In his speech against the Vietnam war, he said, " 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. When machines and computers, profit and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered."
King was wrestling with the reality that we had developed a way of living that requires us to pursue war to preserve it. He understood that we had become "the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today." Such violence not only destroys people in other places but also poisons us, making violence at home as normal as violence abroad.
In one of the least-often quoted sections of his anti-Vietnam war speech, Dr. King talked about the brutalizing effects of war, especially on those asked to fight it. He said, "I am as deeply concerned about our troops …For it occurs to me that what we are submitting them to … is not simply the brutalizing process that goes on in any war where armies face each other and seek to destroy. We are adding cynicism to the process of death, for they must know after a short period there that none of the things we claim to be fighting for are really involved. Before long … the more sophisticated surely realize that we are on the side of the wealthy and the secure while we create hell for the poor."
The depth of Dr. King's understanding of the crisis of America is in stark contrast to the shallowness that dominates most discussion today. After nearly a decade of wars now being carried out in four nations, ten years of growing economic inequalities, increasing poverty and the near collapse of major financial institutions, there has been very little effort to connect the depth of the crisis we face at home to our ever-expanding military efforts abroad.
We have allowed our thinking to become fragmented and segmented. We talk of war in tactical terms, almost obsessed with winning and losing, only occasionally noticing that we don't know what either of those conditions would look like. We talk of the economic crisis in terms of bailouts, bonuses, foreclosures, and, occasionally, increasing poverty. At most we connect the two in the most superficial ways, noting that the money we spend without question for war could be spent for schools.
Dr. King asks us to look more deeply at what happens to a nation that uses its resources to create death for the protection of wealth.
Such decisions, he tells us, "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." King's challenge to connect Peace with Justice is still before us.