Sunday, January 16, 2011

Dr. King and the military-industrial complex

On tomorrow's Martin Luther King, Jr. Day holiday, I will repost an essay I wrote a few years ago about Dr. King's real legacy, a legacy that shows him as a much bigger man than the one most Americans. Much like Muhammad Ali, Dr. King is now usually portrayed as a sacharrine figure, with ideas that are largely apolitical and non-controversial. However much like Ali, who famously declared "No VietCong ever called me nigger," the full range of King's beliefs are as controversial today as they were in the late 1960s. Or would be if people actually knew them.

The truth is that while some did indeed hate Dr. King for the color of his skin, many others came to hate him for the content of his character. Many applauded when he preached non-violence in opposition to American apartheid, but made him a hate figure when he expanded that non-violence into opposition to the US aggression against the Vietnamese people and to American militarism more broadly.

But in a poignant coincidence, tomorrow is also the 50th anniversary of Pres. Dwight Eisenhower's farewell address, a speech almost entirely devoted to warning against the danger of the 'unwarranted influence' of the military-industrial complex.

He noted that: This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience [in 1961]. The total influence -- economic, political, even spiritual -- is felt in every city, every State house, every office of the Federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society.

In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.

We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.

Eisenhower made these observations not as a long-haired, anti-establishment troublemaker but as a widely acclaimed war hero and 'as one who has witnessed the horror and the lingering sadness of war' first hand.

Sadly, the nation did not heed Pres. Eisenhower's warnings. The military-industrial complex drew stronger and stronger during the 1960s (and continues of course unchallenged to this day). It's against that plundering of resources, both material and human, that Dr. King devoted his latter days to fighting.

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