Monday, January 19, 2009
Martin and Barack
On this day of remembrance of Martin Luther King, I remember that in his final years Dr. King worked for economic justice for minorities.
Near the end of his life he pointed out that the Johnson Administration had shifted its focus from fighting its "War of Poverty" to waging a war in Vietnam.
A year before he was gunned down in Memphis (he was there to support a strike of sanitation workers), Dr. King made a speech in New York at the Riverside Church in which he discussed the connection between spending on the two wars.
At that time, Dr. King said:
There is...a very obvious and almost facile connection between the war in Vietnam and the struggle I and others have been waging in America. A few years ago there was a shining moment in that struggle. It seemed that there was a real promise of hope for the poor, both black and white, through the Poverty Program. There were experiments, hopes, and new beginnings.
Then came the build-up in Vietnam. And I watched the program broken as if it was some idle political plaything of a society gone mad on war. And I knew that America would never invest the necessary funds or energies in rehabilitation of its poor so long as adventures like Vietnam continued to draw men and skills and money, like some demonic, destructive suction tube.
And you may not know it, my friends, but it is estimated that we spend $500,000 to kill each enemy soldier, while we spend only fifty-three dollars for each person classified as poor, and much of that fifty-three dollars goes for salaries to people that are not poor. So I was increasingly compelled to see the war as an enemy of the poor, and attack it as such.
We spend $500,ooo to kill an enemy soldier and $53 to fight poverty in America.
I don't know how today's spending priorities compare to those of 1967, but I would guess they're in the same ball park. We seem today to be in the same predicament we were 41 years ago.
If he were here today, 80 year old Martin Luther King would encourage us to reflect on to what degree we've become a society gone even more mad on war.
And as we look ahead to tomorrow, when The United States opens a new chapter of hope (after eight years lost to fear), let us reflect upon how we might heal our madness and encourage our leaders to build our national security by peaceful means.
We could begin by reversing our priorities and spending more on economic justice and less on wars of choice. We need, as Martin did, to see war as an enemy of the poor and attack it as such.