The government of the United States of America is still, as Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, the “greatest purveyor of violence in the world today.” President Obama, who was inaugurated for a second term today, and his administration have done little in contrast with this devastating, horrific legacy. In fact, they have a horrendous foreign policy and human rights record.
Need I mention the number of Afghans who have been killed in the over-a-decade-long occupation of Afghanistan? Need I talk about Iraq and Libya? Need I mention how the number of drone strikes, which have killed hundreds of civilians, has dramatically increased under Obama? What about torture? What about extraordinary rendition? What about indefinite detention? What about how the Obama administration invokes “state secrets privilege” to dismiss lawsuits on national security grounds? What about Obama’s unprecedented attacks on whistleblowers? What about Obama’s “kill list”? What about the Obama administration’s claiming the power to assassinate anyone in the world, including U.S. citizens, without even charging them with a crime?
What would Martin Luther King, Jr. say about the Obama administration’s violence?
Imagining an answer to that question, and in honor of King’s birthday, which is commemorated today, I offer this speech “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence” (see excerpt below), which he delivered April 4, 1967 at Manhattan’s Riverside Church:
“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.
A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it is not haphazard and superficial. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring. A true revolution of values will soon look easily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth. With righteous indignation, it will look across the seas and see individual 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 say: This is not just.” It will look at our alliance with the landed gentry of Latin America and say: ” This is not just.” The Western arrogance of feeling that it has everything to teach others and nothing to learn from them is not just. 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.
America, the richest and most powerful nation in the world, can well lead the way in this revolution of values. There is nothing, except a tragic death wish, to prevent us from re-ordering our priorities, so that the pursuit of peace will take precedence over the pursuit of war. There is nothing to keep us from molding a recalcitrant status quo until we have fashioned it into a brotherhood.”
John Madera is the author of Nervosities (Anti-Oedipus Press, 2024). His other fiction is published in Conjunctions, Salt Hill, The &Now Awards 2: The Best Innovative Writing, and many other journals. His nonfiction is published in American Book Review, Bookforum, The Review of Contemporary Fiction, Rain Taxi: Review of Books, The Believer, The Brooklyn Rail, and many other venues. Recipient of an M.F.A. in Literary Arts from Brown University, New York State Council on the Arts awardee John Madera lives in New York City, Rhizomatic and manages and edits Big Other.