Riverside and Memphis

Sunday, April 4 was the 43rd anniversary of the assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. And it was 44 years exactly since Rev. King’s historic speech at Riverside Church in New York declaring his opposition to the War in Vietnam. I’m thinking about the tragic irony of those events. It’s hard not to think there is a connection between them. Dr. King’s Riverside speech brought him instant infamy in the minds of many. The Washington Post and the New York Times, holding opposing opinions about the war, both wrote editorially that Dr. King’s reputation was irrevocably tarnished, and he would never again have moral or political credentials in the civil rights struggle. Around the country (but not around the world, where the war had long been anathema) the tide of condemnation was astonishing. King’s doctrine of non-violent resistance was declared to be in peril as a method of witnessing against the powerful.

But many, myself included, welcomed this speech. Dr. King rightly felt that if he could not hold against that abominable war, he could not in good conscience do the same against injustice to minorities and the poor and powerless. He explicitly linked the prosecution of the war with failure to realize the goals of the war on poverty and the steady decline of the civil rights movement. Dr. King recognized, probably had long recognized, the flourishing of the American Empire.

During the hostilities in Vietnam, the American government consistently championed the “domino effect,” alleging that if Vietnam was “lost to communism” then other nations in Southeast Asia would quickly follow suit. In yet another bitter irony, although perhaps two million Vietnamese lost their lives in the course of the war, there was no domino effect whatsoever, and Vietnam is now a nation, nominally communist, that provides cheap labor to international capitalism. Not only was Vietnam not “lost,” it has been transformed into a capitalist country with an authoritarian government, basically following in the steps of China.

I seriously doubt that Dr. King, who would be 81 now, would be invited or welcome at many of the celebrations held supposedly in his honor each year on Martin Luther King Day.

Leave a Reply

You can use these HTML tags

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>