Monday, April 04, 2005

37 years ago

John Paul II's politics offered something to make everyone in American politics uncomfortable. He combined political liberalism with countercapitalist compassion for the poor; mixed in opposition to the death penalty and virtually any warfare; and finally condemned anything related to sexual liberation, including abortion and birth control. It's therefore frankly disgusting to watch this complex but coherent legacy get reprised in the rightwing American press as simple anti-Communism. Any attempt to whitewash the man as simply a sexually puritanical neoliberal comes close to a being an unintentionally insipid joke. (Then again, aren't the unintentionally insipid jokes the main reason for reading someone like James Taranto or Jonah Goldberg?)

Such tasteless jokes have, of course, been carried out many times in the history of American political mythmaking, perhaps nowhere more egregiously than in the case of Martin Luther King, who was shot 37 years ago today for his radicalism. Here's an excerpt from a speech, made exactly one year before he was shot, denouncing the Vietnam War:

I come to this platform tonight to make a passionate plea to my beloved nation. This speech is not addressed to Hanoi or to the National Liberation Front. It is not addressed to China or to Russia. Nor is it an attempt to overlook the ambiguity of the total situation and the need for a collective solution to the tragedy of Vietnam. Neither is it an attempt to make North Vietnam or the National Liberation Front paragons of virtue, nor to overlook the role they must play in the successful resolution of the problem. While they both may have justifiable reasons to be suspicious of the good faith of the United States, life and history give eloquent testimony to the fact that conflicts are never resolved without trustful give and take on both sides.

Tonight, however, I wish not to speak with Hanoi and the National Liberation Front, but rather to my fellow Americans. That is at the outset 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 as if there was a real promise of hope for the poor, both black and white, through the poverty program. There were experiments, hopes, new beginnings. Then came the buildup in Vietnam, and I watched this program broken and eviscerated, as if it were 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.

Fighting poverty and fighting wars come pretty close to being an either/or option, which is why militarism and top-down class hatred go together like peanut butter and chocolate.

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