Monday, January 16, 2006

How to insult the memory of Martin Luther King

It has always surprised me that our government commemorates Martin Luther King with a national holiday. Today, to be honest, it seems almost like an insult to his memory and to his beliefs. I am glad a few people remembered what King really stood for when they objected to a military aircraft flyover of an MLK day parade in San Antonio. The day should not be a celebration of American military might. A lot of San Antonio Republicans got huffy and more-patriotic-than-thou about it. I makes you want to weep.

On Easter of 1967 I was one of several thousand people who marched against the Vietnam war in the streets of Chicago. Martin Luther King was at the head of that march. All I remember of the march itself is the sparse streetside clumps of sullen and angry white people shouting unfriendly words at us as we went by, and a few American Nazi Party members--who looked slightly crazy and disheveled, like they had been living in their cars in their comic-opera ragtag uniforms--holding up banners questioning our patriotism. I think the actual ideology of these Nazi wannabes would today be mainstream Republicanism, needing only the removal of any references to the Fuehrer and the substitution of "the Commander in Chief" instead, as needed.

King gave a speech after the march in a big cavernous building, some kind of coliseum or armory, I don't remember now, and I was at the back and could hardly see Dr. King, but I could hear him very well; the bad and echoing acoustics of the building somehow complemented King's rolling thunder oratorical style. I don't recall the actual words, but I remember the Moses coming down from the mountain sound of the rhetoric. But I looked his words up today. He called the Vietnam war a "blasphemy against all that America stands for." I am certain he would say the same today with regard to our obscene military adventure in Iraq.

On that Easter in 1967 he must have been preparing for the longer and more famous speech about a week later at Riverside Church in New York City, in which he called America the "greatest purveyor of violence in the world today." Although that was then and this is now, that accusation is still, sadly, correct. He went on to say "It should be incandescently clear that no one who has any concern for the integrity and life of America today can ignore the present war." That seems just as true nearly 39 years later.

Toward the end of the Riverside Church speech he said that we are a people approaching spiritual death if we continue in our unjust wars, our oppression of the poor, our siding with dictators, and if we continue to make property rights more important than people.

It makes me sad, but I am sure the flyover of the San Antonio parade took place as planned today, taking us one step closer to spiritual death as a people.

One thing about King was that he was not afraid of being divisive in the service of the brotherhood of man. I do believe he would have been the first to get in the face of the San Antonio parade planners, and would have joined, and led, the protest against the F16s overhead.

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