By Matthew Rothschild on January 16, 2011

I was watching the great Green Bay Packers game Saturday night, and at half time there was a presentation of colors. The honor guard was representing, we were told, the men and women in uniform who are protecting us in 177 countries around the world.

177 countries?

As we celebrate the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr., that one fact tells you just how badly we’ve failed to put into practice the vision of Dr. King.

That fact of troops in 177 countries confirms that we are still “a society gone mad on war,” as Dr. King noted in his magnificent speech at Riverside Church entitled, “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence,” on April 4, 1967, a year to the day before he was assassinated. (All the quotes that follow are from this speech of King’s, his most profound and radical one.)

That fact of troops in 177 countries confirms that we have yet to have the “true revolution of values” that will make us “say of war: ‘This way of settling our differences is not just.’ ”

That fact—along with Bush’s war in Iraq and Obama’s war in Afghanistan and the U.S. supplying two-thirds of the global arms trade--confirms that we are still “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today.”

That fact confirms that we still have failed to embrace “allegiances and loyalties which are broader and deeper than nationalism.”

King said, “Our loyalties must become ecumenical rather than sectional. Every nation must now develop an overriding loyalty to mankind as a whole…a worldwide fellowship that lifts neighborly concern beyond one’s tribe, race, class, and nation.” And so he talked of being “a citizen of the world.”

But we are as nationalistic as ever in this country today.

And the fact that we have troops in 177 countries means that we are “approaching spiritual death” because we as a nation continue “year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift.”

And the fact that we have troops in 177 countries means that we are an empire, and that we are still “refusing to give up the privileges and the pleasures that come from the immense profits of overseas investment.” Dr. King denounced in this speech the “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.”

That is still going on today, and it goes by the fancy name of “globalization,” but it’s the same old neo-imperialism.

Today, with troops in 177 countries, we still wrestle with “the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism.”

And today, with troops in 177 countries, we still have a “glaring contrast of poverty and wealth.” Actually, it’s even more glaring than when King spoke 44 years ago.

Dr. King urged us to have a “radical revolution of values.”

But with troops stationed in 177 countries, that revolution seems more distant than ever.

And note: President Obama on the campaign trail liked to quote a phrase from Dr. King’s Riverside speech, though he didn’t identify the speech itself. That phrase was “the fierce urgency of now.”

But Obama’s “fierce urgency of now” was not well defined, much less acted upon. Dr. King was clear, however: The urgency was about choosing between “nonviolent coexistence or violent co-annihilation.”

We have not yet made that choice.

And Obama has not made that choice.

In fact, he went to Oslo to accept the Nobel Peace Prize, where he invoked King’s name but then quarreled with him and came out defending war.

So, today, the United States has troops in 177 countries. And that’s nothing to celebrate on Martin Luther King Day.

If you liked this story by Matthew Rothschild, the editor of The Progressive magazine, check out his story "Obama’s Wisdom a Comfort in Tucson."

Follow Matthew Rothschild @mattrothschild on Twitter

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By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.


Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).

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