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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.
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