As far as pure theatrics go, Barack Obama’s acceptance speech at the Democratic convention was pretty good: 8,000 screaming admirers tingling at every mention of some vague, impending “change”, while The Candidate lays out a platitude-filled agenda full of “hope” and “progress”, with enough specifics to keep the partisan wonks (and corporate lobbyists) happy. That said, the idea that this speech or Barack Obama are deserving of even being mentioned in the same break as Martin Luther King, to me, is patently offensive.
While Martin Luther King was not without his flaws — what man is? — he backed up his beliefs with actual action, rather than just rhetoric, and took positions that were unpopular at the time, unlike Obama’s tendency to say whatever pleases the audience before him. And while King’s legacy has since been institutionalized and whitewashed (pun intended) to make him out as little more than an opponent of racism, he also in no uncertain terms denounced the imperialistic, murderous policies being pursued by the bipartisan political elite in Vietnam — standing in stark contrast to Obama’s meek criticism of the Iraq war as a strategic — not a moral — error, and his pledge to send more men and women off to die in the Afghan quagmire (among other places).
So while Democratic groupies are busy comparing Obama’s address to King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, consider another speech King gave in 1967 rarely mentioned by the media and political establishment:
I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today — my own government. For the sake of those boys, for the sake of this government, for the sake of hundreds of thousands trembling under our violence, I cannot be silent.
[The Vietnamese] watch as we poison their water, as we kill a million acres of their crops. They must weep as the bulldozers roar through their areas preparing to destroy the precious trees. They wander into the hospitals, with at least twenty casualties from American firepower for one “Vietcong”-inflicted injury. So far we may have killed a million of them — mostly children. They wander into the towns and see thousands of the children, homeless, without clothes, running in packs on the streets like animals. They see the children, degraded by our soldiers as they beg for food. They see the children selling their sisters to our soldiers, soliciting for their mothers.
What do the peasants think as we ally ourselves with the landlords and as we refuse to put any action into our many words concerning land reform? What do they think as we test our latest weapons on them, just as the Germans tested out new medicine and new tortures in the concentration camps of Europe? Where are the roots of the independent Vietnam we claim to be building? Is it among these voiceless ones?
We have destroyed their two most cherished institutions: the family and the village. We have destroyed their land and their crops. We have cooperated in the crushing of the nation’s only non-Communist revolutionary political force — the unified Buddhist church. We have supported the enemies of the peasants of Saigon. We have corrupted their women and children and killed their men. What liberators?
I’ll have more on the specifics of Obama’s speech later this weekend, but for now, read the rest of MLK’s speech and witness what a true opponent of war sounds like.