I was recently reminded that an anniversary of an important event in our Country’s history had passed. I missed it myself, though I feel like it is important to blog about today. It was the anniversary of Rev. Martin Luther King’s speech on “Why I Oppose the War in Viet Nam”. So much of what Rev. King had to say was prophetic, but perhaps none more so than what he said in that speech.
The roots of his prophecy were planted with the final speech of a Republican President – Dwight Eisenhower. In a tradition consistent with that set by George Washington who warned of establishing an imperial presidency, President Eisenhower warned of the emergence of a “military-industrial complex”. He warned that “every gun manufactured or ship launched is money taking away food for the hungry and shelter for the homeless”. He warned of an economy that would be dependent on war and the dire consequences for our nation and all of mankind.
President Kennedy, was constantly struggling against the demands of the Pentagon and the influence of industries such as Steel and Aerospace in Congress. Some say that he was assassinated for refusing to invade Cuba, negotiating for a test ban treaty and signing an executive order to end our involvement in Viet Nam just 2 weeks before he was murdered. Viet Nam escalated, missile production escalated (even though we had a huge advantage over the Soviets) and profits escalated for the arms industry. President Johnson institutionalized the defense budget into the economy of the United States. It became the official policy of the United States to prioritize the ability to make war over the ability to uplift the poor.
It was against this historical trend and in the midst of the Civil Rights Movement that King took his heroic stance to oppose not only the War in Viet Nam but to the entire military-industrial complex. Popular discontent with the War and the “Great Society” was the historical moment where, as Rev. King put it, the nation lost its soul. One cannot over-estimate the power of the military-industrial complex. Trillions of tax dollars have been paid to them versus a few billions on Americans to lift them out of poverty. Consider this: the last three national figures who publicly resisted the military-industrial complex were assassinated. Since RFK, no candidate for the Presidency has ever proposed cutting the Defense budget.
Today, war is a permanent part of our economy. The “war on terror” is an ongoing process with no definable end. There is a reason why we are at war not with a nation or a person, but a word. We spend more money on defense than the next 16 nations combined (including Russia and China) and American companies are the largest exporters of weapons in the world, yet we spend less per capita on programs of “social uplift” than 60 other countries.
I encourage all of you to listen to King’s speech at the following link, and put his words in the context of our society today. Like the prophets of Israel, it is a prophecy of doom for our Country.