[Kevin Bangs Head on Table Repeatedly]

by Kevin Jon Heller

I am very rarely rendered speechless, but this appropriation of Martin Luther King by the Air Force Global Strike Command Programming Division (nearly) did the trick:

The Department of Defense is a leader in equal opportunity for all patriots seeking to serve this great nation. . . The vigilant warriors in AFGSC understand they are all equal and unified in purpose to provide a safe, secure and effective deterrent force for the United States. . .

Dr. King would be proud to see our Global Strike team – comprised of Airmen, civilians and contractors from every race, creed, background and religion – standing side-by-side ensuring the most powerful weapons in the U.S. arsenal remain the credible bedrock of our national defense. . . Our team must overlook our differences to ensure perfection as we maintain and operate our weapon systems. . . Maintaining our commitment to our Global Strike team, our families and our nation is a fitting tribute to Dr. King as we celebrate his legacy.

It is a wonderful thing that the US military is desegregated.  And the military deserves credit for so rapidly adjusting to the end of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”  But to say that maintaining the strength of the US military is a “fitting tribute” to Dr. King is simply perverse.  I can’t do better than Glenn Greenwald, who wrote a great post yesterday about the phenomenal speech Dr. King gave at Riverside Church in NYC on 4 April 1967 condemning US militarism and advocating refusal to serve in the military.  I’ll simply offer a few paragraphs from the speech about the US’s “liberation” of Vietnam:

They must see Americans as strange liberators. The Vietnamese people proclaimed their own independence in 1945 after a combined French and Japanese occupation, and before the Communist revolution in China. They were led by Ho Chi Minh. Even though they quoted the American Declaration of Independence in their own document of freedom, we refused to recognize them. Instead, we decided to support France in its reconquest of her former colony.

Our government felt then that the Vietnamese people were not “ready” for independence, and we again fell victim to the deadly Western arrogance that has poisoned the international atmosphere for so long. With that tragic decision we rejected a revolutionary government seeking self-determination, and a government that had been established not by China (for whom the Vietnamese have no great love) but by clearly indigenous forces that included some Communists. For the peasants this new government meant real land reform, one of the most important needs in their lives.

For nine years following 1945 we denied the people of Vietnam the right of independence. For nine years we vigorously supported the French in their abortive effort to recolonize Vietnam.

Before the end of the war we were meeting eighty percent of the French war costs. Even before the French were defeated at Dien Bien Phu, they began to despair of the reckless action, but we did not. We encouraged them with our huge financial and military supplies to continue the war even after they had lost the will. Soon we would be paying almost the full costs of this tragic attempt at recolonization.

After the French were defeated it looked as if independence and land reform would come again through the Geneva agreements. But instead there came the United States, determined that Ho should not unify the temporarily divided nation, and the peasants watched again as we supported one of the most vicious modern dictators — our chosen man, Premier Diem. The peasants watched and cringed as Diem ruthlessly routed out all opposition, supported their extortionist landlords and refused even to discuss reunification with the north. The peasants watched as all this was presided over by U.S. influence and then by increasing numbers of U.S. troops who came to help quell the insurgency that Diem’s methods had aroused. When Diem was overthrown they may have been happy, but the long line of military dictatorships seemed to offer no real change — especially in terms of their need for land and peace.

The only change came from America as we increased our troop commitments in support of governments which were singularly corrupt, inept and without popular support. All the while the people read our leaflets and received regular promises of peace and democracy — and land reform. Now they languish under our bombs and consider us — not their fellow Vietnamese –the real enemy. They move sadly and apathetically as we herd them off the land of their fathers into concentration camps where minimal social needs are rarely met. They know they must move or be destroyed by our bombs. So they go — primarily women and children and the aged.

They 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?

The US has a long and ignoble history of believing that its violence — waged so often and so regularly against peoples in the Global South — has the unique power to promote peace.  Dr. King rejected that myth, again and again.  The Air Force’s cynical willingness to use his legacy to celebrate American militarism boggles the mind.

http://opiniojuris.org/2013/01/22/kevin-bangs-head-on-table-repeatedly/

2 Responses

  1. My father knew MLK back when they were in school together at Morehouse College.  I remember how despised he was in the United States during his life.  Now, there is a monument to him on the mall – the only person honored on the mall who did not engage in armed conflict.
    So, yes, this is a bit Orwellian – but that is becoming par for the course.
    We need to reread MLK’s messages against how his words are being used today.  His was a deeply radical vision and he was harassed to no end by the FBI in his life.  There is always an attempt to coopt his memory.
    We have to resist.
    Best,
    Ben

  2. Ben,

    Hear, hear.

    Like militarism, co-optation is a long American tradition. When Paul Ryan — Paul frigging Ryan — can use a Rage Against the Machine song in his campaign, you know words and ideas have lost all meaning.

     

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