Declaration of Independence from the War

Lela Knox Shanks, a local scholar, was the shining star of today's Black History Month African American Read-In at the central library. She performed Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s "Declaration of Independence from the War in Vietnam," a speech first given in April 1967 at Riverside Church in Harlem.

Dr. King's speech is incredibly relevant to the present moment of disastrous American foreign policy. I went to the original text and discovered that Ms. Shanks had done a masterful abridgment that highlighted the common points of these two misbegotten wars. What follows is my attempt to recreate her abridgment.
. . . it became clear to me that the war was doing far more than devastating the hopes of the poor at home. It was sending their sons and their brothers and their husbands to fight and to die in extraordinarily high proportions relative to the rest of the population.

As I have walked among the desperate, rejected and angry young men, I have told them that Molotov cocktails and rifles would not solve their problems. I have tried to offer them my deepest compassion while maintaining my conviction that social change comes most meaningfully through non-violent action. But, they asked, what about Vietnam? They asked if our own nation wasn't using massive doses of violence to solve its problems, to bring about the changes it wanted. Their questions hit home, and I knew that 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.

And as I ponder the madness of Vietnam, my mind goes constantly to the people of that peninsula. They must see Americans as strange liberators. The Vietnamese proclaimed their own independence in 1945. 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.

. . . we increased our troop commitments in support of governments which were singularly corrupt, inept and without popular support.

They watch as we poison their water, as we kill a million acres of their crops. So far we may have killed a million of them, mostly children.

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? Where are the roots of the independent Vietnam we claim to be building?

Now there is little left to build on, save bitterness.

I speak as an American to the leaders of my own nation. The great initiative in this war is ours. The initiative to stop must be ours.

If we continue, there will be no doubt in my mind and in the mind of the world that we have no honorable intentions in Vietnam.

The world now demands a maturity of America that we may not be able to achieve. It demands that we admit that we have been wrong from the beginning of our adventure in Vietnam, that we have been detrimental to the life of her people.

Meanwhile, we in the churches and synagogues have a continuing task while we urge our government to disengage itself from a disgraceful commitment. We must be prepared to match actions with words by seeking out every creative means of protest possible.

A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies. . . .[we] will look across the seas and see 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, and say: This is not just."

The Western arrogance of feeling that it has everything to teach others and nothing to learn from them is not just. A true revolution of values will lay hands on the world order and say of war: "This way of settling differences is not just."

These are revolutionary times. All over the globe men are revolting against old systems of exploitation and oppression, and out of the wombs of a frail world, new systems of justice and equality are being born.

We must move past indecision to action. We must find new ways to speak for peace in Vietnam and justice throughout the developing world, a world that borders on our doors. If we do not act we shall surely be dragged down the long, dark and shameful corridors of time reserved for those who possess power without compassion, might without morality, and strength without sight.

Now let us begin. Now let us re-dedicate ourselves to the long and bitter, but beautiful, struggle for a new world.

*For readability, I have omitted ellipses (. . .) except where a sentence is broken.

Excepted from "Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence. Declaration of Independence from the War in Vietnam" delivered by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr on April 1967 at Manhattan's Riverside Church; Published online on Thursday, January 15, 2004 by CommonDreams.org

Dr. King's dead, yet his speeches could still lay the smack down on 90% of the assholes supposedly representing us in our government today. Sigh. And what about the human fallout from the Vietnam war? I can speak to some of that. My city is populated by a vast assortment of people native to the countries the war destroyed. Their road is still not an easy one, 30 years later. We fuck up their country, we bring them to the US, and we don't begin to approach giving them sufficient tools and resources to cope with our culture/economy/society. And what do we get? A generation fo youth adrift, joining gangs, committing, crimes, living in generational poverty, coping with the fact that they are lumped with people they've historically had a gripe with (to people here the hmong, cambodians, laotians, and chinese all look the same.) --shamless agitator, who for some reason can't log in to Blogger right now...
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