Ever since the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr. was first celebrated
as a national holiday in 1986, the U.S. military has attempted
to co-opt the commemoration by insinuating itself into local activities
around the country, acting as if King's supporters ought to welcome
the tacit endorsement. King himself would be horrified to learn
of this turn of events.
For example, in San Diego various military contingents march
in a MLK parade, military recruiters shadow the parade soliciting
young participants and observers, and a JROTC (Junior Reserve
Officer Training Corps) color guard participates in a MLK breakfast.
Peace activists in other cities report similar instances.
Prior to his assassination, King repeatedly spoke out against
the use of violence to resolve conflicts — which is, of course,
the hallmark of the military.
In particular, King raised his voice against U.S. military conduct
in Vietnam. According to David Garrow in his book Bearing the
Cross, King resolved to help end the war after he viewed pictures
of Vietnamese children maimed by napalm dropped on civilians by
the U.S. military. In 1967 King called the U.S. government "the
greatest purveyor of violence in the world today," according
King also objected to the war because African Americans and other
people of color were dying in disproportionate numbers in Vietnam.
Moreover, many black GIs were being harassed by officers and were
not receiving deserved commendations, reinforcing racial oppression
and economic injustice found elsewhere in society. This tradition
continues in today's military, where people of color are still
more likely to wind up in military prisons and much less likely
to be made officers than whites.
King criticized the racist nature of the military and thereby
linked the issues of civil rights and militarism, much to the
dismay of government officials who henceforth tried to discredit
him. But a popular movement to promote King's ideals succeeded
in overcoming the objections and a national holiday in honor of
King was established.
In a move to appropriate the MLK holiday every year, the military
participates in various events. By doing so, it hopes to obfuscate
King's moral outrage at the crimes against humanity committed
by the military.
Let's honor King by challenging the military institution that
glorifies violence and sends recruiters to MLK celebrations —
and into our high schools. Let's challenge the illegitimate authority
of the Selective Service System — and laws that deny college financial
aid to draft resisters. Let's call for a federal budget that focuses
on education, health, transportation and environmental concerns
rather than building weapons of mass destruction and military
forces that are more than willing to use them.
I have condemned any organizer of war, regardless
of his rank or nationality.
- Martin Luther King Jr., Seeds of Liberation,
This article is from Draft NOtices, the newsletter
of the Committee Opposed to Militarism and the Draft (www.comdsd.org).