More from the Riverside speech, and “head-on” with the policies and practices of the United States (which was in its “Overthrow” mode before then, during then, and since then….Stephen Kinzer’s book, Overthrow, which I read back in the summer gives historical detail, and James Carroll’s House Of War chronicles the history of the Pentagon and its constant hosting of the struggle between the branches of defense as to which one can create the best PR campaign for “defense” of the nation, and thus get more of the “Pentagon Pie” for their own branch). Anyway, to King:
In 1957 a sensitive American official overseas said that it seemed to him that our nation was on the wrong side of a world revolution. During the past ten years we have seen emerge a pattern of suppression which now has justified the presence of U.S. military “advisors” in Venezuela. This need to maintain social stability for our investments accounts for the counter-revolutionary action of American forces in Guatemala. It tells why American helicopters are being used against guerrillas in Colombia and why American napalm and green beret forces have already been active against rebels in Peru. It is with such activity in mind that the words of the late John F. Kennedy come back to haunt us. Five years ago he said, “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.”
Increasingly, by choice or by accident, this is the role our nation has taken-the role of those who make peaceful revolution impossible by refusing to give up the privileges and the pleasures that come from the immense profits of overseas investment.
I am convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin the shift from a “thing-oriented” society to a “person-oriented” society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.
A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies. On the one hand we are called to play the good Samaritan on life’s roadside; but that will be only an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life’s highway. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it is not haphazard and superficial. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring. A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth. With righteous indignation, it 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.” It will look at our alliance with the landed gentry of Latin America 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.” This business of burning human beings with napalm, of filling our nation’s homes with orphans and widows, of injecting poisonous drugs of hate into veins of peoples normally humane, of sending men home from dark and bloody battlefields physically handicapped and psychologically deranged, cannot be reconciled with wisdom, justice and love. A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.
These “peaceful revolutions” as seen by the powers that be are only recognized as such when they do not impinge upon the “required privileges and advantages” deemed necessary by the dictates of “freedom and liberty” as defined by us. If they threaten any of these underlying “values”, then their revolution is “communist”, “terrorist”, “them vs us”. And year after year, decade after decade, century after century, the American people buy into it. These words of King don’t make it into the “tributes” on MLK day, even though they directly address the biggest problems we face today. Even some of the video sources on King I have viewed have “edited” out various portions of King’s references to Christ or the church. Last night I read this, in a later speech from the same book of writings and speeches:
if I can help somebody as I pass along, if I can cheer somebody with a word or song, if I can show somebody he’s traveling wrong, then my living will not be in vain. If I can do my duty as a Christian ought, if I can bring salvation to a world once wrought, if I can spread the message as the master taught, then my living will not be in vain.
Yes, Jesus, I want to be on your right side or your left side, not for any selfish reason. I want to be on your right or your best side, not in terms of some political kingdom or ambition, but I just want to be there in love and injustice and in truth and in commitment to others, so that we can make of this old world a new world.
In a made for tv movie that NBC aired in 1978, the above speech was featured but ended where my bold text begins. Was that for brevity and for the sake of editing, or was it a little too “Christian-y” sounding? Was it deemed a little too pietistic or too distinctly Christian? This particular dramatization was better than most in portraying the role of the church in the beginnings of the movement, but still, I react just a bit to the fear of negative associations whenever something sounds a bit too distinctly Christian, and is given a back seat to the more “public square-ready” language. I don’t necessarily oppose the use of such “public square language”, but do certainly oppose the preferential treatment such language gets when used in backing off more distinctly Christian narrative.