King marching against the Vietnam War.
I am happy to see that more and more people are giving attention to the actual radical history of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the bastardization of his radicalism by the establishment in its attempt to neuter his lessons in radical activism. That being said, on what would be today his 95th birthday, it is clear the transformative visions he had for the country’s political, religious, social, and economic life are far from realized. As the genocide against Gaza enters its 101st day I think it is important we once again examine this American radicals legacy and how the actions of the United States, Israel, and seemingly the entire Western “civilized” world are completely contradictory to the values he lived by and the values our so called civilized societies claim to adopt.
April 4, 1967, exactly one year from when he would be assassinated, MLK spoke at Riverside Church in New York. This speech, titled “Beyond Vietnam — A Time to Break Silence”, was in opposition to the Vietnam war and how the genocidal killings abroad in Vietnam were apart of the struggle at home that Dr. King had been fighting against all of his life. It is a speech that the doctored version of MLK’s legacy often leaves out for it is filled with narratives that the established order wishes to bury. For instance, here is just one quote from the speech that shows MLK reflecting on the horrors of American foreign policy, horrors that may sound familiar to what we are seeing today.
Dr. King speaking at Riverside Church April 4, 1967.
“Hanoi remembers how our leaders refused to tell us the truth about the earlier North Vietnamese overtures for peace, how the president claimed that none existed when they had clearly been made. Ho Chi Minh has watched as America has spoken of peace and built up its forces, and now he has surely heard the increasing international rumors of American plans for an invasion of the North. He knows the bombing and shelling and mining we are doing are part of traditional pre-invasion strategy. Perhaps only his sense of humor and of irony can save him when he hears the most powerful nation of the world speaking of aggression as it drops thousands of bombs on a poor, weak nation more than eight hundred, or rather, eight thousand miles away from its shores.” — Martin Luther King Jr.
King vehemently spoke out against the atrocities committed by the U.S in Vietnam. The actions of the U.S in Vietnam echo its actions in foreign policy today, including in its relationship with Israel and its collaboration in the genocide against the Palestinian people.
On Trial for Genocide
International Court of Justice hearing South Africa’s case.
After nearly 100 days of gross violence against the civilian population of Gaza, one country finally has had enough and has taken to international law for some attempt at holding the murderers accountable. South Africa has taken a case to the ICJ (International Court of Justice) accusing Israel of genocide against the Palestinian people. Their case, to anyone with eyes and ears, recounts the enumerable war crimes committed by Israel against Gaza which include: Planned starvation, destruction of water sanitation plants, shutting down internet and power, displacing over 2 million people inside of an open air concentration camp, bombing everything from hospitals to bakeries, the list is exhaustive and never ending.
Will this case amount to much? Not likely, even given the overwhelming evidence. No, like Dr. King astutely pointed out, America will lie about the overtures of peace from those who are sane. It will bribe the ICJ to rule against the possibility of genocide, or perhaps ignore any ruling altogether. It is still admirable that South Africa has gone to the international courts of law and asserted their humanity. South Africa not along ago was a nation mired by the scourge that is apartheid. That is why those who remember are making sure others will remember this genocide with stark clarity.
Yemen’s Show of Solidarity
Much noise has been made lately by the Yemeni rebel group the Houthis and their capturing of commercial ships in the Red Sea. The Houthis are the de facto ruling entity of Yemen since Saudi Arabia’s equally genocidal campaign began in 2014, a war that is funded and enabled by the United States as well. Yemenis are facing one of the greatest humanitarian crises in the world imposed on it by the U.S and its allies. Despite this the Yemenis are the ones capturing ships in solidarity with Gaza. The Houthis have explicitly said that this is their reasoning. That they will capture and disrupt ships in solidarity with the Palestinian people until the genocidal assault against Gaza has ended. Yemen, facing its own existential threats, has made a show of solidarity when no other country has. Yemen, like South Africa, understands what it means to face genocidal threats and what it means to stand against them.
Actions of the USA
The U.S has acted as though its hands are tied with regards to Israel’s latest murderous campaign against Palestinians. Even though Israel could not functionally survive without U.S financial and military support, the U.S State Department acts as though Israel is its own entity. This veneer of incapability is dropped quickly with the latest strikes against the Houthi rebels in the Red Sea. To stop Israel’s genocide against Gaza is out of our power, but thwarting the capture of commercial shipping vessels is well within our reach. It is disgusting. 10,000 + children have been murdered. 25,000+ civilians. A whole percent of the population of Gaza has been obliterated. The U.S makes a parade of MLK in the culture. Unbeknownst to most, his true legacy as a radical is covered up. He is made a puppet of imperial interest. A black face for empire. Those who see clear see his legacy in speeches like “Beyond Vietnam”. They see the acts of South Africa and the Houthis as extensions of his philosophy outlined in these speeches. They see the acts of the United States remain in an evil stagnant way, as the words used by King to describe the crimes in Vietnam ring so true to the crimes we see perpetrated against Palestinians today.
I’ve Been to the Mountaintop
On April 3, 1968 whilst on a campaign to organize black sanitation workers outside Memphis, Tennessee, MLK made a speech at Mason Temple that is now titled “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop.” Aptly titled, this would be MLK’s final speech as he was shot the following day. MLK speaks with a tone fraught with danger reminiscent of corrido star Chalino Sanchez reading his death note before performing a final rendition of his “Alma Enamorada”. Hours before his plane had been subject to a bomb threat. Undeterred, MLK made it a point to show that he was not fearful, that he had “been to the mountaintop.” I’d like to end with a quote from this speech to remind us all what it means to stand for the downtrodden and oppressed. Sometimes this fight will cost us everything. That is the price of bearing witness and seeking justice.
“And then I got to Memphis. And some began to say the threats, or talk about the threats that were out. What would happen to me from some of our sick white brothers? Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn’t matter with me now. Because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land” — Martin Luther King Jr.
Mural of Shireen Abu Akleh, a longtime Al Jazeera journalist who was shot and killed by an IDF sniper, a fact which was denied by Israel for many months.
This article was produced by Medium.