When Dr. Martin Luther King died at the age of 39, he was quite clear about who and what was at the root of human suffering. He believed that “racism, militarism and extreme materialism” were the “giant triplets“ of “interrelated” evil that had to be overcome if society was to be transformed. Dr. King said the United States was host to all three resident evils, and that America reigned as “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world, today.” Forty-six years later, the United States clearly leads the world in all three of Dr. King’s categories of evil. And, we can prove it by the numbers.
It is true that racism is hard to measure, but the effects of racism can be quantified. If a racist government is defined as one that consistently uses its powers in ways that harm a particular racial group, then the U.S. is indisputably the most racist major state in the world. The U.S. prison population is by far the largest on the planet, in sheer numbers and in the proportion of Americans locked up. No other country comes close – which makes the United States the superpower of mass incarceration. America’s police and prison custodial forces dwarf the militaries of most countries – which tells us that militarism is now so deeply embedded in U.S. domestic structures that you can’t tell where the military ends and the police begin. Nearly half of U.S. prisoners are African American, although Blacks are only one-eighth of the total U.S. population. Since Americans make up fully one-quarter of the world’s prison inmates, that means one out of every eight prisoners on the planet is an African American. This could only occur in a thoroughly racist state, whose institutions work overtime to produce the biggest and most racially unbalanced incarceration numbers on Earth. Clearly, America has racism – triple evil number one – covered.
Number two is militarism. The U.S. military budget is almost as large as the military spending of all the world’s other nations, combined. Together, the U.S. and its NATO allies account for more than 70 percent of global weapons spending. At last count, the U.S. spent six times more on war than China, and 11 times more than Russia. In fact, if you count up the U.S. and all of its allies, they are probably responsible for about 90 percent of total moneys spent on war. Therefore, today, 46 years after Dr. King’s death, the United States is not just the greatest purveyor of violence in the world – it is right at the center of just about the totality of militarized violence in the world, today. Which is why a recent international poll shows that the people of the world think the U.S. is the most significant threat to peace.
Finally, the third of the triple evils: extreme materialism. By that, Dr. King meant great disparities in wealth and income. According to the Suisse Global Wealth Databook, wealth is so unevenly distributed in the United States, it no longer resembles a First World country. Of all the rich nations, the U.S. is dead last in terms of material equality.
So, by Dr. Martin Luther King’s measurements, America is in bad shape – more bedeviled by the triple evils than back in his day. In fact, things are much, much worse because…it’s the silence that kills you.
BAR executive editor Glen Ford can be contacted at Glen.Ford@BlackAgendaReport.com.
“The greatest purveyor of violence in the world today: my own Government… I cannot be silent.” – Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
While the insiders in Washington parse the meaning of the paraphrased words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. regarding his own epitaph, his true legacy – the one that many believe led to his murder – has been whitewashed from the King Memorial entirely.
Speaking at the Riverside Church in New York City, exactly one year – to the day – before he was shot and killed in Memphis, Dr. King announced that he was expanding his focus on America’s national shame of segregation to include its international crime of war on the people of Vietnam:
“(I)n the ghettoes of the North over the last three years — especially the last three summers, (a)s 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 nonviolent action. But they ask — and rightly so — ‘what about Vietnam?’ They ask 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. For the sake of those boys, for the sake of this government, for the sake of the hundreds of thousands trembling under our violence, I cannot be silent.”
The King Memorial lists a total of 15 direct quotes and a paraphrase (currently in controversy) from Dr. King’s words; yet, curiously, this particular quote – which ties together the struggle for social and economic justice at home with the actions of the government abroad in an elegant and profound way – did not make the list.
Here are the quotes that appear on the Inscription Wall of the Memorial:
“We shall overcome because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” (16 August 1967, Atlanta, GA)
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.” (1963, Strength to Love)
“I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right, temporarily defeated, is stronger than evil triumphant.” (10 December 1964, Oslo, Norway)
“Make a career of humanity. Commit yourself to the noble struggle for equal rights. You will make a greater person of yourself, a greater nation of your country, and a finer world to live in.” (18 April 1959, Washington, DC)
“I oppose the war in Vietnam because I love America. I speak out against it not in anger but with anxiety and sorrow in my heart, and above all with a passionate desire to see our beloved country stand as a moral example of the world.” (25 February 1967, Los Angeles, CA)
“If we are to have peace on earth, our loyalties must become ecumenical rather than sectional. Our loyalties must transcend our race, our tribe, our class, and our nation; and this means we must develop a world perspective.” (24 December 1967, Atlanta, GA)
“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” (16 April 1963, Birmingham, AL)
“I have the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality and freedom for their spirits.” (10 December 1964, Oslo, Norway)
“It is not enough to say ‘We must not wage war.’ It is necessary to love peace and sacrifice for it. We must concentrate not merely on the negative expulsion of war, but on the positive affirmation of peace.” (24 December 1967, Atlanta, GA)
“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” (25 February 1967, Los Angeles, CA)
“Every nation must now develop an overriding loyalty to mankind as a whole in order to preserve the best in their individual societies.” (4 April 1967, Riverside Church, New York, NY)
“We are determined here in Montgomery to work and fight until justice runs ‘down like water, and righteousness like a mighty stream.'” (5 December 1955, Montgomery, AL)
“We must come to see that the end we seek is a society at peace with itself, a society that can live with its conscience.” (16 April 1963, Birmingham, AL)
“True peace is not merely the absence of tension: it is the presence of justice.” (16 April 1963, Birmingham, AL)
Within the list, there is one quote which deals directly with the Vietnam war, two that deal directly with war, and others that deal, in one way or another, with issues of war and peace in general. One is lifted from the Riverside speech.
Inscribed on the Stone of Hope are two statements – one, a direct quote, the other, the paraphrase of his words that is at the center of the present controversy:
The first, from the “I Have a Dream” speech, is “Out of the Mountain of Despair, a Stone of Hope” – the quotation that serves as the basis for the monument’s design. The words on the other side of the stone read, “I Was a Drum Major for Justice, Peace, and Righteousness,” which is a paraphrased version of a longer quote by King: “If you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice. Say that I was a drum major for peace. I was a drum major for righteousness. And all of the other shallow things will not matter.” The memorial’s use of the paraphrased version of the quote has been criticized (Wikipedia).
Nowhere on the monument is there any mention of Dr. King’s clearly-stated indictment of American foreign policy as being intrinsically evil (above); nor is there any mention that America’s wars are the cause of economic hardship at home:
“There is at the outset a very obvious and almost facile connection between the war in Vietnam and the struggle I, and others, have been waging in America. A few years ago there was a shining moment in that struggle. It seemed as if there was a real promise of hope for the poor — both black and white — through the poverty program. There were experiments, hopes, new beginnings. Then came the buildup in Vietnam, and I watched this program broken and eviscerated, as if it were some idle political plaything of a society gone mad on war, and I knew that America would never invest the necessary funds or energies in rehabilitation of its poor so long as adventures like Vietnam continued to draw men and skills and money like some demonic destructive suction tube. So, I was increasingly compelled to see the war as an enemy of the poor and to attack it as such.”
At the dedication of the King Monument last October, President Barack Obama invoked the words of Dr. King – some of them – without even mentioning war:
“When met with hardship, when confronting disappointment, Dr. King refused to accept what he called the ‘is-ness’ of today. He kept pushing towards the ‘ought-ness’ of tomorrow.
“And so, as we think about all the work that we must do –- rebuilding an economy that can compete on a global stage, and fixing our schools so that every child — not just some, but every child — gets a world-class education, and making sure that our health care system is affordable and accessible to all, and that our economic system is one in which everybody gets a fair shake and everybody does their fair share, let us not be trapped by what is. We can’t be discouraged by what is. We’ve got to keep pushing for what ought to be, the America we ought to leave to our children, mindful that the hardships we face are nothing compared to those Dr. King and his fellow marchers faced 50 years ago, and that if we maintain our faith, in ourselves and in the possibilities of this nation, there is no challenge we cannot surmount.”
Obama even went so far as to impute to Dr. King words that, if the record is any indication, are mere sterile parodies of the words of this Nobel Peace Prize winning minister:
“If he were alive today, I believe he would remind us that the unemployed worker can rightly challenge the excesses of Wall Street without demonizing all who work there; that the businessman can enter tough negotiations with his company’s union without vilifying the right to collectively bargain. He would want us to know we can argue fiercely about the proper size and role of government without questioning each other’s love for this country — with the knowledge that in this democracy, government is no distant object but is rather an expression of our common commitments to one another. He would call on us to assume the best in each other rather than the worst, and challenge one another in ways that ultimately heal rather than wound.”
Not a word about “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today” – this is particularly odd when one considers that the US is now currently involved in more war and destruction, in more places and involving more people, weaponry and expense, than at the time Dr. King uttered those words in 1967.
As to the shared status with the President as a fellow Nobel Peace Prize winner, in contrast to the Commander-in-Chief’s actions over the past three years, Dr. King said:
“I cannot forget that the Nobel Peace Prize was also a commission, a commission to work harder than I had ever worked before for ‘the brotherhood of man.’ This is a calling that takes me beyond national allegiances, but even if it were not present I would yet have to live with the meaning of my commitment to the ministry of Jesus Christ. To me the relationship of this ministry to the making of peace is so obvious that I sometimes marvel at those who ask me why I’m speaking against the war. Could it be that they do not know that the good news was meant for all men — for Communist and capitalist, for their children and ours, for black and for white, for revolutionary and conservative? Have they forgotten that my ministry is in obedience to the One who loved his enemies so fully that he died for them? What then can I say to the Vietcong or to Castro or to Mao as a faithful minister of this One? Can I threaten them with death or must I not share with them my life?”
Quite a different interpretation of the charge that comes with joining the company of other Nobel Peace Prize winners than that demonstrated by the man who sat silent during the siege of Gaza (“Only one President at a time”), expanded the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan into Pakistan, Libya, Bahrain, Syria and, soon, Iran. Could we imagine Dr. King conducting – or sanctioning – a six-month bombing campaign for “humanitarian reasons”? Or might he instead feel compelled to speak out:
“And as I ponder the madness of Vietnam and search within myself for ways to understand and respond in compassion, my mind goes constantly to the people of that peninsula. I speak now not of the soldiers of each side, not of the ideologies of the Liberation Front, not of the junta in Saigon, but simply of the people who have been living under the curse of war for almost three continuous decades now. I think of them, too, because it is clear to me that there will be no meaningful solution there until some attempt is made to know them and hear their broken cries.
“They must see Americans as strange liberators.”
“Strange liberators,” indeed…
Don DeBar is a journalist and political activist residing in Ossining, NY. He currently serves as senior producer for WBAIX.org, an internet news and public events outlet featuring progressive producers who were purged from Pacifica Radio.
By Reverend Martin Luther King | April 4, 1967
Speech delivered by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., on April 4, 1967, at a meeting of Clergy and Laity Concerned at Riverside Church in NYC
I come to this magnificent house of worship tonight because my conscience leaves me no other choice. I join with you in this meeting because I am in deepest agreement with the aims and work of the organization which has brought us together: Clergy and Laymen Concerned about Vietnam. The recent statement of your executive committee are the sentiments of my own heart and I found myself in full accord when I read its opening lines: “A time comes when silence is betrayal.” That time has come for us in relation to Vietnam.
The truth of these words is beyond doubt but the mission to which they call us is a most difficult one. Even when pressed by the demands of inner truth, men do not easily assume the task of opposing their government’s policy, especially in time of war. Nor does the human spirit move without great difficulty against all the apathy of conformist thought within one’s own bosom and in the surrounding world. Moreover when the issues at hand seem as perplexed as they often do in the case of this dreadful conflict we are always on the verge of being mesmerized by uncertainty; but we must move on.
Some of us who have already begun to break the silence of the night have found that the calling to speak is often a vocation of agony, but we must speak. We must speak with all the humility that is appropriate to our limited vision, but we must speak. And we must rejoice as well, for surely this is the first time in our nation’s history that a significant number of its religious leaders have chosen to move beyond the prophesying of smooth patriotism to the high grounds of a firm dissent based upon the mandates of conscience and the reading of history. Perhaps a new spirit is rising among us. If it is, let us trace its movement well and pray that our own inner being may be sensitive to its guidance, for we are deeply in need of a new way beyond the darkness that seems so close around us.
Over the past two years, as I have moved to break the betrayal of my own silences and to speak from the burnings of my own heart, as I have called for radical departures from the destruction of Vietnam, many persons have questioned me about the wisdom of my path. At the heart of their concerns this query has often loomed large and loud: Why are you speaking about war, Dr. King? Why are you joining the voices of dissent? Peace and civil rights don’t mix, they say. Aren’t you hurting the cause of your people, they ask? And when I hear them, though I often understand the source of their concern, I am nevertheless greatly saddened, for such questions mean that the inquirers have not really known me, my commitment or my calling. Indeed, their questions suggest that they do not know the world in which they live.
In the light of such tragic misunderstandings, I deem it of signal importance to try to state clearly, and I trust concisely, why I believe that the path from Dexter Avenue Baptist Church — the church in Montgomery, Alabama, where I began my pastorate — leads clearly to this sanctuary tonight.
I come to this platform tonight to make a passionate plea to my beloved nation. This speech is not addressed to Hanoi or to the National Liberation Front. It is not addressed to China or to Russia.
Nor is it an attempt to overlook the ambiguity of the total situation and the need for a collective solution to the tragedy of Vietnam. Neither is it an attempt to make North Vietnam or the National Liberation Front paragons of virtue, nor to overlook the role they can play in a successful resolution of the problem. While they both may have justifiable reason to be suspicious of the good faith of the United States, life and history give eloquent testimony to the fact that conflicts are never resolved without trustful give and take on both sides.
Tonight, however, I wish not to speak with Hanoi and the NLF, but rather to my fellow Americans, who, with me, bear the greatest responsibility in ending a conflict that has exacted a heavy price on both continents.
The Importance of Vietnam
Since I am a preacher by trade, I suppose it is not surprising that I have seven major reasons for bringing Vietnam into the field of my moral vision. There is at the outset a very obvious and almost facile connection between the war in Vietnam and the struggle I, and others, have been waging in America. A few years ago there was a shining moment in that struggle. It seemed as if there was a real promise of hope for the poor — both black and white — through the poverty program. There were experiments, hopes, new beginnings. Then came the buildup in Vietnam and I watched the program broken and eviscerated as if it were some idle political plaything of a society gone mad on war, and I knew that America would never invest the necessary funds or energies in rehabilitation of its poor so long as adventures like Vietnam continued to draw men and skills and money like some demonic destructive suction tube. So I was increasingly compelled to see the war as an enemy of the poor and to attack it as such.
Perhaps the more tragic recognition of reality took place when 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. We were taking the black young men who had been crippled by our society and sending them eight thousand miles away to guarantee liberties in Southeast Asia which they had not found in southwest Georgia and East Harlem. So we have been repeatedly faced with the cruel irony of watching Negro and white boys on TV screens as they kill and die together for a nation that has been unable to seat them together in the same schools. So we watch them in brutal solidarity burning the huts of a poor village, but we realize that they would never live on the same block in Detroit. I could not be silent in the face of such cruel manipulation of the poor.
My third reason moves to an even deeper level of awareness, for it grows out of my experience in the ghettoes of the North over the last three years — especially the last three summers. 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 nonviolent action. But they asked — and rightly so — 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. For the sake of those boys, for the sake of this government, for the sake of hundreds of thousands trembling under our violence, I cannot be silent.
For those who ask the question, “Aren’t you a civil rights leader?” and thereby mean to exclude me from the movement for peace, I have this further answer. In 1957 when a group of us formed the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, we chose as our motto: “To save the soul of America.” We were convinced that we could not limit our vision to certain rights for black people, but instead affirmed the conviction that America would never be free or saved from itself unless the descendants of its slaves were loosed completely from the shackles they still wear. In a way we were agreeing with Langston Hughes, that black bard of Harlem, who had written earlier:
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath–
America will be!
Now, it should be incandescently clear that no one who has any concern for the integrity and life of America today can ignore the present war. If America’s soul becomes totally poisoned, part of the autopsy must read Vietnam. It can never be saved so long as it destroys the deepest hopes of men the world over. So it is that those of us who are yet determined that America will be are led down the path of protest and dissent, working for the health of our land.
As if the weight of such a commitment to the life and health of America were not enough, another burden of responsibility was placed upon me in 1964; and I cannot forget that the Nobel Prize for Peace was also a commission — a commission to work harder than I had ever worked before for “the brotherhood of man.” This is a calling that takes me beyond national allegiances, but even if it were not present I would yet have to live with the meaning of my commitment to the ministry of Jesus Christ. To me the relationship of this ministry to the making of peace is so obvious that I sometimes marvel at those who ask me why I am speaking against the war. Could it be that they do not know that the good news was meant for all men — for Communist and capitalist, for their children and ours, for black and for white, for revolutionary and conservative? Have they forgotten that my ministry is in obedience to the one who loved his enemies so fully that he died for them? What then can I say to the “Vietcong” or to Castro or to Mao as a faithful minister of this one? Can I threaten them with death or must I not share with them my life?
Finally, as I try to delineate for you and for myself the road that leads from Montgomery to this place I would have offered all that was most valid if I simply said that I must be true to my conviction that I share with all men the calling to be a son of the living God. Beyond the calling of race or nation or creed is this vocation of sonship and brotherhood, and because I believe that the Father is deeply concerned especially for his suffering and helpless and outcast children, I come tonight to speak for them.
This I believe to be the privilege and the burden of all of us who deem ourselves bound by allegiances and loyalties which are broader and deeper than nationalism and which go beyond our nation’s self-defined goals and positions. We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy, for no document from human hands can make these humans any less our brothers.
And as I ponder the madness of Vietnam and search within myself for ways to understand and respond to compassion my mind goes constantly to the people of that peninsula. I speak now not of the soldiers of each side, not of the junta in Saigon, but simply of the people who have been living under the curse of war for almost three continuous decades now. I think of them too because it is clear to me that there will be no meaningful solution there until some attempt is made to know them and hear their broken cries.
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?
Now there is little left to build on — save bitterness. Soon the only solid physical foundations remaining will be found at our military bases and in the concrete of the concentration camps we call fortified hamlets. The peasants may well wonder if we plan to build our new Vietnam on such grounds as these? Could we blame them for such thoughts? We must speak for them and raise the questions they cannot raise. These too are our brothers.
Perhaps the more difficult but no less necessary task is to speak for those who have been designated as our enemies. What of the National Liberation Front — that strangely anonymous group we call VC or Communists? What must they think of us in America when they realize that we permitted the repression and cruelty of Diem which helped to bring them into being as a resistance group in the south? What do they think of our condoning the violence which led to their own taking up of arms? How can they believe in our integrity when now we speak of “aggression from the north” as if there were nothing more essential to the war? How can they trust us when now we charge them with violence after the murderous reign of Diem and charge them with violence while we pour every new weapon of death into their land? Surely we must understand their feelings even if we do not condone their actions. Surely we must see that the men we supported pressed them to their violence. Surely we must see that our own computerized plans of destruction simply dwarf their greatest acts.
How do they judge us when our officials know that their membership is less than twenty-five percent Communist and yet insist on giving them the blanket name? What must they be thinking when they know that we are aware of their control of major sections of Vietnam and yet we appear ready to allow national elections in which this highly organized political parallel government will have no part? They ask how we can speak of free elections when the Saigon press is censored and controlled by the military junta. And they are surely right to wonder what kind of new government we plan to help form without them — the only party in real touch with the peasants. They question our political goals and they deny the reality of a peace settlement from which they will be excluded. Their questions are frighteningly relevant. Is our nation planning to build on political myth again and then shore it up with the power of new violence?
Here is the true meaning and value of compassion and nonviolence when it helps us to see the enemy’s point of view, to hear his questions, to know his assessment of ourselves. For from his view we may indeed see the basic weaknesses of our own condition, and if we are mature, we may learn and grow and profit from the wisdom of the brothers who are called the opposition.
So, too, with Hanoi. In the north, where our bombs now pummel the land, and our mines endanger the waterways, we are met by a deep but understandable mistrust. To speak for them is to explain this lack of confidence in Western words, and especially their distrust of American intentions now. In Hanoi are the men who led the nation to independence against the Japanese and the French, the men who sought membership in the French commonwealth and were betrayed by the weakness of Paris and the willfulness of the colonial armies. It was they who led a second struggle against French domination at tremendous costs, and then were persuaded to give up the land they controlled between the thirteenth and seventeenth parallel as a temporary measure at Geneva. After 1954 they watched us conspire with Diem to prevent elections which would have surely brought Ho Chi Minh to power over a united Vietnam, and they realized they had been betrayed again.
When we ask why they do not leap to negotiate, these things must be remembered. Also it must be clear that the leaders of Hanoi considered the presence of American troops in support of the Diem regime to have been the initial military breach of the Geneva agreements concerning foreign troops, and they remind us that they did not begin to send in any large number of supplies or men until American forces had moved into the tens of thousands.
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 of 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 thousand miles away from its shores.
At this point I should make it clear that while I have tried in these last few minutes to give a voice to the voiceless on Vietnam and to understand the arguments of those who are called enemy, I am as deeply concerned about our troops there as anything else. For it occurs to me that what we are submitting them to in Vietnam is not simply the brutalizing process that goes on in any war where armies face each other and seek to destroy. We are adding cynicism to the process of death, for they must know after a short period there that none of the things we claim to be fighting for are really involved. Before long they must know that their government has sent them into a struggle among Vietnamese, and the more sophisticated surely realize that we are on the side of the wealthy and the secure while we create hell for the poor.
This Madness Must Cease
Somehow this madness must cease. We must stop now. I speak as a child of God and brother to the suffering poor of Vietnam. I speak for those whose land is being laid waste, whose homes are being destroyed, whose culture is being subverted. I speak for the poor of America who are paying the double price of smashed hopes at home and death and corruption in Vietnam. I speak as a citizen of the world, for the world as it stands aghast at the path we have taken. I speak as an American to the leaders of my own nation. The great initiative in this war is ours. The initiative to stop it must be ours.
This is the message of the great Buddhist leaders of Vietnam. Recently one of them wrote these words:
“Each day the war goes on the hatred increases in the heart of the Vietnamese and in the hearts of those of humanitarian instinct. The Americans are forcing even their friends into becoming their enemies. It is curious that the Americans, who calculate so carefully on the possibilities of military victory, do not realize that in the process they are incurring deep psychological and political defeat. The image of America will never again be the image of revolution, freedom and democracy, but the image of violence and militarism.”
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. It will become clear that our minimal expectation is to occupy it as an American colony and men will not refrain from thinking that our maximum hope is to goad China into a war so that we may bomb her nuclear installations. If we do not stop our war against the people of Vietnam immediately the world will be left with no other alternative than to see this as some horribly clumsy and deadly game we have decided to play.
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 the Vietnamese people. The situation is one in which we must be ready to turn sharply from our present ways.
In order to atone for our sins and errors in Vietnam, we should take the initiative in bringing a halt to this tragic war. I would like to suggest five concrete things that our government should do immediately to begin the long and difficult process of extricating ourselves from this nightmarish conflict:
End all bombing in North and South Vietnam.
Declare a unilateral cease-fire in the hope that such action will create the atmosphere for negotiation.
Take immediate steps to prevent other battlegrounds in Southeast Asia by curtailing our military buildup in Thailand and our interference in Laos.
Realistically accept the fact that the National Liberation Front has substantial support in South Vietnam and must thereby play a role in any meaningful negotiations and in any future Vietnam government.
Set a date that we will remove all foreign troops from Vietnam in accordance with the 1954 Geneva agreement.
Part of our ongoing commitment might well express itself in an offer to grant asylum to any Vietnamese who fears for his life under a new regime which included the Liberation Front. Then we must make what reparations we can for the damage we have done. We most provide the medical aid that is badly needed, making it available in this country if necessary.
Protesting The War
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 continue to raise our voices if our nation persists in its perverse ways in Vietnam. We must be prepared to match actions with words by seeking out every creative means of protest possible.
As we counsel young men concerning military service we must clarify for them our nation’s role in Vietnam and challenge them with the alternative of conscientious objection. I am pleased to say that this is the path now being chosen by more than seventy students at my own alma mater, Morehouse College, and I recommend it to all who find the American course in Vietnam a dishonorable and unjust one. Moreover I would encourage all ministers of draft age to give up their ministerial exemptions and seek status as conscientious objectors. These are the times for real choices and not false ones. We are at the moment when our lives must be placed on the line if our nation is to survive its own folly. Every man of humane convictions must decide on the protest that best suits his convictions, but we must all protest.
There is something seductively tempting about stopping there and sending us all off on what in some circles has become a popular crusade against the war in Vietnam. I say we must enter the struggle, but I wish to go on now to say something even more disturbing. The war in Vietnam is but a symptom of a far deeper malady within the American spirit, and if we ignore this sobering reality we will find ourselves organizing clergy- and laymen-concerned committees for the next generation. They will be concerned about Guatemala and Peru. They will be concerned about Thailand and Cambodia. They will be concerned about Mozambique and South Africa. We will be marching for these and a dozen other names and attending rallies without end unless there is a significant and profound change in American life and policy. Such thoughts take us beyond Vietnam, but not beyond our calling as sons of the living God.
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. n 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 people 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.
America, the richest and most powerful nation in the world, can well lead the way in this revolution of values. There is nothing, except a tragic death wish, to prevent us from reordering our priorities, so that the pursuit of peace will take precedence over the pursuit of war. There is nothing to keep us from molding a recalcitrant status quo with bruised hands until we have fashioned it into a brotherhood.
This kind of positive revolution of values is our best defense against communism. War is not the answer. Communism will never be defeated by the use of atomic bombs or nuclear weapons. Let us not join those who shout war and through their misguided passions urge the United States to relinquish its participation in the United Nations. These are days which demand wise restraint and calm reasonableness. We must not call everyone a Communist or an appeaser who advocates the seating of Red China in the United Nations and who recognizes that hate and hysteria are not the final answers to the problem of these turbulent days. We must not engage in a negative anti-communism, but rather in a positive thrust for democracy, realizing that our greatest defense against communism is to take offensive action in behalf of justice. We must with positive action seek to remove thosse conditions of poverty, insecurity and injustice which are the fertile soil in which the seed of communism grows and develops.
The People Are Important
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. The shirtless and barefoot people of the land are rising up as never before. “The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light.” We in the West must support these revolutions. It is a sad fact that, because of comfort, complacency, a morbid fear of communism, and our proneness to adjust to injustice, the Western nations that initiated so much of the revolutionary spirit of the modern world have now become the arch anti-revolutionaries. This has driven many to feel that only Marxism has the revolutionary spirit. Therefore, communism is a judgement against our failure to make democracy real and follow through on the revolutions we initiated. Our only hope today lies in our ability to recapture the revolutionary spirit and go out into a sometimes hostile world declaring eternal hostility to poverty, racism, and militarism. With this powerful commitment we shall boldly challenge the status quo and unjust mores and thereby speed the day when “every valley shall be exalted, and every moutain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight and the rough places plain.”
A genuine revolution of values means in the final analysis that our loyalties must become ecumenical rather than sectional. Every nation must now develop an overriding loyalty to mankind as a whole in order to preserve the best in their individual societies.
This call for a world-wide fellowship that lifts neighborly concern beyond one’s tribe, race, class and nation is in reality a call for an all-embracing and unconditional love for all men. This oft misunderstood and misinterpreted concept — so readily dismissed by the Nietzsches of the world as a weak and cowardly force — has now become an absolute necessity for the survival of man. When I speak of love I am not speaking of some sentimental and weak response. I am speaking of that force which all of the great religions have seen as the supreme unifying principle of life. Love is somehow the key that unlocks the door which leads to ultimate reality. This Hindu-Moslem-Christian-Jewish-Buddhist belief about ultimate reality is beautifully summed up in the first epistle of Saint John:
Let us love one another; for love is God and everyone that loveth is born of God and knoweth God. He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love. If we love one another God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us.
Let us hope that this spirit will become the order of the day. We can no longer afford to worship the god of hate or bow before the altar of retaliation. The oceans of history are made turbulent by the ever-rising tides of hate. History is cluttered with the wreckage of nations and individuals that pursued this self-defeating path of hate. As Arnold Toynbee says : “Love is the ultimate force that makes for the saving choice of life and good against the damning choice of death and evil. Therefore the first hope in our inventory must be the hope that love is going to have the last word.”
We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history there is such a thing as being too late. Procrastination is still the thief of time. Life often leaves us standing bare, naked and dejected with a lost opportunity. The “tide in the affairs of men” does not remain at the flood; it ebbs. We may cry out deperately for time to pause in her passage, but time is deaf to every plea and rushes on. Over the bleached bones and jumbled residue of numerous civilizations are written the pathetic words: “Too late.” There is an invisible book of life that faithfully records our vigilance or our neglect. “The moving finger writes, and having writ moves on…” We still have a choice today; nonviolent coexistence or violent co-annihilation.
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 rededicate ourselves to the long and bitter — but beautiful — struggle for a new world. This is the calling of the sons of God, and our brothers wait eagerly for our response. Shall we say the odds are too great? Shall we tell them the struggle is too hard? Will our message be that the forces of American life militate against their arrival as full men, and we send our deepest regrets? Or will there be another message, of longing, of hope, of solidarity with their yearnings, of commitment to their cause, whatever the cost? The choice is ours, and though we might prefer it otherwise we must choose in this crucial moment of human history.
As that noble bard of yesterday, James Russell Lowell, eloquently stated:
Once to every man and nation
Comes the moment to decide,
In the strife of truth and falsehood,
For the good or evil side;
Some great cause, God’s new Messiah,
Off’ring each the bloom or blight,
And the choice goes by forever
Twixt that darkness and that light.
Though the cause of evil prosper,
Yet ’tis truth alone is strong;
Though her portion be the scaffold,
And upon the throne be wrong:
Yet that scaffold sways the future,
And behind the dim unknown,
Standeth God within the shadow
Keeping watch above his own.
Source – BRC NEWS
WARNING: GRAPHIC CONTENT
Produced by Frank Dorrel
A 2-hour video compilation featuring 10 segments about CIA covert operations and military interventions since WWII
1. Martin Luther King, Jr.,
2. John Stockwell, former C.I.A. Station Chief
3. Coverup: Behind the Iran-Contra Affair
4. School of Assassins
5. Genocide by Sanctions
6. Philip Agee, former C.I.A. Case Officer
7. Amy Goodman, host of Democracy Now!
8. The Panama Deception
9. Ramsey Clark, former U.S. Attorney General
10. S. Brian Willson, Vietnam Veteran and Peace Activist
- Arms shipment protest, 25 years later (wagingnonviolence.org)
When Barack Obama was running for president, in 2008, he vowed to increase the use of drones against al Qaida elements in Pakistan and Afghanistan. His surrogates roamed the talk shows, advocating a “smarter” and cheaper kind of robotic war, allowing the U.S. to avoid pouring more troops into the “Af-Pak” theater of conflict. Vastly increased deployment of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), the argument went, would jettison George Bush’s “dumb” approach to warfare in favor of a cheaper and more humane use of U.S. technological resources, saving both American and South Asian lives.
What the “peace” candidate was actually proposing, was a qualitative leap in the U.S. drive for “full spectrum dominance” over the planet. The U.S. would elevate to a strategic principle its self-arrogated entitlement to use whatever technical means at its disposal – mainly drones – to target and kill designated adversaries at will, anyplace on the globe, at any time, accountable only to itself. It was a declaration of war against international law, as it has evolved over the centuries.
This administration has expanded the Air Force inventory of active drones to at least 7,500. Drones have joined Special Operations forces as the “tip of the spear” of U.S. power projection in the developing world, the “front lines” of the current imperial offensive.
Virtually all of the drones’ lethal missions are, in legal terms, assassinations, with or without “collateral damage.” They are also acts of terror, certainly in the broad sense of the word, and intended to be so.
As Canadian political scientist David Model points out in a recent article “Assassination by Drones”: “It is clearly evident that for a State to launch an attack by a UAV is a violation of international law and those responsible for such acts become suspects of war crimes.” Drone warfare utterly shreds the very concept of the rule of law. In killing those “suspected” of committing or planning actions against the U.S., Washington “precludes the application of due process,” writes Model.
Therefore, in the quest to make the entire world a free-fire (and law-free) zone, drone warfare requires that due process be destroyed everywhere, including within the borders of the United States.The Obama-shaped preventive detention bill signed into law this past New Years Eve is the logical extension of the international lawlessness called forth by drone warfare, and by the larger aims of full spectrum American dominance. Barack Obama is not just another “war president” – he is a destroyer of world civilization, the terms by which humans deal with one another as states, social groupings and individuals. It is not an exaggeration to describe this leap into depravity as a war against humanity at-large, and against the human historical legacy.
Certainly, it is a war against peace, the highest international crime. If a state can kill individuals and designated (or alleged) organizations by fiat, without due process or any shred of accountability to any authority but the president of the superpower, that state can also “execute” other states at will. Under Obama, the U.S. has articulated an alternative notion of global legality that purports to replace the body of international law accrued over centuries and so elegantly codified after World War Two. “Humanitarian” military intervention is the fraudulent doctrine through which the U.S. seeks to justify its current, desperate offensive against all obstacles to its global dominance.
Where George Bush often spoke in unilateralist terms of a U.S. mission to “spread democracy” as justification for his regime-changing aggression in Iraq and elsewhere, Obama invokes the higher calling of “humanitarian intervention” as a universal, pseudo-legal principle of international conduct. It is a doctrine designed for a Final Conflict for American supremacy on the planet, a doomsday construct that conflates perceived U.S. (corporate) geopolitical interests with the destiny of humankind – unbounded imperial criminality posing as the highest bar of justice!
Since the Vietnam War era, the U.S. has traveled from being the “greatest purveyor of violence in the world today,” in Dr. Martin Luther King’s words, to an existential threat to world order, the rule of law, and the security of the Earth’s inhabitants – to civilization itself. The nation’s first Black President has taken us on the final descent into international barbarity with his drone offensive. It is a joy stick to Hell.
Glen Ford can be contacted at Glen.Ford@BlackAgendaReport.com.
- Pakistani Lawyer Representing Victims of Drone Strikes Prevented From Speaking in U.S. (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- Obama: Not Cool, Just Cold-Blooded (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- Rachel Maddow Defends the US Drone Program on Howard Stern (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- Obama Apologizes For Kandahar Massacre But Not For His Own Killings (alethonews.wordpress.com)
Toward a Maximum Wage
Tackling income inequality through the minimum wage alone is an inadequate way to counter the economy’s anti-egalitarian tendencies. The minimum wage exists because the federal government recognizes the economy undervalues the average worker’s contribution and fails to provide a fair livable wage. Conversely, the economy’s overvaluing a few people’s contribution is also in need of governmental oversight. Since the government believes the economy is not a reliable gauge for determining how little is too little, it cannot assume the “market” is capable of determining how much is too much. Given this it is incumbent on the federal government to implement an income ceiling to eliminate the extreme income disparity between top and average wage earners.
Before dismissing the maximum wage idea outright, consider President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s call for 1942 maximum wage of $25,000 a year (in 2012 dollars $364,000) as a means to fuel economic growth and reduce income inequality. In a recent Le Monde Diplomatique article Sam Pizzigati of the Institute for Policy Studies revealed that two short years after President Roosevelt’s proposal, Congress increased the top tax rate to 94% for individual incomes over $200,000 (in 2012 dollars $2.6 million) The 94¢ tax on every dollar over the $200,000 limit helped initiate the longest period of economic growth for the middle class in U.S. history. This tax rate remained in place until President Lyndon Johnson dropped it to under 70% in the late 1960s. About two decades later President Reagan reduced the rate to 50% and then to 28% in 1988 before it settled at today’s 35% rate. But this tax rate overstates the rich’s tax burden given that most of their income [tax payment] comes from the 15% capital gains tax on profits acquired from buying and selling stocks, bonds and assets. This tax rate is about the same as that for working Americans earning between $50,000 and $75,000 before itemized deductions and exemptions.
Opponents of the maximum wage assert that cutting the top tax rates rather than increasing them will spark revenue and job growth. Their “trickle down” rationale assumes that making the rich richer will create good paying jobs, making working people more prosperous. But the trickle down approach and other piecemeal provisions like the minimum wage, earned income tax credit, and other minimalist economic programs and policies have proven ineffective in reversing the growth in income inequality over the last four decades. The ineffectiveness of such programs and policies is apparent in Emmanuel Saez’s recently released study showing that during the current recession one-percenters captured 93 percent of the income growth in both 2009 and 2010. In real dollar terms this means that the bottom 90% income on average declined $127 while the top 1% income increased $106,000.
One the best and most proficient ways to restart job growth and alleviate poverty and inequality, the imposition of a maximum allowable wage tied to minimum wage and enforced through a progressive income tax. The maximum is set at a specific multiple (maybe twenty five times) of the minimum wage, so that all income over the multiple limit is subject to a 95% to 100% tax. Limiting and linking average and top wage earners in this way will help Americans clearly see that poverty and suffering is necessary for an individual to accumulate wealth.
The fact is that income and wealth inequality impedes economic recovery, and efficiency and stability because it weakens demand for goods and services. By implementing a maximum wage the government could generate billions in revenue that can be invested in health, education, technology and infrastructure maintenance in ways that ensure the economy is sustainable, productive and efficient.
Europeans, especially those dealing with economic austerity measures, are already debating how to enact a maximum wage policy to ameliorate economic calamity. The idea of the maximum wage is also starting to resonate in the United States with a public that is increasingly aware of the destructive and anti-democratic consequences of lopsided disparities in income and wealth. This emerging awareness encourages people to question and challenge the legitimacy of economic values and a political system that, as Martin Luther King, Jr. put it: “permit necessities to be taken from the many to give luxuries to the few.”
Johnny E. Williams is an Associate Professor in the Department of Sociology at Trinity College.
- Divided We Stand: Why Inequality Keeps Rising (doctorlukescookbook.wordpress.com)
By RON JACOBS | October 7, 2010
In recent weeks, articles have appeared in various media outlets detailing recent surveillance activities of the FBI and other law enforcement agencies. According to these reports. much of this surveillance was focused on antiwar and peace groups. Then, on September 24, 2010 several homes and offices in Minneapolis/St. Paul, Chicago and North Carolina were raided by the FBI. Subpoenas to appear at a grand jury investigation were issued to several activists. The reason provided for the raids was that some individuals were suspected of providing “material support to terrorists.” These raids and recent revelations have been met with protest and, in some quarters, shock-as if the United States government were somehow above such police state intimidation and practices.
On October 10, 2010 at the Mission Cultural Center of Latino Studies in San Francisco, the Freedom Archives will premier its latest documentary. Titled Cointelpro 101, this hour-long film makes it quite clear that the US government is certainly not above such practices and that, furthermore, it has a long history of them. For those who don’t know, Cointelpro was the abbreviated name for the intelligence and counterinsurgency operation waged against a multitude of organizations and individuals deemed threats to national security during the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s by the FBI and other US law enforcement and intelligence agencies. Short for counterintelligence, Cointelpro involved the use of a multitude of methods up to and including murder in its crusade to neutralize any and all left opposition to the status quo in the United States. From Martin Luther King, Jr. to the Weather Underground Organization, any one considered an enemy of the US national security state because of their opposition to the US war in Vietnam or their support for the self-determination of people of color in the United States was a potential target of the Cointelpro program.
Cointelpro 101 opens with the April 1971 break-in by antiwar activists at the federal offices in Media, Pennsylvania. The activists were searching for Selective service files to destroy when they came upon files labeled Cointelpro. After a quick perusal of the file’s contents, they removed as many as they could find from the office, made copies and released them to the press. The program was unknown to the broader public at the time and the files proved a revelation to the country. Many politicians were offended and, after the 1972 discovery of the Plumbers unit run by G. Gordon Liddy under the direction of the Nixon White House and the subsequent months of Congressional hearings around Watergate, Senator Frank Church called for hearings to investigate the Cointelpro program.
As the history related in the film makes clear, Cointelpro’s stretch was broad. Beginning in the 1950s with a focus on the Puerto Rican independence movement and continuing through the 1960s and into the 1970s when much of its focus had shifted to the black liberation, Chicano liberation and American Indian movement, the program racked up a number of assassinations, false imprisonments and ruined lives. No government official was ever punished for actions taken under the program’s auspices. The film details this history through the artful use of still photos and moving images of the period covered. Films of police attacks and protests; still photos of revolutionary leaders and police murders graphically remind the viewer of Washington’s willingness to do whatever it takes to maintain its control. Organizers who began their political activity during the time of Cointelpro discuss the effect the program had on them and the organizations and individuals they worked with. Indeed, several of the interviewees were themselves targets and spent years in prison (some that were false, as in the case of Geronimo ji-Jaga Pratt) or on the run. One of the interviewees, Wesley Swearingen, is a former FBI agent who was involved in Cointelpro operations in Los Angeles and elsewhere and later published a book exposing his knowledge. His recollections reveal the nature of the war the FBI was fighting.
Former Black Panther member Kathleen Cleaver states toward the end of the film that Cointelpro represented the efforts of a political police force making the decision as to what is allowed politically and what is not. Anything outside the parameters set by this force was fair game. Nothing that was done by government officials or private groups and individuals acting on the government’s behalf was perceived as wrong or illegal. As Attorney Bob Boyle makes clear in his final statement in the film, Cointelpro is alive and well. The only difference now is that most of what was illegal for the government to do during Cointelpro’s official existence is now legal. The PATRIOT Act and other laws associated with the creation of the Department of Homeland Security have insured this. The September 24, 2010 raids mentioned above are but the most recent proof of it.
Cointelpro 101 is a well made and appealing primer on the history of the US police state. Produced, written and directed by individuals who have themselves been the target of tactics documented in the film, it has an authenticity and immediacy that pulls the viewer in. Although too short to cover the history in as full detail as some may desire, the film’s intelligence and conscientious presentation of the historical narrative makes it a film that the student, the citizen and the activist can all appreciate.
Ron Jacobs is author of The Way the Wind Blew: a history of the Weather Underground, which is just republished by Verso.