Apr 4, 2010

Shot Rang Out in the Memphis Sky

RFK announces assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., April 4, 1968. Violence, as King lived and died to tell us, is a betrayal. RFK picked up the torch and was struck down. Do we hear their voices?

From Bob Herbert, We Still Don’t Hear Him
‘I come to this magnificent house of worship tonight,’ said the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., ‘because my conscience leaves me no other choice.’This was on the evening of April 4, 1967, almost exactly 43 years ago. Dr. King told the more than 3,000 people who had crowded into Riverside Church that silence in the face of the horror that was taking place in Vietnam amounted to a ‘betrayal.’

He spoke of both the carnage in the war zone and the toll the war was taking here in the United States. The speech comes to mind now for two reasons: A Tavis Smiley documentary currently airing on PBS revisits the controversy set off by Dr. King’s indictment of ‘the madness of Vietnam.’ And recent news reports show ever-increasing evidence that we have ensnared ourselves in a mad and tragic venture in Afghanistan.

Dr. King spoke of how, in Vietnam, the United States increased its commitment of troops ‘in support of governments which were singularly corrupt, inept, and without popular support.’

It’s strange, indeed, to read those words more than four decades later as we are increasing our commitment of troops in Afghanistan to fight in support of Hamid Karzai, who remains in power after an election that the world knows was riddled with fraud and whose government is one of the most corrupt and inept on the planet.

If Mr. Karzai is at all grateful for this support, he has a very peculiar way of showing it. He has ignored pleas from President Obama and others to take meaningful steps to rein in the rampant corruption. His brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai, the kingpin in southern Afghanistan, is believed by top American officials to be engaged in all manner of nefarious activities, including money-laundering and involvement in the flourishing opium trade.

Hamid Karzai himself pulled off a calculated insult to the U.S. by inviting Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to the presidential palace in Kabul, where Ahmadinejad promptly delivered a fiery anti-American speech. As Dexter Filkins and Mark Landler reported in The Times this week: ‘Even as Mr. Obama pours tens of thousands of additional American troops into the country to help defend Mr. Karzai’s government, Mr. Karzai now often voices the view that his interests and the United States’ no longer coincide.’

Is this what American service members are dying for in Afghanistan? Can you imagine giving up your life, or your child’s life, for that crowd?

In his speech, Dr. King spoke about the damage the Vietnam War was doing to America’s war on poverty, and the way it was undermining other important domestic initiatives. What he wanted from the U.S. was not warfare overseas but a renewed commitment to economic and social justice at home. As he put it: ‘A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.’

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