We have just witnessed the annual birthday-highlighted betrayal of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., with clergy leading the way — a betrayal of what King taught and was dedicated to when he was assassinated; namely, exposing the US overseas crimes against humanity for predatory investments that were draining away men, money and resources, and causing poverty and injustice at home.
With aircraft carriers off the coast of Iran, ever new act-of-war sanctions being put in place, and calls to bomb Iran crescendoing in Washington, some of us had foolishly thought that this year’s King birthday observances might see a few prominent clerics calling attention to King’s condemnation of US wars, long taboo in mainstream military-oriented America.
Organized religion in America has, for forty-five years, cooperated with the understanding that no one shall mention that the great civil rights leader and national hero had denounced his government as “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world.”
The buildup to war on Iran, the daily toll of human lives from military action in many Muslim nations, the invasions of Afghanistan , Iraq, Panama, Dominican Republic, etc., the CIA criminal and anti-democratic civil war creating activities, the continuation of the Vietnam war for eight years after King’s murder, all needed the silent cooperation of clergy that King condemned as betrayal.
King’s betrayers also betray those millions of innocents, who, in their own beloved countries, fall in harms way of heavily armed Americans and remain undefended by a US clergy busy praising and expressing love and gratitude for what King did for them, while it blackballs the King who worked to do the same for his equally loved brothers and sisters in countries under US attack.
Do all these many thousands of clergy imagine that no one significant will ever notice these betrayals? Do any of the elderly ministers, who knew King personally, not feel some bites of conscience?
It’s hard to believe that Rev. Jesse Jackson, and Andrew Young, who had held the dying King in their arms and went on to high political office within the establishment, did not have to grit their teeth to be able to hold themselves back from speaking of King’s condemnation of US wars at the unveiling of the King Monument last year.
Sincere antiwar scholars have long accepted that clergy adheres to a strictly conformist role in a society ruled covertly and overtly by the investment community consensus on Wall Street and the military-industrial complex through their control of all three branches of the government, of all important sources of information with power to disinform, of the Pentagon and of the vast secret functions of the CIA.
The sudden tempestuous 1967 King caused problems for religious leaders, implicating them in complicity for having never challenged pathetic lies justifying mass murder that King was exposing. Ensconced in the national body politic, they have stonewalled on. Even today, to our knowledge, not a single congregation in the nation endorses King’s condemnation of US wars.
Antiwar activists are always searching for clergy who have followed in the footsteps of King during his last year that provoked a national controversy long since carefully blacked out of public awareness. This writer feels fortunate to know Father Paul Mayer, who worked with King, endorses the King Condemned US Wars International Awareness Campaign, and was recently in Occupy Wall Street’s Freedom Park making sure people knew of King’s condemnation of US wars and predatory investments.
I am also lucky to have had the chance to chat briefly with Rev. Jeremiah Wright before hearing him speak at the Monthly Review 50th Anniversary, where he eloquently expounded on reasons solidly based on history and King’s teaching, why every sensitive person aware of the violent death of millions should want to consider what Wright was repeatedly shown crying out in video, “God damn America for its crimes against humanity.”
But the most educating King learning experience was spending an hour-and-a- half with Riverside Church Head Minister William Sloan Coffin in 1982, while working under his guidance in the church tower’s International Liaison Office in support of the UN 2nd Special Session on Disarmament.
Rev. Coffin’s life had been intertwined with King’s, and his trip to Hanoi as invited negotiator for the release of US POWs had antedated King’s own involvement. Rev. Coffin had been jailed many times and finally convicted of conspiracy to counsel, aid, and abet resistance to the draft.
Coffin was a musician and former CIA officer in its Russian Department. I had performed on the first cultural exchange with the Soviet Union and shared his passion for the language. He was interested that I had been in Moscow during the Cuban missile crisis and on two other State Department run tours in Latin America during CIA and Pentagon actions in a half dozen countries in turmoil. I remember being struck by his insight as he reviewed the history of organized religion as so often being on the side of repression and automatic opposition to revolution, noting that the revolutions of France, Mexico, Russia, Spain, and China had been anti-clerical for the people’s memory of the church having been hand maiden to conquering empires who produced the suffering that was the fertile ground for revolution in the first place.
So impressive to hear this from a minster famous for physically interfering with government crime in the name of Jesus, who never doubted the role of the Christian church in caring for society, but was keenly aware that modern empires had used and perverted the church into materialism and as accessory to domination by powerful criminal elements.
I never saw him again, as I as spent most of the next twenty years in China, Korea, Japan, Vietnam and Thailand (and returned a Buddhist).
During six years in Korea, I applied King’s teaching and discovered things were not as I had been led to believe by President Truman and from conversation in church courtyards. Koreans, including Korean Christians, all know that American business interests had had President Theodore Roosevelt snub Koreans and recognize the Japanese occupation of Korea; that President Wilson had formally recognized Korea as Japanese territory (in all, making possible a brutal 40 year occupation); that Americans had not fought the Japanese in Korea, coming in rather when Koreans had already accomplished their own politically democratic free Korea; that after unconscionably cutting the nation in two, had brought Singman Rhee in from Washington, who would set up a hated government, whose police and special forces would massacre (now fully UN documented) a couple of hundred thousand unionists, socialists, communists often along with their families in the South in the years before the army of the Northern government invaded and with little opposition overran all of the South, uniting Korea in the five weeks before the US invaded, bringing death to three million and flattening every city but one in the North and South; that a severely militaristic North Korea is the result of it having been bombed so mercilessly, threatened with the atom bomb, and strangled with tight international sanctions and economic blockades for nearly 60 years, while under continual barrage of anti-communist propaganda in Western media; that Rhee fled for his life after the war, and a series of military dictatorships prevailed under a heavy US Army presence until the mid 1980s; that in spite of all this deadly result, many Korean Christians and their clergy feel the need to accept the international media version of American righteous protection of Koreans from communism.
Working as Assistant Conductor of the Vietnam Symphony Orchestra (founded by Ho Chi Minh) in Hanoi, during most of the 1990s, I learned something of the human side of what the Vietnamese call the American war after the French war of recolonization paid for by US taxpayers.
All the musicians had lost family. “Killed by the Americans” they would smile in Buddhist equanimity when asked. Between preparing Beethoven and Brahms I got to know the most soft spoken, heroic, charming and fun to be with people in the world. If many of Americans recognize their complicity, why should not clergy, who turned their back on King’s revelations.
I cringe when I think of the Grimm fairy tale nature of the anti-Vietnamese propaganda heard over so many years. Do clerical stomachs not turn like ours do as candidates for public office are acclaimed as heroes for having “served” in Vietnam?
On the opening day of the US bombing of Baghdad in 2003, I marched in a London street protest. The next day as our flight on the way to India detoured well away from Iraq, we could see flashes on the horizon — Iraqis being killed and maimed supposedly to depose a Saddam Hussein who had been supported by the CIA for two decades. Had to ask myself is bull being sold as to why the US is bombing or invading this or that small country because clergy leaders deny the necessity to study history carefully, as King came to do to help his people.
This idea of clergy not properly protecting us from deception even of the crudest historically ass-backwards kind was still fresh in my mind as I read the three Calcutta English language newspapers, and watched BBC Asia, which interestingly is quite a bit to the left of BBC London or New York, because it has to compete with local channels serving a citizenry less gullible after suffering a century of racist colonialism. (The British, including clergy, back in England feed on the same outlandish nonsense excusing and justifying the colonial behavior of their armies abroad just as America’s clergy accepts absurd excuses for American neocolonial wars abroad).
At a dinner party thrown for the patrons of the concert series, I was introduced to an Anglican minister stationed in India. Revved up as I was from watching floods of videos and photos of piles of bodies of civilians, headless children, body parts and clothing strewn everywhere, (images not being seen in America), I thought to comment inquisitively, how the war, with British pilots bombing, must be weighing heavily on him, as one responsible for moral leadership. He looked at me puzzled, a little annoyed, and answered to the effect that a minister’s job had absolutely nothing to do with war or preventing it, that church and politics don’t mix. Altercation proceeded:
“Church and its government’s homicide surely don’t mix either – you bless the troops shipping out to kill.”
“Its the job of a priest, rabbi or minister.”
“It’s a political act of acquiescence or complicity in homicide .”
I thought to myself, yes, of course, Western establishment-entrenched religious leaders must be the same throughout the world. Wasn’t I in India, where pastors took tea with wealthy faithful, both well acclimatized to a multitude of the landless being starved so that a profit might be turned from what would have been their land to cultivate (predatory investments King spoke of). Charity, rather putting an end to the legalized starving of the poor, is the usual clergy-led Christian response.
When I was a kid, I tired of listening to sermons about the hem length of ladies skirts and such, when the headlines of the newspapers I delivered were about millions of people starving to death. It caused me to visit my schoolmates houses of worship looking in vain for better Christianity.
As an adult, I have, on many occasions, confessed feeling as an American drenched in the blood of millions only to hear my minister or priest trying to help me be at peace with it.
Official clergy enjoy prestige as the guardians of morality, family and community values but unlike King are careful not to answer why Americans and Christians from other nominally white nations, are killing Afghanis in Afghanistan, for ten years designating Taliban as the enemy as were the Vietcong in King’s day.
The average cleric would most likely talk no differently than the average American, either in some agreement with an outrageous lie justifying war on Afghanis, or fielding a disarming remark to deflect such an uncomfortably serious and aggressive question, “Look, nobody likes war’ or the more fundamental oxymoron, “War is war’ and “God will receive the victims.’
By praising exceptional clergy King cut at the majority, “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.”
Even on King’s birthday the whole Baptist community leadership and the NAACP focused solely on domestic injustice, while the wars that King condemned as perpetuating domestic injustice rage on, unspoken of. Is this not an obvious repudiation of King’s guidance?
Do all these pastors and church officials think King was wrong when he taught, in the maturity of the increased awareness of his final year, the futility of trying to improve America while America is destroying other nations, using up social and material resources to conquer abroad for accumulation of capital by investors?
A prominent New York church, where King once denounced his government for crimes against humanity, held a special King birthday event in which the personable minister opening the service, though having on other occasions decried today’s wars, spoke of “that awful war” (in Vietnam) as if that is what King had spoken against and not described it as being a part of the bloody wars and calculated violence presently still going on for financial interests. Misleadingly listed in the program was hearing a recording of “Beyond Vietnam” (in which King had detailed US crimes.) We heard only a carefully selected few minutes long snippet calling for improving society along general principles of social well being that would not have offended supporters of today’s wars or even war criminals or war profiteers.
King had told us, “The war in Vietnam is but a symptom of a far deeper malady.” We have seen a pattern of suppression, the presence of U.S. military advisers in Venezuela. This need to maintain social stability for our investments accounts for the counterrevolutionary action of American forces in Guatemala. It tells why American helicopters are being used against guerrillas in Cambodia and why American napalm and Green Beret forces have already been active against rebels in Peru. They will be concerned about Mozambique and South Africa. “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 country. This is not just.”
If antiwar activists would relentlessly quote from King’s Beyond Vietnam sermon nonstop, it would make it difficult for majority clergy to go on ignoring King’s condemnation of US wars. According to Howard Zinn clergy opposition would make it difficult for US wars to be continued and would make network entertainment/news hailing Vietnam and Iraq military ventures as glorious prosecutable as hate crimes.