Martin Luther King: Enemy of the State

King did not merely have a dream on the Washington Mall, writes veteran James Rothenberg. He taught us that U.S. military violence overseas mirrors oppression at home. 

Martin Luther King, Jr. speaking at interfaith civil rights rally, San Francisco Cow Palace, June 30 1964. (George Conklin, Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND)

By James Rothenberg
Common Dreams

One thing about veterans: Everyone’s for them. But what does that really encompass? How did they get here? And what of the veterans to come?

The World Veterans Federation (WVF) is an international network comprised of 172 veterans organizations from 121 countries representing about 60 million veterans worldwide. It acts as a humanitarian, peace and justice advocate not just for veterans but for victims of war. Out of those 121 countries with 60 million veterans, one country contains about 19 million — over 30 percent  — of all the world’s veterans. That’s the United States.

Why so many? The U.S. represents only 4.25 percent of the world’s population. That outsize representation, where we dramatically outnumber other countries in producing veterans, is repeated in our jails where we imprison more than 20 percent of the entire world’s prison population and repeated in our routine gun shootings where we own 42 percent of the world’s privately held guns.

Veterans For Peace (a U.S. member of WVF), was formed in 1985. Odds are you’ve never heard of it. It suffers from a lack of recognition, particularly among members of Congress, precisely because it stands in opposition to U.S. wars of aggression (Iraq in 2003 as characterized by former U.N Secretary-General Kofi Annan).

A U.S. military veteran getting arrested Aug. 3, 2022, during protest against the Pentagon’s role in the climate crisis. (Veterans for Peace)

It’s irrational to honor veterans and create them simultaneously. Over 99 percent of our living veterans have not fought in defensive wars! It matters when veterans are created in wars for an unspecified (or bogus) national interest. This is not a trivial point.

Foreign policy is a blind spot for Americans. This became part of Martin Luther King’s message. He said if you want to understand what’s taking place in America, look past that to what America is doing overseas. The military violence we sow overseas mirrors the violence of the oppressed here at home.

[Related: The Liberal Contempt for Martin Luther King’s Final Year]

King did not merely have a dream on the Washington Mall. If that was all there was to it, he wouldn’t have become an enemy of the state. He audaciously demanded of his country social and economic justice.

Without realizing the enormous compliment it was paying Karl Marx and communism, the state regarded him as a communist for demanding such things. Which is the more radical? Asking for this, or denying it.

Minnesota State Patrol troopers in riot gear following the publication of a video showing a white Minneapolis police officer kneeling on the neck of George Floyd, a handcuffed and unarmed Black man, and killing him. (Tony Webster, CC BY-SA 2.0, Wikimedia Commons)

It’s over half a century since King’s assassination, martyred at the age of 39. We exploit his memory each year with a national holiday bearing his name, but we have not moved an inch closer to remodeling our country on the world stage to exemplify what it could be like at home. 

Unless we are truly defending our country — and not for the so-called national interest that represents the class interests of the 1 percent — the best way to honor veterans is not with 10 percent off and thank you for your service. Peace, not war, is the way to honor the sacrifices of veterans. This is the central theme of Veterans For Peace.

For possible change, these things must be demanded, but who gets to make demands on Washington? The top 1 percent own 32.3 percent of the country’s wealth, against the bottom 50 percent owning a mere 2.6 percent. Half the country owns practically nothing.

Rent relief protester in January in Alamance, North Carolina, January 2021. (Anthony Crider, Flickr, CC BY 2.0)

It takes the totality of the bottom 90 percent, owning 30.2 percent, to approach the wealth of the 1 percent. Of course, this has no effect on the balance of power. The bottom 90 percent are so divided it’s not funny, and even if they weren’t, they don’t run anything. The well-off section between 91 percent and 99 percent doesn’t run anything either. The top 1 percent — although not necessarily agreeing with one another — run the country.

As far as the general public is concerned, placing faith in the U.S. Supreme Court is bound to disappoint. For much of its history, it’s been on the wrong side of the people. Whatever else can be said about it, our recent conservative court is being faithful to its roots.

For example, the Citizens United ruling enables the 1 percent (corporations , plutocrats and Wall Street) to spend unlimited funds on elections. There’s a straight line from this to the founding fathers’ enshrinement of property rights (land, capital, patriarchy, slaves) in our Constitution. That’s what they wanted.

John Jay — founding father, co-author of the Federalist Papers, and first U.S. chief justice — expressed the principle very clearly: “Those who own the country ought to govern it.” For all the lip service about democracy, that’s the way it was designed, and that’s the way it’s been.

James Rothenberg, of New York State, is a member of Veterans For Peace.

This article is from  Common Dreams.

The views expressed in this article and may or may not reflect those of Consortium News.

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8 comments for “Martin Luther King: Enemy of the State

  1. A Boyles
    January 10, 2023 at 11:59

    Another insightful article about America and its ironic and hypocritical roots. The country was founded, as the columnist points out, to protect the property rights of the 1%, and not a serious democracy. Therefore a military was needed to not only protect property rights but to aggressively steal the property of other nations through subversion, coup d’etat, and military bases, interventions and wars. Convincing ones own citizens that the rest of the world are barbarians and that the USA was right in doing what it does ro promote “democratic principles and freedom” must also go hand in hand with honouring veterans who do the dirty work, at no material gain and many times serious personal consequences. Veterans are revered in the official government propaganda because they enable the plundering and material gain of the 1%. The veterans will never get a break from the state of permanent war because the US is dependent on a war economy. I feel very badly how the military soldiers and veterans have been manipulated and used to their disadvantage while the 1% gain riches as a result. Excellent work by James Rothenberg ro bring these facts to the attention of the people.

  2. Dienne
    January 10, 2023 at 10:41

    “The top 1 percent — although not necessarily agreeing with one another — run the country.”

    They might not agree on issues like abortion or LGBTQ+ rights (although they do agree on using those issues to divide people), but they most certainly agree on labor/capital relations and U.S. foreign/military policy.

  3. RR
    January 10, 2023 at 04:38

    According to MLK “The prescription for the cure rests with an accurate diagnosis of the disease,” yet he
    focused famously on the ‘Triple Evils’ of poverty, racism and militarism, i.e., symptoms rather than the underlying disease – which is why Taylor Branch, the Pulitzer winning historian, could say of MLK that ‘all the issues that he raised toward the end of his life are as contemporary now as they were then’ (NY Times, 4 April 2018).

    For the last five years of his life, King was subject to scrutiny by the FBI. J Edgar Hoover was concerned about ‘communist’ infiltration of civil rights groups and unions but proof proved elusive. Baptist minister King had apparently read some of Marx’s writings and did not like his materialism, but such influences can be seen here: ‘the profit motive, when it is the sole basis of an economic system, encourages a cutthroat competition and selfish ambition that inspires men to be making a living than making a life.’ He even stated ‘the fact is that capitalism was built on the exploitation and suffering of black slaves and continues to thrive on the exploitation of the poor – both black and white, both here and abroad,’ yet rather than seeking to replace capitalism with socialism he campaigned for reforms to restructure it – e.g. he strived for a universal basic income as well as end to ‘overpopulation’. Days after his death Congress passed the Fair Housing Act, which prohibited discrimination in housing basis of race, religion, or national origin. Decades later, Obama’s ‘change’ meant business as usual. Today, racism is waxing not waning, 40 million Americans live in poverty, the top 1 percent has more wealth than the bottom 90 percent, and ‘just 1 in 10 black Americans believe civil rights movement’s goals have been achieved in the 50 years since Martin Luther King Jr was killed’ (The Independent, 31 March, 2018).

  4. shmutzoid
    January 9, 2023 at 15:29

    The memory of MLK long ago was coopted by the State. From all official MLK-day celebrations you would think MLK never said anything else other than “I have a dream….” Totally whitewashed from history is King’s spotlighting the lack of social and economic justice in the USA. His condemnation of the Vietnam War has been consigned to a black hole.
    ———- One year to the date from King’s speech that connected the dots between militarism, capitalism/consumerism and poverty he was killed. Of course, if you questioned the ‘official’ narrative about a lone gunman, the CIA-concocted term ‘conspiracy theorist’ would be hurled at you.
    ———- (The CIA came up with ‘conspiracy theory’ in the aftermath of JFK’s assassination as a way to portray anyone who questioned that official narrative of a lone gunman as ‘a kook’, or worse).

  5. Carolyn L Zaremba
    January 9, 2023 at 12:54

    Everybody has heard of Veterans for Peace.

    • robert e williamson jr
      January 9, 2023 at 18:06

      We all know the everyone should know, truth is they don’t.

      Just as they know nothing of COINTELPRO or OPERATION CHAOS two things they damned well should know about also. It was then that JFK’s words about “. . . a government that fears debating it’s issues in public is a government that fears it’s people”, and these government actions are the proof.

      Ignorance of even the most recent history is something that is killing the country, this ignorance has created the kind of Patriotism doesn’t represent our stated values but instead supports the MSM / corporate manufactured red white and blue emotional visage of “God, Family and Country” propaganda spewed by politicians and the billionaires who buy the ad time.

      COINTELPRO and OPERATION CHAOS were actions taken by a government that denied it’s own reality, that government is still in denial.

      These two psy-ops were the result of those in power misusing, both actions were illegal, their governmental authority. One by FBI the other by the national security apparatus of the U.S. government, both Federal entities.

      We all live a lie in this country if we believe we have a free elected representative government. Those days are long gone, 911 and the Patriot Act ended that charade but no one seemed to notice. Far too many were engaged in an emotionally charged orgy of lust for revenge instead of being rational and demanding to know why the event happened.

      Lazy sheep following the wolf in sheep’s clothing over the cliff. It’s disgusting. The result is the overwhelming tendency by those lazy sheep to strike out angrily at the “other”, anyone who questions the validity of those false political gods bought by billionaires.

      • robert e williamson jr
        January 10, 2023 at 15:01

        When I screw up sometimes it is a major embarrassment. Like here for instance. Geeeze!

        Humor me I please.

        Just as they know nothing of COINTELPRO or OPERATION CHAOS two things they damned well should know about also. These two events were when JFK’s words, a government that fears debating it’s issues in the public forum, is a government that fears it’s people. These two operations are proof of that fear and can be applied exposing the lengths to which our government will venture to kill the will of the populace.

        Thanks CN

    • Andrew Thomas
      January 10, 2023 at 19:58

      I would hope so, Carolyn. People who read CN have heard of it, I’m sure. Everyone else? Would like to think so…

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