Posts Tagged ‘Vietnam’

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Today marks the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech, “Beyond Vietnam: A Time To Break Silence.”

Here is a link to the text [ht: ja] of the speech. Here are his first three reasons for King’s breaking the silence on Vietnam:

Since I am a preacher by calling, 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 this program broken and eviscerated as if it were some idle political plaything on 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 a 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 hardly live on the same block in Chicago. 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 ghettos 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 the hundreds of thousands trembling under our violence, I cannot be silent.

And here’s King’s analysis of the relationship between Vietnam and the United States:

After the French were defeated, it looked as if independence and land reform would come again through the Geneva Agreement. 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 and Diem ruthlessly rooted out all opposition, supported their extortionist landlords, and refused even to discuss reunification with the North. The peasants watched as all of this was presided over by United States influence and then by increasing numbers of United States 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 dictators 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 the 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 on 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 out 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?

It is time that we, too, break our silence on U.S. wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and around the world.

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According to a new World Bank report [ht: sm], on inequality in South Asia, among the United States, Bangladesh, India, and Vietnam, the probability of moving out of poverty within a generation (from 2005 to 2010) was highest in Vietnam.

Just to put a point on it: upward mobility from poverty was the same in the United States as in Bangladesh.

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Those of a certain age will remember “hearts and minds”—both LBJ’s words (“the ultimate victory will depend on the hearts and minds of the people who actually live out there”) and the powerful film by Peter Davis.

Today, it is the Right that is conducting a battle for the hearts and minds of young Americans.

There is, of course, the Opt Out campaign waged by the Koch brothers-backed group Generation Opportunity, urging Millennials not to sign up for insurance on the health care exchanges created by the Affordable Care Act.

And then there’s Stan Druckenmiller, the billionaire fund manager, who is traveling around the country visiting college campuses.* His goal is to scare young people into believing that (a) there’s a debt explosion coming, which will ruin the country, and (b) the primary causes of the growing debt are entitlement programs, which means that seniors are stealing from the young. This is the Tea Party-inspired generational theft meme I’ve written about before.

According to the generational theft campaign, the dramatic lowering of the poverty rate among the nation’s senior citizens (via Social Security and Medicare) represents not progress but, instead, the cause of an approaching apocalypse, as Baby Boomers begin to retire and more claims on made on those programs. There’s no discussion, of course, of why the federal debt is a problem (just some large scary numbers), and alternative means of containing the debt, such as raising tax revenues from large corporations and wealthy individual) are derided (because, in his view, rich people would simply stop working).

During his most recent presentation, Druckenmiller made much the same argument to scare his young audience, and then invoked the memory of the anti-Vietnam War movement:

“My generation, we brought down the president in the 60’s because we didn’t want to go into the war against Vietnam,” he said. “People say young people don’t vote, young people don’t care. I’m hoping after tonight, you will care. There is a clear danger to you and your children.”

Put aside for the moment the obscenity of comparing the carpet-bombing of the Vietnam War to the strains associated with the federal debt. The fact is, the federal debt is not out of control (not now and not for the foreseeable future). And the existing programs for the elderly—those who are currently retired and those who will be leaving work in the coming decades—should be expanded, not cut back. It can be done if we begin to seriously discuss and address the instabilities and inequalities created by current economic arrangements.

As it turns out, the next evening, the inaugural Chuck Craypo memorial lecture featured a panel discussion with Nelson Lichtenstein and Dan Schlademan on Wal-Mart. They demonstrated to the young people in attendance what they should really fear is living a world that is being remade in the image of retailing giants like Wal-Mart. It’s that prospect, and not the supposed conflict between generations, that should really capture their (and our) hearts and minds.

*Disclaimer: I don’t remember him but Druckenmiller apparently graduated from Bowdoin College the year before me. Here’s a link to Julia La Roche’s description of Druckenmiller’s presentation at his alma mater a few months ago.

 

Today, when everyone is appropriately commemorating the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr’s speech during the March on Washington—but when the drums of war are beating louder and louder—we should also be rereading King’s 1967 speech, “Beyond Vietnam—A Time to Break Silence.”

Disclaimer: Omar Dahi, professor of economics at Hampshire College, is a close friend and former graduate student.

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