Image: Martin Luther King breaks his silence about the Vietnam War at Riverside Church in New York City, April 4, 1967. (source: public domain)
Note: Throughout, this series, I put the word "enemies" in scare quotes. I do this in keeping with the socialist tradition which notes that the ruling classes make wars to enrich or entertain themselves, while sending those they rule to fight and die in them. A slogan of the 1916 Irish Easter Rising was:
The socialist of another country is a fellow patriot! The capitalist of my own country is a natural enemy!
This post is an introduction to a series on antiwar issues. There is a tendency among liberals to view all left-of-center movements as independent--particularly movements against war and in favor of disarmament. What does an end to the war in Afghanistan have to do with, say, disparities in primarily education? This view was most famously criticized by Martin Luther King:
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 the 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...To update this message for current levels of military spending, Demos created a striking graphic to drive this point home:
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 must play in the successful resolution of the problem. While they both may have justifiable reasons 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 National Liberation Front, but rather to my fellow Americans.
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...
Actually, I don't find that graphic as striking as it could be. Circular graphs tend to be misleading, so I made a fan graph:
Also: we're set to spend $1 trillion on nuclear weapons (emphasis added):
Isn’t it rather odd that America’s largest single public expenditure scheduled for the coming decades has received no attention in the 2015-2016 presidential debates?
The expenditure is for a 30-year program to “modernize” the US nuclear arsenal and production facilities. Although President Obama began his administration with a dramatic public commitment to build a nuclear weapons-free world, that commitment has long ago dwindled and died. It has been replaced by an administration plan to build a new generation of US nuclear weapons and nuclear production facilities to last the nation well into the second half of the 21st century. This plan, which has received almost no attention by the mass media, includes redesigned nuclear warheads, as well as new nuclear bombers, submarines, land-based missiles, weapons labs and production plants. The estimated cost? $1,000,000,000,000.00 — or, for those readers unfamiliar with such lofty figures, $1 trillion.
Critics charge that the expenditure of this staggering sum will either bankrupt the country or, at the least, require massive cutbacks in funding for other federal government programs. “We’re… wondering how the heck we’re going to pay for it,” admitted Brian McKeon, an undersecretary of defense. And we’re “probably thanking our stars we won’t be here to have to have to answer the question,” he added with a chuckle.So we're set to spend more on nuclear weapons in the next few decades than we did during the Cold War. That is complete nonsense.
These statistics runs with the idea that the military is expensive, and the money could be spent on enriching people's lives, rather than ending them. But a world with war and militaries is incompatible with the goals of the left for more than the simple arithmetic of opportunity costs. There are numerous ways in which war and the mere existence of militaries fundamentally undermines the goals of the left. This series will address several issues:
- Military spending never makes us safer. Any advantage obtained through a larger military or more fearsome weapons will only be temporary, as our "enemies" will increase their military spending to match. As military spending spirals upwards, the world becomes less safe. This ratcheting effect both caused World War I and made it terrifyingly deadly.
- The threat of war can be used to justify almost anything, and the threat of nuclear war can be used to justify even more. This fear allowed the American federal government (through programs like COINTELPRO) to destroy all major leftist organizations in the United States. And this fear was used to justify unspeakable American interventions in countries around the world, which replaced many peaceful democratically elected leftist governments with brutal dictatorships, funded gruesome civil wars that killed, maimed, displaced, orphaned, and impoverished millions, and trained and enabled genocidal death squads. The threat of war and nuclear weapons can be used to justify all this violence, and as long as this fear exists, the left will always be subject to this repression, no matter how committed to peace these movements are.
- War turns people to dictators and away from the left. Violence, war, and dictatorship can be no lily pad to a brighter future.
- If leftist ideas really are best for people, then people can be won over to the left in a democratic system. Thus, military power is the only insurmountable obstacle for the left. If we can demilitarize enough to make overturning the democratic will impossible, the left has a clear path to making the world a better place. Only force and violence can overturn the will of the people, and the people can be persuaded.