Afghanistan and the Memory of Martin Luther King, Jr.

Steve Novick

Today is of course a day of celebration for millions throughout the world - but it is also, sadly, the anniversary of the death of Martin Luther King, Jr. Bob Herbert of the New York Times had an excellent column on King's anti-war speech, on the same day, a year before his death, which includes the following passage:

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.

Comments

  • Boats (unverified)
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    . . .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.

    Even they take a back seat to the corruption and ineptitude of the Obama Administration.

  • DeanOR (unverified)
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    "... the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today--my own government." _King

  • Patrick Story (unverified)
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    Add to these references the op-ed in the O today by Tom Hayden about "the long war"--the military-industrial complex's plan to maintain a continuous string of Afghan-type interventions for possibly the next 80 years.

    We can't forget that Obama ran on the idea of withdrawing from Iraq while at the same time promising to enlarge the intervention in Afghanistan. It may have been that that was the only way his candidacy could proceed.

    Personal note: on the day after the King assassination, I was swept into the street rioting and looting in the Chicago loop area. I was very lucky to get out of there when a sympathetic driver permitted me to board, at a trot, his jam-packed outbound airport bus that was slowly rolling along with the traffic. That day of sorrow and rage stays with me.

  • Bill Bodden (unverified)
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    "Add to these references the op-ed in the O today by Tom Hayden about "the long war"--the military-industrial complex's plan to maintain a continuous string of Afghan-type interventions for possibly the next 80 years. "

    Lots of luck to the military-media-mercenary-industrial-academia complex on those eight decades of war. The country will go belly-up long before that. Given our present shaky economic condition the continued decline and eventual fall will very likely occur sooner than later.

  • mlw (unverified)
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    The problem in Vietnam was that we did not have a legitimate partner in the South Vietnamese government. We focused on cooperating with that government, rather than on ground level interventions with people at the village level. The problem we're running into in Afghanistan is similar, but not the same. Karzai is upset with us because we are largely denying him opportunities for corruption by focusing almost entirely at the local level and bypassing the corrupt central government. By taking this approach, we are increasing security and the role of local governance, at the cost of the influence of the central government. That's not a bad thing. If we build capacity and relationships at the local level, the Afghans can work out their central government's problems themselves. That's the whole idea to begin with, isn't it?

  • BOHICA (unverified)
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    mlw "The problem in Vietnam was that we did not have a legitimate partner in the South Vietnamese government."

    No, the problem was we didn't have a legitimate reason to be there in the first place.

  • Bill Bodden (unverified)
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    "'The problem in Vietnam was that we did not have a legitimate partner in the South Vietnamese government.'"

    "No, the problem was we didn't have a legitimate reason to be there in the first place."

    And another problem was that the politicians in Washington and the military at the Pentagon and in Saigon didn't have the character to admit in public what they knew in private; that is, they were fighting a lost cause that didn't come to a conclusion until more thousands of military personnel were killed and maimed physically and psychological. Not to mention the many more thousands of Vietnamese, including women and children. See the chapter on Vietnam in Barbara Tuchman's "March of Folly." We never learn, do we?

  • Bill Bodden (unverified)
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    "That's not a bad thing. If we build capacity and relationships at the local level,..."

    And, what kinds of relationships will we build at the local level? Any more like this?

  • (Show?)

    "It's the Drug war Stupid"

    Karzai and his minions will never even get a chance at "honest gummint" until the huge opium trade is addressed. Right now we have a bunch of US bureaucrats sitting around in the Helmand valley spitballing about alternative agriculture.

    Good luck with that. Internationally, whether now or 200 years in the future, we will collectively legalize, educate, and treat.

    We can amass intel and blow people away with drones from 12,000 feet, but as long as there're huge profits to be made and desperate people willing to gamble at the bottom end.......We're in a Dragon's Teeth situation.

    Looking closer to home, if we legalized pot nationally tomorrow, we'd be winding down the border war with Mexico within a few months.

  • Bill Bodden (unverified)
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    More on the shoot-'em-up in Paktia Province by Glenn Greenwald: How Americans Are Propagandized About Afghanistan A reminder of how we are connected to these things by our being gullible enough to believe the mainstream corporate media and not holding our politicians accountable.

  • mlw (unverified)
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    Bill, your comments are grossly offensive to the tens of thousands of GIs who are working with local leaders to build a better future for Afghanistan - on their terms, not ours. Yes, people screw up and do bad things, but to equate the actions of those few with the large majority who are working honorably and effectively with local leaders is exactly the kind of thing that undermines the left's credibility on these issues.

    However, you are right on Vietnam. We did have a legitimate reason to be there in the beginning, contrary to BOHICA's assertion. The people of South Vietnam had a right to choose their own form of government and we were there originally to prevent the communists from taking that right from them. Our mistake, as you point out, was in not getting out when it became clear that we were preventing that from happening just as much as the communists were. It's not clear that's what's happening in Afghanistan. Most Afghans support the US presence there and only support the Taliban when the international community gives them no secure choice.

  • Patrick Story (unverified)
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    mlw,

    I think it's hard for anyone to speak for tens of thousands of GIs in Afghanistan. Who knows what percentage privately believes in the possibility of affecting a 14th-century tribal culture in the grip of the 21st-century international drug trade, and what percentage thinks it's hopeless and just wants to get the hell out of there in one piece, physically and emotionally. How will we ever know unless something like mutiny breaks out, as it did in Vietnam with disobedience and the fragging of officers?

  • Stephen Amy (unverified)
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    mlw: there were lots of village-level interventions that the U.S. tried in Vietnam- have you heard of the hundreds of thousands who were forcefully evacuated from their villages, and then the areas became "free-fire zones" (because there wasn't supposed to be any friendlies remaining in the area), and then came the aerial spraying of the Agent Orange, so's that the villagers would have no reason to return (theoretically)?

  • Stephen Amy (unverified)
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    Anyway, these quotes are from the 3/31/10 deition of The Economist (a newspaper that is not habitually opposed to U.S. foreign policy):

    "Some diplomats have also detected a coolness in Mr. Obama towards a planned 'consulatative peace jirga', essentially a large meeting, to be held in May, of national representatives. The hope is that they will come up with an agreed approach to peace talks with the Taliban.

    The Americans want to see peace talks, but only after the insurgents have been ground down on the battlefield and they are left, as one Western official puts it, with a simple choice: 'reconcile or die.'"

    So, let us assume the insurgents are to be ground down on the battlefiield. As a result of that, is it more likely or less likely that the more radical amongst them (whatever survivors there are) will want to strike back against the U.S. by means of international actions? I guess President Obama must think it will be less likely. I'm not so sure.

    Anyway, now Hamid Karzai is threatening to go over to the Taliban (he is Pashtun, after all). In 1963, the U.S. had Diem offed when Diem realized that trying to fight the NLF was futile and, therefore, recommended negotiations. Don't think the U.S. can get away with a stunt like that again. I hope there's a greater level of sophistication and suspicion as regards any country's meddling in another.

  • Stephen Amy (unverified)
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    Also, mlw, in 1956, according to the terms of the 1954 Geneva Accord, there was to be a national re-unification referendum in Viet Nam.

    The phony, recently-created Republic of South Vietnam refused to participate in the refendum (refused at the U.S.'s behest). (Ho Chi Minh's faction was clearly ahead in the public's opinion).

    It was the U.S. which prevented the people of Viet Nam from choosing there own government.

    And once the mythical Republic of South Vietnam was in place, it never held a fair election.

  • Stephen Amy (unverified)
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    "their", not "there"

    How does one edit, once posted?

  • Jake Leander (unverified)
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    There may be legitimate reasons for one nation invading, fighting a war in or against, or occupying another nation; but those are almost never the reasons for these actions. Projection of military power by strong nations almost always happen for economic reasons, no matter how the use of force is sold to the world and the folks at home.

    War can enrich particular individuals, businesses, and business sectors. It rarely benefits the people of any of the nations involved. To justify th US invasion of Afghanistan by the Taliban's reaction to al Qaida is a lot like bombing the neighbor's house because their dog pooped on your lawn. Like Vietnam, the Afghanistan adventure is a quagmire. President Karzai reportedly said on Saturday, “If you and the international community pressure me more, I swear that I am going to join the Taliban,”

    So much for winning hearts and minds.

  • Patrick Story (unverified)
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    Stephen Amy,

    Like you, when I heard that Karzai has laid claim to Afghan "sovereignty" and threatened to go over to the Taliban, I too immediately thought of Diem in Vietnam, and his US-sanctioned assassination and immediate replacement with a US puppet government. You think that's not likely to happen again? Who knows what fate could befall Karzai in the coming days, on purpose or "accidentally."

  • Jake Leander (unverified)
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    How many Americans have a clear idea of what is happening in Afghanistan?

    How Americans are propagandized about Afghanistan

  • Bill Bodden (unverified)
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    "Bill, your comments are grossly offensive to the tens of thousands of GIs who are working with local leaders to build a better future for Afghanistan - on their terms,"

    mlw: You couldn't be more wrong. What do you think your "tens of thousands of GIs who are working with local leaders to build a better future for Afghanistan - on their terms,..." think of the actions of these killers? The good work that others might be doing is more than offset by these criminal acts committed by the few.

    And what kind of message would a cover-up give to other troops who are still sufficiently immature that they're not quite sure what is right and what is wrong? The rules of war, the United Nations Charter, the Geneva Conventions on War? Forget them. They are for foreigners to obey. We're Americans so we can do what we want.

    And, what does this event and others like it (yes, there have been others) do for the image of America in the Muslim world?

    And, let's not forget this war in Afghanistan is illegal just like the one in Iraq. But the White House got away with that crime so the new team got the signal they could ignore international law on Afghanistan and anywhere else.

    Just for the record, I happen to be a veteran and know like any other honest person who served that "everyone in uniform is a hero" is bullshit. Some of the best people I have met in my lifetime were in the military, and that is where I met some of the worst.

  • Bill Bodden (unverified)
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    "Bill, your comments are grossly offensive to the tens of thousands of GIs who are working with local leaders to build a better future for Afghanistan - on their terms,"

    mlw: How about the women serving in the military who have been raped by fellow members and who reported those atrocities? Did you find their reports "grossly offensive" to the rest of the military services? Are you of the opinion they should have kept quiet to maintain the myth that all men in the military are noble and virtuous?

  • Tom Degan (unverified)
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    "If we assume that mankind has the right to exist, then we must find an alternative to war and destruction. In our day of space vehicles and guided ballistic missiles, the choice is either nonviolence or nonexistence."

    Martin Luther King

    That's what I love about this guy! American history is littered with "Christian" religious leaders. Try as you might, you can't escape them. The thing that sets the right, Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. apart from most of these guys is the fact that he wasn't a hypocrite. He never tried to twist the words of Jesus of Nazareth into anything other than what they were - a call to love one another and for kindness and gentleness. The Trappist monk Thomas Merton is another celebrated American Christian who took the gospel seriously. So was Dorothy Day, the founder of the Catholic Worker. Give me a week and I might be able to name one or two others, but at the moment none come to mind. Both Merton and King died in 1968. Dorothy Day left this veil of tears in 1980. They're gone and they're not coming back.

    There are a lot of people today doing what Dr. King did - in reverse. They are the Anti-Kings - or as I like to call them - the Martin Loony Kings. In his time on earth, King sought to appeal to the nation's conscience - to all that was good and (unfortunately at times) hidden in the American character. Today there are national spokespersons galore who would be happy to undo all the good work he did. Their stated purpose is to appeal to the darker demons of our nature. It's working. The number of people out there who seriously believe that our African American President is a "foreign born, Socialist Muslim" is growing by the day. The gullibility of so many Americans truly astounds. Would you like a little cyanide with your a cup of tea, ma'am?

    http://www.tomdegan.blogspot.com

    Tom Degan

  • Bill Bodden (unverified)
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    "Bill, your comments are grossly offensive to the tens of thousands of GIs who are working with local leaders to build a better future for Afghanistan - on their terms,"

    mlw: There appear to be some cogent points that have escaped your attention.

    Recently, General David Petraeus, whom you probably admire, testified before Congress and advised that a resolution to the Israeli-Palestine conflict had to be achieved. Why? Because Arabs and Muslims are seeking vengeance against American troops because of American complicity in Israeli killings and violations of Palestinian human rights. So, if Arabs and Muslims in Iraq and Afghanistan are fighting American troops because, in part, of events hundreds of miles away, what is their logical response to events where family members, neighbors, and other members of their tribes are slaughtered by American troops?

    Not all of our military are as pathologically structured as the special forces who shot up people in Paktia Province so that they are probably indifferent to the people they killed. Ever since the United States sent troops to the illegal war on Iraq and now the illegal war in Afghanistan, thousands of them have returned with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Why? There are many reasons among which are witnessing and being involved in killing innocent people, including old men, women and children. Nobody knows exactly how many of these veterans could no longer live with their memories and themselves, but some people have estimated thousands of them have committed suicide to find relief. A recent report showed that suicides in the armed forces have continued to increase each year since the Bush/Cheney gang began their crusade to bring democracy to the heathers. If you are so concerned about the military as you suggest, you might give that some thought - and a little for their victims while you're at it.

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    Rev. King's address that day was given at New York City's historic Riverside Church, a congregation of the United Church of Christ. Our denomination, which opposed the Vietnam war and the two wars we are fighting now, worked alongside Rev. King in the civil rights movement and we have always been honored that he came to Riverside to talk about Vietnam. My own views have been deeply shaped by Rev. King's theology of the Beloved Community.

  • Jake Leander (unverified)
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    The nature of occupation:

    Collateral Murder

    U.S. military concluded that the actions of the soldiers were in accordance with the law of armed conflict and its own "Rules of Engagement".

  • Bill Bodden (unverified)
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    More food for thought, if you're capable of it:

    Fallujah's Sick Babies at http://www.counterpunch.org/blum04062010.html

    and

    Collateral Pentagon at http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Middle_East/LD07Ak01.html

  • Bill Bodden (unverified)
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    This is from the ever informative Informed Comment at juancole dot com for today regarding Collateral Penatagon/Collateral Murder:

    "Reddit.com has a good discussion of the video, in which the main conclusions appear to be these:

    "1. The cover-up of the pilots' mistake in killing the Reuters cameramen and mistaking their cameras for an RPG is the worst thing about this episode

    "2. While the pilots who fired at apparently armed men (and at least 3 were actually armed) thought they were saving US ground troops who had been pinned down from men with small arms, they had less justification for firing on the van. Indeed, the latter action may have been a war crime since the van was trying to pick up the wounded and it is illegal to fire on the wounded and those hors de combat.

    "3. While many actions of the pilots may not have been completely wrong under their rules of engagement, nevertheless they often acted inexcusably, and their attitude is inhuman and deplorable.

    "See Glenn Greenwald on why the USG attempt to suppress wikileaks matters. "

    Re Item 1: The worst thing was being innocent and being killed.

  • Jake Leander (unverified)
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    "The worst thing", in my opinion, is the ease with which we resort to military force while knowing the nature of war and occupation. A telephoto lens seen from a distance by a soldier under stress morphs into an RPG, just as innocent civilians, even women and children, morph into dangerous combatants under the fog of war. The decision to invade, to occupy, and to "stay the course", in light of what we know of the nature of war and its effects on all involved is inconceivable to me.

    MLK understood the moral imperative to clearly perceive the realities of Vietnam. We should follow his lead in examining the present day projections of US military might.

  • Bill Bodden (unverified)
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    "MLK understood the moral imperative to clearly perceive the realities of Vietnam. "

    Unfortunately, the moral imperative does not exist in the minds of almost all of the Washington elites. One of the worst examples of this occurred at the Radio and Television Correspondents dinner in 2004 when Bush made a joke about the non-existent WMDs he used to promote his crime against humanity in Iraq. It was a sick joke but the audience including loads of movers and shakers thought it was funny. Only one correspondent - David Corn of The Nation - had the integrity to walk out in disgust. MIA WMDs--For Bush, It's a Joke There is a clip on YouTube showing part of this sordid affair with Nancy Pelosi forcing a smile and Joe LIEberman enjoying the joke. Not very funny for the thousands of military personnel who lost their lives or were maimed physically or psychologically - not to mention the hundred of thousands of Iraqis who suffered similar fates and the millions who became refugees.

  • Stephen Amy (unverified)
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    Patrick Story,

    Yes, maybe Karzai will soon meet an "untimely" fate. For some reason I say to myself "they can't do that AGAIN", but that's just based on some inbred optimism with no basis in reality.

    Tom Degan,

    How about the Berrigan brothers, as additions to your list of true Christians?

    "Forgive us dear friends, for this fracture of good order, the burning of paper rather than children, the angering of the orderlies of the front parlor of the charnel house."- Father Daniel Berrigan, after they'd burned draft records at Catonsville MD.

  • Bill Bodden (unverified)
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    "Bill, your comments are grossly offensive to the tens of thousands of GIs who are working with local leaders to build a better future for Afghanistan - on their terms, not ours."

    mlw: If you thought my comments were grossly offensive to the troops what, if anything, did you think of the performers and guests at the Radio and Television Correspondents dinner referred to above?

  • Jake Leander (unverified)
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    Bill Bodden wrote:

    ...the moral imperative does not exist in the minds of almost all of the Washington elites.

    <h2>Ain't it the truth! Securing a good position requires unquestioning acceptence of the dominant paradigm. The Masters of War run the show, and moral nigglers don't get parts. Change can come only from outside the halls of the powerful and the offices of their stenographers.</h2>

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