By Chase Sydnor
50 years ago today, Martin Luther King Jr (MLK) manifested his era defining, momentous and prophetic ‘dream’ at the Lincoln memorial in America’s capitol. He spoke of a time when people of all colours and creeds would be united in a common bond of humanity, where justice, in the words of the biblical prophet Amos, would, “roll down like waters”. Today, 50 years on, the ‘dream’ needs to be given earnest attention, it is as relevant today as it was at the height of racial segregation and the epoch of the Vietnam war. It seems highly ironic that the first Black President of the United States is making a speech in the same location that MLK made his, and yet time after time contradicts everything the great man stood for by pressing his finger on the button of ‘justifiable violence’….sadly this illustrates the contradictions and duplicity of the world we live in. One can only imagine the feelings and words of lamentation which would spring from the mouth of MLK were he alive today.
Something of MLK’s life work and message has been usurped by the Governments and mainstream media. Watching the BBC today, I could not fail to notice that whilst all the coverage of the 50 year speech focused upon civil rights, hardly anything (possibly nothing) was spoken of MLK’s outspoken views against war and violence. We do the legacy of King a great disservice by simply focusing on his struggle for black freedoms. MLK fought for justice and peace for all. Militarism, Materialism and Racism were MLK’s greatest concerns and they should be ours today.
Martin Luther King Day is celebrated in America around January the 20th of each year. It is a Federal Holiday, so for the bulk of the military, it is an extended weekend ‘liberty’. Once again, the paradox is there for all to see. One of the main highways outside of Camp Lejuene where I was stationed in North Carolina, was named after MLK. What this illustrates is the co-option of MLK by the establishment, which in my view, has led to a watering down of the overall meaning and aims of King’s life struggle. This cannot be allowed to persist! Now is the time to recapture and with real courage, engage properly with Martin Luther King’s dream of a world that does not resort to violence to achieve justice and peace. King fell out of favour and grace with the government after his famous speech when he began to denounce the war in Vietnam. Too often this facet has been ignored by modern history. It is my personal view, that King was assassinated as much for his stance against Vietnam, as for his crusade for black equality.
MLK expressed righteous anger against the fact that while millions of Americans were living in poverty, Billions of dollars were being wasted on imperialistic ventures overseas. With Britain and the U.S making no secret of their contempt for the U.N whilst planning a bombing campaign against Syria, we have to ask what would MLK be doing and saying now. Now more than ever, the dream of MLK needs to be extricated from government hypocrisy and championed by those who wish to truly follow the man in downing the tools of Militarism.
Chase Sydnor is a former US Marine and a member of Veterans For Peace (UK).