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A Time To Break Silence

What would Martin Luther King Jr. think of the war on Iraq? His 1967 speech provides some insight.
 
 
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MLKNext week, the nation will celebrate (or merely acknowledge) the birthday of the most popular and prophetic protester of 20th-century America -- Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

And while the commercialized (let's all hold hands and sing "We Shall Overcome") image of Dr. King is praised from Cape Cod to California, collecting dust in the archives is an address the Gandhi apostle gave on April 4, 1967 -- exactly one year before he was assassinated during a campaign to help sanitation workers on strike in Memphis.

The speech, called "A Time To Break Silence," was given at Riverside Church in New York City. True to his theological roots, King spoke out against what he considered to be an unjust and "immoral war" in Vietnam.

"I speak now, not of the soldiers of each side, but simply of the people who have been living under the curse of war for almost three continuous decades now. They must see Americans as strange liberators.

"All the while the people read our leaflets and receive regular promises of peace and democracy... Now they languish under our bombs and consider us -- not their fellow Vietnamese -- the real enemy."

Care to guess what King might think about the Bush push for war in Iraq? King continued: "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 precious trees."

Since the 1991 war in Iraq, in which U.S. bombs filled with cancer-causing depleted uranium destroyed the infrastructure of the Iraqi people, our leaders have been calling to overthrow a despot.

UNICEF (and other independent analysis) has established that the damage inflicted on the Iraqi infrastructure during the war, plus 11 years of the most severe international sanctions ever imposed on a nation, have led to the deaths of an estimated 500,000 Iraqi children under the age of 5.

"Here is the true meaning and value of compassion and nonviolence -- when it helps us to see the enemy's point of view, to hear his questions, to know his assessment of ourselves. For from his view we may indeed see the basic weakness of our condition, and if we are mature, we may learn and grow and profit from the wisdom of the brothers who are called the opposition," King said.

The day after MLK Day this year, the first four of 85 School of the Americas protesters will go on trial to decide if they're going to federal prison.

Charity Ryerson, Jeremiah John, Andrew Olive and Rachel Shively are facing federal trespassing charges for their participation in a Nov. 17 protest of the military training school in Ft. Benning, Ga., which has graduated some the most notorious human rights abusers in the Western hemisphere. Noriega is among the alumni of the School of the Americas, or SOA.

In a PR gimmick to deflect unsavory attention away from the decades-old "Shut Down the SOA" protest movement, the school recently changed its name to the Western Hemispheric Institute for Security Cooperation, or WHISC. (Catchy, ain't it?)

Of the 10,000 demonstrators in attendance, which included West Wing star Martin Sheen, 85 engaged in a common nonviolent tactic that any cop who has ever worn a riot helmet is quite familiar with. They trespassed onto the grounds of Ft. Benning, under military police supervision, mind you, where they planned to be arrested.

And what do you get for carrying on King's legacy in the freest country on earth? The defendants are looking at 18 months in federal prison, and/or $5,000 in fines, plus probation.

Among the 85 defendants (40 of whom will go to trial on Jan. 27 while the rest are slated to go before a judge on Feb. 21) are students, teachers, retirees, Catholic nuns, homemakers, an accountant, an engineer, an airline captain, two farmers, a lawyer, a pastor, a bricklayer and a newspaper deliverer; not exactly the peaceniks in open toe sandals of the hawk imagination.

You wanna really honor King and what he represents this year? Join the growing chorus of ordinary Americans calling on their government to shut down places like the SOA or WHISC.

Imagine. To close down this school wouldn't require us to bomb and invade a sovereign foreign country, which PR folks know might help to positively change the perceptions of people like this Palestinian fella I met two years ago in the Old City of Jerusalem. After finding out I'm an American, he said: "Good people. Bad government."

For more information about WHISC and the movement to close it down see www.soaw.org.

Sean Gonsalves is a Cape Cod Times staff writer and a syndicated columnist.