"I am as deeply concerned about our troops there as anything else. For it occurs to me that when we are submitting them to . . .is not simply the brutalizing process that goes on in any war where armies face each other and seek to destroy. We are adding cynicism to the process of death, for they must know after a short period there that none of the things we claim to be fighting for are really involved."--- Dr. Martin Luther King
Martin Luther King spoke passionately to the suffering of soldiers in combat and returning war veterans in a way that challenges and informs us even today. Exactly one year before his assassination, he gave an address at Riverside Church in New York to a meeting of Clergy and Laity Concerned, that included the passages above. Alternately referred to as "A Time to Break Silence," "Beyond Vietnam," or "When Silence is Betrayal," the content is no less riveting than "I Have a Dream" but is rarely quoted on the King holiday.
Revisiting it now, I am struck by its contemporary relevance. At Riverside, King talked of soldiers from poor backgrounds serving and dying in extraordinarily high proportions relative to the larger population, of black young men told that they were fighting to insure freedoms that--truth be told-- they did not fully enjoy at home. Dr. King railed against this "cruel manipulation," adding that it was an equally "cruel irony" that Americans could watch TV images of black and white soldiers killing and dying together "for a nation that has been unable to seat them together in the same schools." Their lives were being sucked into what he called a "demonic destructive suction tube" that swallowed people, skills, resources, and futures.
It seems to me that for some years now we have been witnessing the cynical, cruel manipulation of brave soldiers and veterans in order to prolong the spiritually bankrupt "war on terror." During the Bush Administration, support of a war based upon lies was demanded as a way of being "loyal to the troops." The cruel irony is that it was the commander-in-chief's lying disloyalty, and our complicity, that created the predicament. Suggesting that more soldiers needed to die, kill, and be traumatized in order to be faithful to them has been what Dr. King would call "brutal solidarity." The new administration has employed the language of change but invested in much the same substance. The"demonic destructive suction tube" continues to swallow futures, sacrificed to a perverse prosperity.
Amid all of the tortured justifications for the compounding of violence in Afghanistan, Iraq, at "black sites," and at home, the truth of what has been done to our sons and daughters has been revealed publicly in the epidemic proportions of PTSD, depression, brain injury, suicide; inadequate services and repeated official denial of the scope of suffering; the horror of continued multiple deployments. It's all there to be heard, seen, and felt.