Peace as a Civil Right

An address given to Lakewood Ministerial Alliance for a 2003 Martin Luther King Day Celebration at Lakewood Presbyterian Church in Lakewood, Ohio

Oh hear my song, thou God of all the nations, a song of peace for their land and for mine.—Jean Sibelius

'This Is My Song" from Finlandia

The life of Dr. Martin Luther King shines like the sun through the clouds, which hover over this nation, casting a beam of light whenever darkness seeks to envelope us, illuminating our way over the rocky, perilous ground until we can envision the upward path toward social and economic justice. This evening let us reflect on his challenge to America's prosecution of a war in Vietnam as we ponder an America poised to once again use its destructive power against a nation of people already broken by war, by U.S. sanctions, by an uncaring leader. America stands ready to accelerate the bombing over major cities in Iraq, to destroy lives, families, houses, buildings, water systems, electric systems, to light fires to force populations to move, to engage in house-to-house combat. All in the name of fighting terrorism. In the name of removing weapons of mass destruction.

In his speech 35 years ago at Riverside Church in New York City, Dr. King created the synthesis of peace and civil rights. "Somehow this madness must cease," Dr. King said then of the annihilation of the Vietnamese people and their nation. "I speak as a child of God and brother to the suffering poor of Vietnam. I speak for those whose land is being laid waste, whose homes are being destroyed, whose culture is being subverted."

Let us contemplate his words. "Somehow this madness must cease." Tonight we call for an end to the pretext for war. Tonight we call for the end of justification for war. Tonight we call for the end of a military buildup toward war. Tonight we call for the end of war in the hearts of those who desire war. Tonight we call for the beginning of compassion. Tonight we call for human dignity. Tonight we call for human unity.

"I speak for the poor of America who are paying the double price of smashed hopes at home, and death and corruption in Vietnam," Dr. King said.

Once again the hopes of people of two nations are being smashed by weapons in the name of eliminating weapons. Let us abolish weapons of mass destruction at home. Joblessness is a weapon of mass destruction. Poverty is a weapon of mass destruction. Hunger is a weapon of mass destruction. Homelessness is a weapon of mass destruction. Poor healthcare is a weapon of mass destruction. Poor education is a weapon of mass destruction. Discrimination is a weapon of mass destruction.

Let us abolish such weapons of mass destruction here at home. Let us use hundreds of billions of our tax dollars, which some would cast upon Iraq in bombs and warring troops, instead for the restoration of the American Dream, to rebuild our economy and to expand opportunities for all. We have a duty to assert our human needs as a people and not to yield them for the base concerns of an unresponsive government: We have a right to a job. We have a right to decent housing. We have a right to healthcare. We have a right to food fit to eat, air fit to breathe and water fit to drink. Peace is a civil right, which makes other human rights possible. Peace is the precondition for our existence. Peace permits our continued existence.

"I speak as a citizen of the world," Dr. King said, "for the world, as it stands aghast at the path we have taken. I speak as one who loves America, to the leaders of our nation: The great initiative in this war is ours, the initiative to stop it must be ours."

Today the world is watching, once again, aghast at an America resolutely poised for war. The U.N. is already predicting a war against Iraq will bring about at least 500,000 casualties among the men, women and children of Iraq, who are not foreigners, but are our brothers and sisters.

It is up to us to rally our countrymen and countrywomen to the cause of peace, for the sake of peace, and for the sake of the innocents and whatever innocence of our own we may rescue. For the sake of truth too.

No justification whatsoever exists for the United States, the United Nations or any institution whose existence celebrates justice or human unity to wage war against Iraq.

On Sept. 12, 2001, a little more than 24 hours after the planes hit the World Trade Center, the Secretary of Defense, in a meeting at the White House, called for immediate strikes against Iraq. "Rumsfeld was raising the possibility that they could take advantage of the opportunity offered by the terrorist attacks to go after Saddam immediately" (source: Bush at War, Robert Woodward, p. 49, paragraphs one and two).

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