Black History Opinion

Veterans Understand Martin Luther King Jr’s Powerful Demand for Peace

Foreign policy is a blind spot for Americans. This became part of Martin Luther King’s message.

By James Rothenberg / Common Dreams

Veterans Day celebrations have come and gone. One thing about veterans: Everyone’s for them. But what does that really encompass? How did they get here? And what of the veterans to come?

The World Veterans Federation (WVF) is an international network comprised of 172 veterans organizations from 121 countries representing about 60 million veterans worldwide. It acts as a humanitarian, peace, and justice advocate not just for veterans but for victims of war. Out of those 121 countries with 60 million veterans, one country contains about 19 million — over 30% — of all the world’s veterans. That’s the United States.

Why so many? The U.S. represents only 4.25% of the world’s population. That outsize representation, where we dramatically outnumber other countries in producing veterans, is repeated in our jails where we imprison more than 20% of the entire world’s prison population and repeated in our routine gun shootings where we own 42% of the world’s privately held guns.

Veterans For Peace (a U.S. member of WVF), was formed in 1985. Odds are you’ve never heard of it. It suffers from a lack of recognition, particularly among members of Congress, precisely because it stands in opposition to US wars of aggression (Iraq in 2003 as characterized by Kofi Annan).

It’s irrational to honor veterans and create them simultaneously. Over 99% of our living veterans have not fought in defensive wars! It matters when veterans are created in wars for an unspecified (or bogus) national interest. This is not a trivial point.

Foreign policy is a blind spot for Americans. This became part of Martin Luther King’s message. He said if you want to understand what’s taking place in America, look past that to what America is doing overseas. The military violence we sow overseas mirrors the violence of the oppressed here at home.

King did not merely have a dream on the Washington Mall. If that was all there was to it, he wouldn’t have become an enemy of the state. He audaciously demanded of his country social and economic justice. Without realizing the enormous compliment it was paying Karl Marx and communism, the state regarded him as a communist for demanding such things. Which is the more radical? Asking for this, or denying it.

It’s over half a century since King’s assassination, martyred at the age of 39. We exploit his memory each year with a national holiday bearing his name, but we have not moved an inch closer to remodeling our country on the world stage to exemplify what it could be like at home.

Unless we are truly defending our country—and not for the so-called national interest that represents the class interests of the one percent—the best way to honor veterans is not with 10% off and thank you for your service. Peace, not war, is the way to honor the sacrifices of veterans. This is the central theme of Veterans For Peace.

For possible change, these things must be demanded, but who gets to make demands on Washington? The top one percent own 32.3% of the country’s wealth, against the bottom fifty percent owning a mere 2.6%. Half the country owns practically nothing.

It takes the totality of the bottom ninety percent, owning 30.2%, to approach the wealth of the one percent. Of course this has no affect on the balance of power. The bottom ninety percent are so divided it’s not funny, and even if they weren’t, they don’t run anything. The well-off section between 91 and 99% doesn’t run anything either. The top 1%—although not necessarily agreeing with one another—run the country.

As far as the general public is concerned, placing faith in the U.S. Supreme Court is bound to disappoint. For much of its history, it’s been on the wrong side of the people. Whatever else can be said about it, our recent conservative court is being faithful to its roots. For example, the Citizens United ruling enables the 1% (corporations , plutocrats, and Wall Street) to spend unlimited funds on elections. There’s a straight line from this to the founding fathers’ enshrinement of property rights (land, capital, patriarchy, slaves) in our Constitution. That’s what they wanted.

John Jay—founding father, co-author of the Federalist Papers, and first U.S. Chief Justice—expressed the principle very clearly: “Those who own the country ought to govern it.” For all the lip service about democracy, that’s the way it was designed, and that’s the way it’s been.


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James Rothenberg

James Rothenberg, of New York State, is a member of Veterans For Peace.

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