In fact, “spending more money on military offense,” rather than on social issues, was exactly the plan and purpose of the U.S. after World War II, and the real purpose of forming NATO: not for military “defense” but for potential military offense.
This talk was given at the program Yes to PEACE! No to NATO! A Commemoration of the Life and Legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. on April 4, 2019. The quotations by Dr. King are all from his speech of April 4, 1967, Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence.
By Todd Pierce April 25, 2019
“A time comes when silence is betrayal. That time has come for us in relation to Vietnam. The truth of these words is beyond doubt but the mission to which they call us is a most difficult one. Even when pressed by the demands of inner truth, men do not easily assume the task of opposing their government’s policy, especially in time of war.
“Nor does the human spirit move without great difficulty against all the apathy of conformist thought within one’s own bosom and in the surrounding world.”
* “Now, it should be incandescently clear that no one who has any concern for the integrity and life of America today can ignore the present war. If America’s soul becomes totally poisoned, part of the autopsy must read ‘Vietnam.’ It can never be saved so long as it destroys the deepest hopes of men the world over. So it is that those of us who are yet determined that ‘America will be’ are led down the path of protest and dissent, working for the health of our land.”
Fifty-one years ago today, April 4, 1968, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was murdered by an assassin’s bullet in Memphis, TN, at the Lorraine Motel. Fifty-two years ago today, April 4, 1967, Dr. King spoke the words I just read at the Riverside Church in New York City and gave one of the most astute and compelling arguments against U.S. imperialism and militarism down to the present day. It may even have been what incited someone to kill him exactly a year later.
And 70 years ago on April 4th the United States brought about the creation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization with the claim that it was necessary to “protect” Europe from communism and the Soviet Union. There was some basis for believing that, especially as it appeared under Stalin, and given statements made by that government. I’m not here as a defender of the Soviet Union, especially under Stalin. But as I will try and explain, the U.S. had its own militaristic expansionists and goals, even more than the Soviet Union as we can see with hindsight, which were concealed by the claim that the Soviets posed a threat to us, by distracting us, and concealing from us, what the U.S. was really doing in the post World War II world.
Before I go any further, let me say why every one of you should be paying attention here, and then going out to learn and understand this more. That is because you and your families are the people most likely to be incinerated by nuclear weapons in your lifetime by your own government’s reckless and dangerous use of them. That is either as “menacing” the world with them, a form of state terrorism, with threats to use them like Trump regularly does to force foreign counties to submit to our will (as the military likes to put it) and running the risk of accidentally starting a nuclear war, or with the direct use of them in a first strike attack on a foreign country—just like the U.S. military proposed to do multiple times in the 1960s, coming very close during the Cuban Missile crisis, being willing to accept the deaths of over 10 million Americans in a retaliatory attack by our victim. Watch the movie Dr. Strangelove to understand how crazy the U.S. military really is.
That is the context that Dr. King was addressing 52 years ago when he spoke at the Riverside Church. A friend of mine, Cora Weiss, was at the Riverside Church that night 52 years ago. She told me that Andrew Young had told her on the 20th anniversary of Dr. King’s assassination that, “If people only know Dr. King by his I Had a Dream speech, ‘they don’t know Dr. King.’ The A Time to Break the Silence speech was one of his most important that he delivered in his lifetime.”
Let me give you a brief history of NATO, U.S. imperialism and militarism as it is not ordinarily taught in U.S. schools, but is especially relevant today to our country that asserts it “runs the world,” and is in a Perpetual War. “Running the world” and being in Perpetual War come together as a package as the Perpetual War is a war of pacification against the foreign countries that resist being subjugated by the U.S., having to adopt our foreign policy, our banking system, etc.—just as we did in “pacifying” the Native Americans and have continued to do in our many colonial wars since. In the post-Cold War period we’re in now, we openly claim by military doctrine that we “run the world,” with too many sources of that to list here.
Anything I say here about the U.S. is not to say we’re unique historically as a country or society as imperialist, except that we’re now the self-declared “sole superpower,” with a self-appointed “duty” to run the world, with any area of it which refuses our access to it deemed an “anti-access threat.” But it is unique that we stand now as a system of what political theorist Sheldon Wolin called in 2003 “inverted totalitarianism.”
U.S. foreign bases in red, Russian foreign bases in mustard.
The need here is to disabuse anyone of our national myth that we’re the “Exceptional Nation” whose territorial expansion was “benevolent,” as we often boasted, since “benevolent assimilation” of the people we called “our little brown brothers” wherever we went, meant denying them basic human rights. The history of the United States has been one of rapacious imperialism and militarism from the moment Europeans first arrived.
That is what they came for, after all, to conquer and take this land from the Natives. Other nations and societies preceded us as imperialists elsewhere and can be found throughout history. But for North America, we were the vanguard of English Imperialism, with everything negative that may suggest. We eventually demanded independence but visited the same mistreatment as the British did upon our victims as the United States of America in our relentless military and colonial global expansionism.
But those past historical imperialists and colonizers are not here today claiming to be the “Exceptional Nation” with a continuing right to conquer by warfare as the U.S. is doing relentlessly today in what the Department of Defense calls Perpetual War, and has done relentlessly since the end of the Cold War. Today is the time period of concern for me here as we, the United States, have gone through the post-911 so-called Global War on Terrorism period and since 2002, When the Bush administration withdrew from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty we restarted the Cold War, which we had never in reality let end. To know what the U.S. is up to today with its many wars and Global War on Terror, or perhaps more accurately, Global War of Terror, one has to recognize that the U.S. was never the innocent of our national myths.
No to NATO demonstration and march, March 30, 2019
Here is what Dr. King said 52 years ago:
“The Western arrogance of feeling that it has everything to teach others and nothing to learn from them is not just. A true revolution of values will lay hands on the world order and say of war: ‘This way of settling differences is not just.’ This business of burning human beings with napalm, of filling our nation’s homes with orphans and widows, of injecting poisonous drugs of hate into veins of people normally humane, of sending men home from dark and bloody battlefields physically handicapped and psychologically deranged, cannot be reconciled with wisdom, justice and love. A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.”
In fact, “spending more money on military offense,” rather than on social issues, was exactly the plan and purpose of the U.S. after World War II, and the real purpose of forming NATO: not for military “defense” but for potential military offense. The United States had a total monopoly on the atomic bomb until after NATO was created and had that same belief for a number of years thereafter. In addition, the U.S. was taking on the mission of pacifying the imperial colonies held by Britain and France, as much as possible, such as Vietnam and the Mideast where the U.S. would repeatedly stage coups, beginning in Iran, that is, regime change.
George Kennan of the State Department was a major strategist of the post WW II period, and here is how he put it, as extracted from Memo PPS No. 23 (1948), (available here)
“While the U.S.. cannot become the world’s ‘policeman,’ by assuming responsibility for righting every wrong, we will retain the pre-eminent responsibility for addressing selectively those wrongs which threaten not only our interests, but those of our allies or friends, or which could seriously unsettle international relations. Various types of U.S. interests may be involved in such instances: access to vital raw materials, primarily Persian Gulf oil. …” *
“. . . [a] second possible solution would lie in arrangements whereby a union of Western European nations would undertake jointly the economic development and exploitation of the colonial and dependent areas of the African Continent.
* “Furthermore, we have about 50% of the world’s wealth but only 6.3 % of its population. This disparity is particularly great as between ourselves and the peoples of Asia. In this situation, we cannot fail to be the object of envy and resentment. Our real task in the coming period is to devise a pattern of relationships which will permit us to maintain this position of disparity without positive detriment to our national security. To do so, we will have to dispense with all sentimentality and day-dreaming; and our attention will have to be concentrated everywhere on our immediate national objectives. We need not deceive ourselves that we can afford today the luxury of altruism and world-benefaction.”
Kennan also wrote in a memo entitled “Political Warfare” (1948), which is available here:
“This covert operation involves, for example, (1) control over anti-sabotage activities in the Venezuelan oil fields. …”
Kennan wasn’t the worst of the imperialist aggressors, however, with too many to list here. But one would be Paul Nitze, who was involved in virtually all the post WW II imperial planning and promotion. In a 1952 argument, Nitze stated that “to seek less than preponderant power would be to opt for defeat.” That was the real American meaning of the oft-proclaimed admiration for policies based on “balance of power” principles.
Jump forward now to 1991 and the Iraq war where the U.S. military demonstrated a “preponderant power” for the world to see that our military was so far superior to Soviet-provided military weapons that war for the U.S. had become just a shooting gallery. I visited the so-called Valley of Death where the U.S. Air Force bombed and strafed the fleeing Iraqi Army, and civilians with them, toward the end of the Iraq War, and it was clear in the wreckage that the U.S.SR was incapable of waging war against the U.S. and we knew it. Later in the year, their governmental collapse was complete, and we went in to strip the country of all its assets and force them to adopt draconian economic measures to ensure western banks and businesses got as much of their wealth as possible, leaving them destitute.
Shortly after the Iraq War and the collapse of the U.S.SR in 1991–1992, the U.S. Department of Defense under Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney prepared a secret document, the Draft Defense Planning Guidance, in which it was stated, as reported below.
“Washington, D.C., February 26, 2008. The United States should use its power to ‘prevent the reemergence of a new rival’ either on former Soviet territory or elsewhere, declared a controversial draft of the Defense Planning Guidance (DPG) prepared by then Secretary of Defense Richard Cheney’s Pentagon and leaked to The New York Times in March 1992. Published in declassified form for the first time on the National Security Archive website, this draft, along with related working papers, shows how defense officials during the administration of George H. W. Bush, under the direction of Principal Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Strategy and Resources I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, tried to develop a strategy for maintaining U.S. preponderance in the new post-Cold War, post-Soviet era.
“Our first objective is to prevent the re-emergence of a new rival, either on the territory of the former Soviet Union or elsewhere, that poses a threat on the order of that posed formerly by the Soviet Union. This is a dominant consideration underlying the new regional defense strategy and requires that we endeavor to prevent any hostile power from dominating a region whose resources would, under consolidated control, be sufficient to generate global power. These regions include Western Europe, East Asia, the territory of the former Soviet Union, and Southwest Asia. …
“First, the U.S. must show the leadership necessary to establish and protect a new order that holds the promise of convincing potential competitors that they need not aspire to a greater role or pursue a more aggressive posture to protect their legitimate interests.”
This objective wasn’t exclusive to the outgoing George H.W. Bush administration but was enthusiastically embraced by the Clinton administration as “Full spectrum dominance” of the world, and that remains our true objective down to today with what our military leaders now gleefully call “Perpetual War.”
What Dr. King said at the Riverside Church in 1967 was genuinely prophetic in anticipation of what the U.S. would become, and its consequences. I will let his words conclude as they are as relevant today in regard to U.S.. perpetual war policy globally, as they were in 1967 in Southeast Asia:
“This is the message of the great Buddhist leaders of Vietnam. Recently one of them wrote these words:
“‘Each day the war goes on the hatred increases in the heart of the Vietnamese and in the hearts of those of humanitarian instinct. The Americans are forcing even their friends into becoming their enemies. It is curious that the Americans, who calculate so carefully on the possibilities of military victory, do not realize that in the process they are incurring deep psychological and political defeat. The image of America will never again be the image of revolution, freedom and democracy, but the image of violence and militarism.’
“’If we continue, there will be no doubt in my mind and in the mind of the world that we have no honorable intentions in Vietnam. It will become clear that our minimal expectation is to occupy it as an American colony and men will not refrain from thinking that our maximum hope is to goad China into a war so that we may bomb her nuclear installations.'”
* “I speak now not of the soldiers of each side, not of the junta in Saigon, but simply of the people who have been living under the curse of war for almost three continuous decades now. I think of them too because it is clear to me that there will be no meaningful solution there until some attempt is made to know them and hear their broken cries.”
* “Our government felt then that the Vietnamese people were not ‘ready’ for independence, and we again fell victim to the deadly Western arrogance that has poisoned the international atmosphere for so long.” * “Now they languish under our bombs and consider us—not their fellow Vietnamese—the real enemy. They move sadly and apathetically as we herd them off the land of their fathers into concentration camps where minimal social needs are rarely met. They know they must move or be destroyed by our bombs. So they go—primarily women and children and the aged.” * “What do they think as we test our latest weapons on them, just as the Germans tested out new medicine and new tortures in the concentration camps of Europe? Where are the roots of the independent Vietnam we claim to be building? Is it among these voiceless ones?” * “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 weaknesses of our own condition, and if we are mature, we may learn and grow and profit from the wisdom of the brothers who are called the opposition.” * “Ho Chi Minh has watched as America has spoken of peace and built up its forces, and now he has surely heard of the increasing international rumors of American plans for an invasion of the north. He knows the bombing and shelling and mining we are doing are part of traditional pre-invasion strategy. Perhaps only his sense of humor and of irony can save him when he hears the most powerful nation of the world speaking of aggression as it drops thousands of bombs on a poor, weak nation more than eight hundred, or rather, eight thousand miles away from its shores.
“At this point I should make it clear that while I have tried in these last few minutes to give a voice to the voiceless on Vietnam and to understand the arguments of those who are called enemy, I am as deeply concerned about our troops there as anything else. For it occurs to me that what we are submitting them to in Vietnam is not simply the brutalizing process that goes on in any war where armies face each other and seek to destroy.”
* “Surely this madness must cease. We must stop now. 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. I speak for the poor of America who are paying the double price of smashed hopes at home and death and corruption in Vietnam. I speak as a citizen of the world, for the world as it stands aghast at the path we have taken. I speak as an American to the leaders of my own nation. The great initiative in this war is ours. The initiative to stop it must be ours.”
Major Todd E. Pierce, M.A., J.D., retired from the U.S. Army as a Judge Advocate (JAG) Officer in 2012. His last position in the military was as Defense Counsel before the Military Commissions at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. In 2018 he completed a M.A. in Politics degree at The New School with a concentration in political theory and a particular focus on the political thought of Hannah Arendt and on U.S. imperial history. He writes as a political commentator on Consortiumnews.com, Antiwar.com, and Mondoweiss.net.