Whenever an American holiday rolls around, local people here shower me with far more good wishes than I get at home in California. People ask what meaning American holidays hold for me personally, and my country in general.
My favorite American holiday went by Monday without notice in Ho Chi Minh City. Normally I’d never encourage the Vietnamese to adopt more Americanisms – but Martin Luther King Day warrants discussion. In America, in Vietnam, everywhere peace-and-justice-loving human beings exist.
Few of my countrymen know much about Dr. King, other than that he embodied the Civil Rights Movement, of which they also tend to know very little. Worse yet, too few are aware of his staunch stance against the Vietnam War, much less that it likely got him killed. Worse still, now, Americans are being asked to celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. and war simultaneously.
This year, Martin Luther King (MLK) Day coincided with Barack Obama’s second inauguration as President of the United States – and the drone strike king had the audacity to stab hope in the heart, taking his oath with one of his bloodstained hands on a Bible that once belonged to Martin Luther King.
We’ll get back to that in a moment.
But first, let’s remember who Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was. From his famous speech at the Riverside Church in New York City, April 1967:
“A true revolution of values will lay hand 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 the veins of peoples 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.”
Now let’s return to Obummer. People in Vietnam seem to dig Obama and on the one hand, like people so inclined everywhere, it’s hard to blame them in light of Bush’s crude, callous and unapologetic war-mongering. Setting aside Obama’s drone strikes, his Kissingerian foreign policy, his treatment of Bradley Manning, his appointment of a Monsanto lobbyist to head the FDA, his assertion of executive power that allows him to assassinate American citizens without trial and detain them indefinitely without charge, I wonder how many people in Vietnam know that last May the US Department of Defense (DoD) launched a 13-year program commemorating the 50th anniversary of America’s official entrance into the Vietnam War.
The DoD website, which you can check out yourself at http://www.vietnamwar50th.com, amounts to little more than an altar to the worst sort of deceitful historical revisionism.
“In recognition of a chapter in our Nation’s history that must never be forgotten, let us renew our sacred commitment to those who answered our country’s call in Vietnam,” writes Obama in the official Presidential Proclamation.
The Vietnamese people – not even those who fought alongside the American invaders – aren’t so much as mentioned in the proclamation or anywhere else on the website. There, one finds the war sanitized down to the lowest possible denominator – it was a war in which Americans fought, and therefore, like all the others, was a good war, a heroic effort. The numbers of fallen and missing American soldiers are plastered everywhere. All who agreed to participate in the genocidal endeavor are issued blanket, hollow praise. Nowhere is it admitted that Vietnam won the war. The program has five official purposes, all reprehensible goals. Number four is my favorite: “To highlight the advances in technology, science, and medicine related to military research conducted during the Vietnam War.”
Yes indeed, the American War Machine has come a long way since 1975, most notably in the realm of public relations, responsible for nurturing the public’s capacity to swallow the Orwellian doublespeak President Obama uses to seduce and/or sedate not only his constituents, but the whole world watching CNN and every other outlet unwilling to critically examine this administration.
If I could impart one thing upon the Vietnamese people, as an American, it’s that nothing has changed since 1975, nor 1803, for that matter. It’s as old as our history itself, the type of murderous misery we and the French heaped upon the Vietnamese people. Yesterday it was Vietnam. Today it’s Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, Pakistan, Libya, Somalia, Mali and you can bet your bottom dong, whether it’s sooner or later, Iran.
Obama’s co-opting of King’s legacy, with the mass media complicit in its eagerness to connect the two iconic figures, repudiates the very core of King’s most famous plea, that Americans be judged by the content of their character, not the color of their skin – and that the character of individuals and societies be judged based on their capacity for love and compassion. Obama and the corporate American press want to inoculate us with the notion that further parallels exist between the president and the preacher, aside from the fact that without King, an African-American US president would be unthinkable.
The two men mentioned in the same breath offends not only my five conventional senses, but several ethereal ones most Americans don’t tend to believe in as well. It was bad enough when they gave him a Nobel Peace Prize simply because his name wasn’t Bush. But this Bible deal made MLK Day a real bummer, one more in the unending series of O’bummers from Barack O’bomber, the abomination that is Obama Nation.
Luckily, I was alerted to the prophetic proclamations made by Dr. Cornel West, professor of African-American studies at Princeton University, on a panel discussion on the onset of Obama’s second term, which aired in America on C-SPAN and I watched on YouTube. Princeton is an Ivy League school, if that matters to anyone, and I know it does. I couldn’t care less, but Dr. West, who calls himself “a Holy Ghost-got, gut-bucket Baptist,” expressed my indignation over Obama’s misappropriation of MLK better than I ever could, invoking the fire and brimstone the occasion called for.
“Martin Luther King, Jr., what would you say about drones being dropped on our precious brothers and sisters in Pakistan, in Somalia, in Yemen? Those are war crimes just like war crimes in Vietnam!” West seethed righteously, as Newt Gingrich and the other panelists looked on stone-faced.
“Martin Luther King, Jr. was under F.B.I. surveillance from January 1956 till the day he died,” West reminded/informed the audience before dropping the following, which may come as a revelation to many.
“Martin Luther King, Jr. today, could be taken to jail without Due Process, or judicial process, under the National Defense Authorization Act, because he had a connection with a freedom fighter, who was called a ‘terrorist,’ named Nelson Mandela.” Mandela, West then noted, was only removed from the official US terror watch list in 2008.
Were he alive today, Dr. King would not be romanticizing America’s entrance into the Vietnam War. He would be excoriating the American government and multinational corporations worldwide with wholesale repudiations of their policies and practices. Christ-like figure that he was, King would still be calling on his country, its pigmented president and the rest of mankind, to undergo that revolution in values.
By Josh Tribe, an American expat who lives and works in Ho Chi Minh City