40 and 4 April 4, 2008
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. Martin Luther King, Jr. Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence April 04, 1967
Martin Luther King, Jr, delivered his brilliant speech: Beyond Vietnam at the Riverside Church in NYC exactly one year before he was killed, 40 years ago on April 4, 1968, on that infamous balcony in Memphis, Tennessee. His most famous speech is the brilliant I Have a Dream that he delivered to the mass of people who gathered in front of the Lincoln Monument in DC for a Civil Rights' gathering in 1963. Dr. King's Beyond Vietnam speech, however, clearly makes the connections between poverty, racism and militarism and was very threatening to the out of control war machine that was waging a bloody, bloody catastrophe in Vietnam. Dr. King was an effective orator and great organizer, but when he gave his Beyond Vietnam speech, (which many of his colleagues begged him not to give) he became a threat to the pigs of war.
Four years ago on April 04, 2004, my son, Casey Austin Sheehan (24) was killed in Sadr City, Baghdad, Iraq: A beleaguered Shi'a tenement that has recently been the target of more US war crimes as civilians were killed by the hundreds in recent aerial bombings. Seven other soldiers were killed that tragic day. Sgt. Mike Mitchell of the 1st Armored Division was killed shortly before Casey and our families became entwined in pain and activism as we were all against the occupation and the policies of the Bush Regime. It took a little while for the reality that Casey and Mike were killed on the same day that Dr. King was, 36 years later. One tries to make meaning and sense out of twin tragedies that seem so senseless. Was the date just a coincidence, or something deeper?
Casey was killed just when the insurgency was heating up. L. Paul Bremer, and his Coalition Provisional Authority's orders which seem to have been calculated to provoke insurrection by disbanding the Ba'athists and putting Saddam's Army on the streets without money, but with their weapons. The bureaucracy that ran the country were put out of their jobs even if they were low-level workers who kept the lights on and the water running. Bremer used Blackwater paid mercenaries to carve swaths of destruction through the Iraqi people and when Casey was killed, a full-fledged rebellion was being waged against the American occupiers. Hundreds of thousands of Americans and Iraqis have been killed in the interim and millions have had their lives destroyed forever. After Dr. King gave his speech in 1967 the Vietnam War continued for 8 more years and in Iraq there seems to be no discernible end on the horizon.
Since Casey was killed, I too, have been trying to connect the dots. I was against Iraq and I was against George Bush and the rest of the neocons. I soon began to realize that where we were then was only the result of years of collaboration between our "two" political parties and I slowly came to the conclusion that peace is not just the absence of war and anti-war is not the same as pro-peace. As I began my struggle to enlighten America to the pain that the deceit caused, many Vietnam anti-war protesters would approach me after one of my speeches and say almost the same exact thing: "We thought we ended it after Vietnam. We NEVER thought we would be here again." My question to them now is "Why?" Why, after the last person was pulled off the embassy in Saigon did anyone think that the Military Industrial Complex was going to slink away to lick its wounds? Most of the people in the anti-war movement put their signs in their garages, garbage or attics and went about life relieved that the slaughter in Southeast Asia was finally over.
After many turbulent years, I think the country was ready for some "apathetic conformist thought" while the M.I.C. was growing ever more powerful through many conflicts from Grenada to the Persian Gulf and from Panama to Nicaragua and the Balkans. Since WWII, there has never been a moment when the US hasn't been spreading its cancer of militant-corporatism. The advent of the "free trade" agreements has just made it easier for the pigs of war to oppress and exploit populations. As Dr. King noted, the poverty of our inner cities has to be equated with the violence in Southeast Asia. Similarly, the continuing poverty and lack of opportunities for anyone but the children of the establishment must be equated with the vileness of the occupation of Iraq.
Racism, elitism, nationalism, imperialism, terrorism, militarism, religious extremism and corporatism all combine forces to feed the voracious war machine while the rich prosper and the poor pay for that prosperity with their very lifeblood. The violence is not going to stop until all of these "isms" are courageously and honestly confronted and overcome. This cannot be done through slogans, sophistry, or patriotic jingoism. Policies to share resources and contain rampant profiteering must be put in place all over the world. Our troops and war-profiteers must be fully removed from the Middle East and most of the US permanent bases must be closed around the world. The Pentagon's budget must be slashed and our military must be used for defense (as is required in International Law) only and free trade agreements must be abolished and fair trade and fair labor practices must take their places.
My travels have taken me all over the world and I have been confronted in places as diverse as Cuba and S. Korea with what inhumane US foreign policy does to our brothers and sisters. I have stood with people demanding peace and justice, globally, and it is always the same story: the rich stealing from the poor. We do not have to take it. We must not take it.
We are now beginning to feel the impact in our own country of the American "values" of greed, waste, and naked military aggression. Our militarism is draining our communities of needed services, good education and sound infrastructure. What has happened around the world because of our values is now coming home to roost in the USA. It has now been proven that we cannot sustain an economy based on consumerism combined with manufacturing destruction and exporting death. Our paradigms must radically shift to humane domestic and foreign policies and they must shift quickly.
A genuine revolution of values means in the final analysis that our loyalties must become ecumenical rather than sectional. Every nation must now develop an overriding loyalty to mankind as a whole in order to preserve the best in their individual societies. (MLK, Jr, Beyond Vietnam)
On April 04, 1968, humanity lost a shining star who courageously faced the challenges of his time that have only been magnified in our time. Nothing has improved since Dr. King's sacrifice; in fact conditions have only worsened for everyone except the self-appointed banking-political aristocracy.
On April 04, 2004, my family lost our shining star and each of us will mourn Casey until our last breaths are drawn. However, I realize that I am only one of millions of mothers who have had to needlessly suffer because of violence. Yet, we still kill one another, either as individuals or with state-sanctioned murder (which we sanction by our silent complicity).
So many have gone before us (RIP) giving the ultimate gift for humanity and we must not allow their sacrifices to be in vain.