Monday, January 16, 2012

the promises of a great society shipwrecked off the coast of asia

american-buddha | THIS STORY BEGINS IN VIETNAM, where I had gone as a freelance journalist in the spring of 1966.

Soon the picture became clear. Wherever I went in South Vietnam, from the southern delta to the northern boundary (I corps), U.S. carpet bombing systematically devastated the ancient, village-based rural culture, slaughtering helpless peasants. Time and again, in hospitals and refugee camps, children, barely human in appearance, their flesh having been carved into grotesque forms by napalm, described the "fire bombs" that rained from the sky onto their hamlets.

After a time in the field, I suffered a minor injury in a crash landing near Pleiku caused by ground fire. I returned to Saigon, where I went to a party held by some casual friends. I was tired and upset. For several days in the Central Highlands I had been confronted with one atrocity after another. Because I was far from a battle-hardened correspondent, I wasn't taking it very well. Soon I was approached by a young Vietnamese woman who solicited information from me. Aided by a few drinks, I expressed my disgust with the U.S. involvement in the war. The woman appeared sympathetic. After that evening, I never saw her again.

The next day I was summoned by Navy Commander Madison, the press accrediting officer, who my colleagues advised was an intelligence operative. He commented on my absence from the daily Saigon press briefings (at which the military line was disseminated) and stated that he had received reports of unacceptable remarks made by me. He advised me that my accreditation was going to be revoked.

I returned home and began to prepare articles for publication and testimony to be given before Sen. Edward M. Kennedy's Subcommittee to Investigate Problems Connected with Refugees and Escapees. My article "The Children of Vietnam" was published by Ramparts in January! 1967, during which time Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was becoming increasingly concerned over the Johnson administration. s plans to reduce its domestic antipoverty spending in order to channel more funds to the war effort.

Dr. King hadn't yet categorically broken with the White House over the issue, but soon after the Ramparts article appeared he received calls from Yale chaplain William Sloane Coffin, Nation editor Carey McWilliams, Socialist Party leader Norman Thomas, and others, urging him to take a more forceful antiwar stand and, indeed, to even consider running as a third-party presidential candidate in 1968. I would later learn that wiretaps of the conversations in which the candidacy was discussed were relayed to FBI director J. Edgar Hoover and, through him, to Lyndon Johnson.

On Saturday, January 14, King flew to Jamaica, where he had planned to work on a book about one of his most ardently held beliefs -- the idea of a guaranteed income for each adult citizen. He was accompanied by his friend and associate Bernard Lee. While having breakfast he began to read the January Ramparts. According to Lee, and also recorded by David Garrow in his historical account, Bearing the Cross [1] Dr. King was galvanized by my account of atrocities against civilians and the accompanying photographs. Although he had spoken out against the war before, he decided then and there to do everything in his power to stop it.

Dr. King's new commitment to oppose the war became his priority. He told black trade unionist Cleveland Robinson and longtime advisor Stanley Levison that he was prepared to break with the Johnson administration regardless of the financial consequences and even the personal peril. [2] He saw, as never before, the necessity of tying together the peace and civil rights movements, and soon became involved in the antiwar effort. He spoke at a forum sponsored by the Nation in Los Angeles on February 25, 1967, joined Benjamin Spock (a proposed running mate in his possible third-party candidacy) in his first anti-war march, through downtown Chicago on March 23, and began to prepare for a major address on the war to be presented at the April 15 Spring Mobilization demonstration in New York.

From the beginning of the year, he began to devote more time to the development of a new coalition. He had come to believe it was time to unite the various progressive, single-issue organizations to form a mighty force, whose power would come from increased numbers and pooled funds. The groups all opposed the war and all wanted equal rights for blacks and other minorities, but their primary concern was eliminating poverty in the wealthiest nation on earth. These common issues formed the basis of the "new politics," and the National Conference for New Politics (NCNP) was established to catalyze a nation- wide effort. I was asked to be its executive director.

Though our emphasis was on grassroots political organizing, our disgust with the "old politics," particularly as practiced by the Johnson administration, compelled the NCNP to consider developing an independent presidential candidacy. To decide on this and adopt a platform, a national convention -- to be attended by delegates from every organization for social change across the land-was scheduled for the 1967 Labor Day weekend at the Palmer House in Chicago.


nanakwame said...

Good overview for the times.  Let us remember, random killing by psychopaths has vitality. You have pointed to that. Even Stephen Kings reasoning is great on this subject, since he believes only the person kills, is a canard - guns and mental sets play a great role.. 2) All the men and family around Dr. King was pretty much co-opted. The Black Panther coalitions went on to 1973/75, with those police shoot-outs and big sister getting out of the nation. Some recent articles in the Times has been good about those in jail or over-sees, they all Seniors now. Too bad you couldn't get a creative team and do a digital montage for the children in grammar school!!
Randomness rules every minute of our lives, just to think; you can reach back and claviger a  past probabilistic event!!!. It is very difficult for us to deal with that in our gravitation dimension, the mental process. So our stories create realities upon realities, layers above the simple trajectory of the players being written about. After King is sad, on that Christian movement for Peace and Justice, and where the Black Church went up to Rev. Long, everything else are narratives and conjectures, a CSI of the event, written well at times. Boy this platform.

Bthrasher1 said...

Happy MLK Day!


nanakwame said...

“I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality.” As a Minister these words from his lips were courageous, for war became a permanent reality in ruling circles, racism as known is fading, what has replaced is the defense of the Euro, Asia, Pacificans, and of course our Africa in that order. He would have been alarmed at the extend in which we accepted colorism, Religious Selfishness, and macho. Utopia is a process and not a goal, yet; we can't stop from repeating the process as humans.

Makheru Bradley said...

Given its relevance to current events this speech could easily have been delivered today.

"Evil comes forth in the guise of good. It is a time of double-talk when men in high place have high blood pressure of deceptive rhetoric and anaemia of concrete performance."

We have "socialism for the rich and capitalism for the poor."

"We must recognize that the ghetto is a domestic colony."

"American people must have the opportunity to vote into oblivion those who cannot detach themselves from militarism."

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