From: Democracy Now!

As Obama Visits Afghanistan, Tavis Smiley on Rev. Martin Luther King and His Opposition to the Vietnam War


As the President renews his commitment to expand the American military presence in Afghanistan, we turn to a man he is sometimes compared to: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. A new special on PBS from TV host and author Tavis Smiley delves into this comparison and looks at a speech that has a particular resonance today with the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan: Dr. King’s famous antiwar speech of April 4, 1967 titled “Beyond Vietnam.” [includes rush transcript]


TAVIS SMILEY: Yeah, again, back to this word, “parallels,” the parallels of what this president is doing on the issue of war and peace. And again, we could not have known that President Obama was going to touch down in Afghanistan, but the timing is on point. We hope this special is going to raise some powerful questions about US foreign policy. And again, at what cost? At what cost, number one, are these wars wars of necessity, at this point, or are they wars of choice? And what agency? What agency does the American people have in trying to redirect this president on the question of war and peace?

I want to go back to King, though, to Dr. West’s comparison of Obama and King. King understood very clearly that there was a cost, Amy, to being a truth teller. Being in—these are my words now, but being in the public square—put another way, being in the public eye—being a leader of people in America, means that you find yourself every day, I think, in a battle of truth versus power. Truth versus power. And the question is whether or not you’re going to be a truth teller or a power grabber. But if you are going to be committed to telling truth, King understood, as we must understand today, that there consequences to being a truth teller. And Martin King endured those consequences in the latter years, latter days of his life. He had to endure that.

And yet, one of the pieces that comes out in this special on Wednesday night that, again, I think will shock most Americans is that even though King had almost three-quarters, Amy, of the American people turned against him, 55 percent of his own people turned against him, one of the last calls—we lay this out in the special Wednesday night—one of the last calls, Amy, he made from Room 306 at the Lorraine Motel, where he was staying, as we know, in Memphis, one of the last phone calls he made was back to his church in Atlanta, Ebenezer, which he co-pastored, as you know, with his father, Daddy King, and King told his father that when he got home Sunday from Memphis, so they could type it in the Sunday morning church bulletin, King told his father that his sermon topic was going to be, had he lived, why America may go to Hell. Why America may go to Hell. He was going to tie that speech to those three points he had raised a year earlier: escalating militarism, increasing poverty and damning racism in this country.

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