Peace as a Civil Right
(Lakewood Ministerial Alliance Martin Luther King Day Celebration Lakewood Presbyterian Church Sunday, January 19, 2003 Lakewood, Ohio.)
“Oh hear my song, thou God of all the nations, a song of peace for their land and for mine.”
This Is My Song, Finlandia Jean Sibelius
The life of Dr. Martin Luther King shines like the sun through the clouds which hover over this nation, casting a beam of light whenever darkness seeks to envelope us, illuminating our way over the rocky, perilous ground until we can envision the upward path towards social and economic justice.
This evening let us reflect on his challenge to America’s prosecution of a war in Vietnam as we ponder an America poised to once again use its destructive power against a nation of people already broken by war, by US sanctions, by an uncaring leader. America stands ready to accelerate the bombing over major cities in Iraq, to destroy lives, families, houses, buildings, water systems, electric systems, to light fires to force populations to move, to engage in house to house combat. All in the name of fighting terrorism. In the name of removing weapons of mass destruction.
In his speech thirty five years ago at Riverside Church in New York City, Dr. King created the synthesis of peace and civil rights. “Somehow this madness must cease,” Dr. King said then of the annihilation of the Vietnamese people and their nation. “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.”
Let us contemplate his words. “Somehow this madness must cease.” Tonight we call for an end to the pretext for war. Tonight we call for the end of justification for war. Tonight we call for the end of a military build up towards war. Tonight we call for the end of war in the hearts of those who desire war. Tonight we call for the beginning of compassion. Tonight we call for human dignity. Tonight we call for human unity.
“I speak for the poor of America who are paying the double price of smashed hopes at home, and death and corruption in Vietnam,” Dr. King said.
Once again the hopes of people of two nations are being smashed by weapons in the name of eliminating weapons. Let us abolish weapons of mass destruction at home. Joblessness is a weapon of mass destruction. Poverty is a weapon of mass destruction. Hunger is a weapon of mass destruction. Homelessness is a weapon of mass destruction. Poor health care is a weapon of mass destruction. Poor education is a weapon of mass destruction. Discrimination is a weapon of mass destruction.
Let us abolish such weapons of mass destruction here at home. Let us use hundreds of billions of our tax dollars, which some would cast upon Iraq in bombs and warring troops, instead for the restoration of the American Dream, to rebuild our economy and to expand opportunities for all. We have a duty to assert our human needs as a people and not to yield them for the base concerns of an unresponsive government: We have a right to a job. We have a right to decent housing. We have a right to health care. We have a right to food fit to eat, air fit to breathe and water fit to drink. Peace is a civil right which makes other human rights possible. Peace is the precondition for our existence. Peace permits our continued existence.
“I speak as a citizen of the world,” Dr. King said, “for the world, as it stands aghast at the path we have taken. I speak as one who loves America, to the leaders of our nation: The great initiative in this war is ours, the initiative to stop it must be ours.”
Today the world is watching, once again, aghast at an America resolutely poised for war. The UN is already predicting a war against Iraq will bring about at least 500,000 casualties among the men, women and children of Iraq who are not foreigners, but are our brothers and sisters.
It is up to us to rally our countrymen and countrywomen to the cause of peace, for the sake of peace, and for the sake of the innocents and whatever innocence of our own we may rescue. For the sake of truth too.
No justification whatsoever exists for the United States, the United Nations or any institution whose existence celebrates justice or human unity to wage war against Iraq.
On September 12, 2001, a little more than 24 hours after the planes hit the World Trade Center, the Secretary of Defense, in a meeting at the White House, called for immediate strikes against Iraq. “Rumsfeld was raising the possibility that they could take advantage of the opportunity offered by the terrorists attacks to go after Saddam immediately.” (Source: Bush At War by Robert Woodward, Pg. 49, paragraphs one and two).
In sixteen months since America was attacked, no credible evidence has been presented that Iraq perpetrated 9-11, or conspired in 9-11. Iraq was not responsible for the anthrax attack on our country. Nor does Iraq have missile strike capability against the U.S., usable weapons of mass destruction nor the intention to use them against us.
It is more than strange that while no credible connection has been made between Iraq and 9-11, that the Administration blocked efforts at an early official inquiry into 9-11, while beating the drums to attack Iraq.
Why is the Administration targeting Iraq? Oil. America has become increasingly reliant on imported oil. The future of an oil-dominated economy rests in the Gulf region. Instead of a new energy policy, we get a new war of “good” acting against “evil”.
To be sure, the dictator Saddam Hussein is an easy target, for murder of his own people. He was an easy target, too, years ago when supported by the United States, notwithstanding his cruelty.
When war is already in the hearts of those who lead this nation, because our leaders aspire to dominate oil markets, or expand arms trade or desire world empire, or to distract from failures domestically, what are the American people to do? Do we just sit and watch while the United States moves next to declare war against North Korea, or Iran?
In the spirit of Dr. King, we must reject this White House war mentality and the unfortunate energy policy which spawns it, or we are facing endless war over diminishing resources. The Administration has made its intentions for war known. Now the American people must make our intentions known for peace.
We must reject war with Iraq. We must not let it happen. We must insist that the UN inspection process continue. As long as the UN inspection presence is at work in Iraq there is the possibility that Iraq can be disarmed, rebuilt and reintegrated into the community of nations.
Yet predictions of war swirling around the Capitol involve not if, but when and whether America “goes it alone.” The question is not whether we shall go to war with the UN or without the UN. The question is why should we go to war at all? Some have made a cause of twelve empty “war heads” recently discovered. There is something lacking in the war heads as there is something lacking in the heads of those who want war.
The narrow-minded drive for regime change will have severe consequences. Regime change means war. Regime change means invasion. It means occupation. It means colonization. It means the death of countless Iraqi citizens and the deaths of countless American service men and service women. And the waste of up to $1.9 trillion in our tax dollars, wrecking our economy while, at the same time, the Administration gives out a trillion dollar tax cut to the wealthy.
If the goal of our leaders continues to be regime change, then let regime change begin at home. We must be prepared to continue to provide lawful, nonviolent, civil resistance in this nation. We must be prepared to exercise our constitutionally protected rights to assemble, to free speech, to free press, to challenge the government in the streets, on campuses, in town halls, in labor halls, in churches, wherever people gather, wherever people meet, in a manner consistent with the finest democratic traditions.
If we are successful in disarming Iraq nonviolently, then our nation needs to hasten our efforts to lead the way for disarmament world wide. Seventeen nations are seeking, have or are capable of acquiring nuclear weapons of mass destruction, twenty nations — biological weapons, twenty six nations — chemical weapons.
Over twenty nations have or are at work on missile technologies to deliver those weapons. America has much work to do as a nation among nations, furthering peace through disarmament.
We are at a transformational opportunity in this nation. It is no less significant than the spirit of the times which gave birth to this nation over two hundred and twenty six years ago.
In his exploration of the philosophical underpinnings of America, in a work entitled “To Begin the World Anew,” Bernard Bailyn writes of that long ago moment of democratic ferment which produced the world’s grandest experiment with democracy through “. . . the recasting of the world of power, the re-formation of the structure of public authority, of the accepted forms of governance, obedience, and resistance, in practice as well as in theory.”
Such was the creativity of our Founders. They used the creative energy of their hearts and spirits to change the world. Why has our creativity turned destructive? We need no longer to be destructive with war. It is time to be creative in peace.
Dr. Martin Luther King had a dream. It is time to make his dream a reality. It is time to take the evolutionary life of Dr. King and make non-violence an organizing principle in our society. It is the practical and pragmatic thing to do in order to continue life on this planet. We can do so. And we must do so. Legislation to create a Department of Peace would build not only a structure for peace within our government, but infuse a consciousness for peace within our society, as has the Department of Defense reflected a consciousness of war.
It is time to create new possibilities in human relations, in economics, in governance, in politics and in all areas of endeavor. We can make war and poverty archaic and usher in a new era of human dignity by making peace and prosperity our daily work.
This day is a day to reflect on the ability of one person to make a difference. This day is a day to reflect on how one person can change the thinking of a nation and the world. This day is to celebrate our human potential to transform any condition, to change darkness into light, slavery into freedom, poverty into prosperity, war into peace, let us honor America’s apostle of non-violence by truly rededicating ourselves to his work. Let us make the vision of Dr. King, that vision of liberty and harmony, a reality. Let us confirm our commitment to all civil rights and let us declare peace a civil right in a democracy, a human right in this world. Thank you.
Dennis Kucinich is a congressman from Cleveland, Ohio. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.