Inconvenient Truths 2.0

“(My father) challenged militarism and sought to eradicate it. He worked to end poverty, as caused by extreme capitalism and materialism. We need to know the authentic King…The Inconvenient King.”

– Dr.  Bernice King

January brings many things, sometimes even…. snow. Since Covid is officially “done with us” (though it really isn’t) the Maine Agricultural Trade Show was an in-person affair this year. I went, plodding through the Augusta Civic Center among the other agri-geezers and the enthused (though doomed) “farm-business” aspirants. There were presentations on PFAS/ PFOS, irrigation, and invasive plants, bugs, worms. I spoke with folks about farmland preservation and with representatives of the USDA. Then I came home.

January also features lengthening days, holidays, and anniversary dates sometimes worthy of note. Since I was actually alive for some of that stuff I’m regularly bemused witnessing how the historical contributions of the “safely dead” get twisted or ignored.

Martin Luther King Jr. had a Day awarded to a version of his memory and celebrated on or around his birthday, January 15th. Some people get the day off and media always trot out his 1963 “I have a Dream” speech. Compared to later speeches such as the one at New York’s Riverside Church, (“Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence,”1967) exactly a year prior to his assassination, the “Dream speech” is generally considered safer for public consumption.

But maybe not safe enough apparently. Like most media outlets, for years now the Bangor Daily News has routinely printed a “redacted” version of the Dream speech in its role as institutional cultural manager. But this time it received “a deluge of backlash” (see Maine Public, 1/18/23) after Kevin Kruse, a Princeton historian publicized the paper’s selectively heavy editing of parts “apparently deemed as too divisive.” The paper was called out for its “whitewashing” of King’s“ legacy on what would have been his 94th birthday”

The BDN responded (1/ 17/ 2023) that “low readership on holidays” had led the paper to habitually paste in the same “abridged” version of the Dream speech annually.    While apologizing for its “institutional stagnation,” the paper lamented its being “caught up in the social media outrage machine, with people attacking us for celebrating King the way we, and others, have for years——with his own words.”

But there’s the rub. Which of “his words” are fit to print  when we are cautioned to avoid “division” and urged to believe that “we all want the same thing” and exist in one happy (if downwardly mobile) “community?”

The reason that King attracted the attention of the FBI, the documented hatred of its director J. Edgar Hoover, and most of the 1960s political class was that the “Freedom Movement” of the day stood for universal economic rights. And by 1967 King was calling for “a radical revolution of values.” He announced that, “We must rapidly…. begin the shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism and militarism are incapable of being conquered.”

Commenting on the BDN affair, King’s daughter Bernice warned against such systemic revisionism and that, “We need to know the authentic King….. The Inconvenient King.”

With congress having just passed a military budget, by any honest accounting totaling more than a trillion dollars (including a hundred billion for the  Ukrainian proxy war against Russia), we should remember the Inconvenient King’s characterization of military spending as “a demonic destructive suction tube.”

On January 17, 1960, President Dwight D.  (“Ike”)  Eisenhower (R) issued his Farewell Address. A WWII  general, “Ike,”  understood war and the military from the inside and now, the political realm as well.

“Until the latest of our world conflicts, the United States had no armaments industry,” he remembered. “American makers of plowshares could, with time and as required make swords as well.” But now, “We annually spend on military security (sic) alone more than the net income of all United States corporations.”

“…. (T)his conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence —economic, political, even spiritual—is felt in every city, every Statehouse, every office of the Federal government.”

“In the councils of government, “ he warned, “we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.”

Today, most of the US discretionary budget goes to the military. The “demonic destructive suction tube” sabotages what Dr. King called “social uplift.”

The “disastrous rise of misplaced power” that Eisenhower recognized has led to a permanent war economy. The American public now funds—– well—-permanent war. Meanwhile, we are constantly lectured that there’s “no money” for universal healthcare, Social Security, free college, free daycare, decent housing: The stuff that folks in less barbaric countries take for granted.

And it’s become “Inconvenient” to even acknowledge our predicament every January.

Richard Rhames is a dirt-farmer in Biddeford, Maine (just north of the Kennebunkport town line). He can be reached at: