In his book, Brave New World Order, (Orbis Books, 1992), Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer identified seven characteristics of a National Security State:
The first characteristic of a National Security State is that the military is the highest authority. In a National Security State the military not only guarantees the security of the state against all internal and external enemies, it has enough power to determine the overall direction of the society. In a National Security State the military exerts important influence over political, economic, as well as military affairs.
A second defining feature of a National Security State is that political democracy and democratic elections are viewed with suspicion, contempt, or in terms of political expediency. National Security States often maintain an appearance of democracy. However, ultimate power rests with the military or within a broader National Security Establishment.
A third characteristic of a National Security State is that the military and related sectors wield substantial political and economic power. They do so in the context of an ideology which stresses that ‘freedom” and “development” are possible only when capital is concentrated in the hands of elites.
A fourth feature of a National Security State is its obsession with enemies. There are enemies of the state everywhere. Defending against external and/or internal enemies becomes a leading preoccupation of the state, a distorting factor in the economy, and a major source of national identity and purpose.
A fifth ideological foundation of a National Security State is that the enemies of the state are cunning and ruthless. Therefore, any means used to destroy or control these enemies is justified.
A sixth characteristic of a National Security State is that it restricts public debate and limits popular participation through secrecy or intimidation. Authentic democracy depends on participation of the people. National Security States limit such participation in a number of ways: They sow fear and thereby narrow the range of public debate; they restrict and distort information; and they define policies in secret and implement those policies through covert channels and clandestine activities. The state justifies such actions through rhetorical pleas of “higher purpose” and vague appeals to “national security.”
Finally, the church is expected to mobilize its financial, ideological, and theological resources in service to the National Security State.
Here Comes The Project for the New American Century
In 1997 the American Agenda was consolidated as never before thanks to the brainstorming of a select group of neo-conservative activists headed by William Kristol and Robert Kazan. They called the initiative the Project for a New American Century (PNAC), and the team they put together to plan (and execute, as many of them held important posts in the George W. Bush administration) reads like a Who’s Who of neocon chicken hawks at the time. The first group of recruits might sound familiar to you. They included Elliott Abrams, William Bennet, Jeb Bush, Dick Cheney, Eliot Cohen, Midge Decter, Steve Forbes, Francis Fukuyama, Frank Gaffney, Fred Ikle, Donald Kagan, Zalmay Khalilzad, I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, Norman Podhoretz, Dan Quale, Henry Rowen, Donald Rumsfeld, and Paul Wolfowitz. To that illustrious cohort were later added Richard Perle, Kenneth Adelman, Richard Allen, Richard Armitage, John Bolton, Jeane Kirkpatrick, Charles Krauthammer, Daniel Pipes, and James Woolsey. A quick scan through Google shows that, of this entire group of patriots and warmongers, very few of them did any military service at all, let along serve their country in combat.
The PNAC, emboldened by right-wing successes in Washington as well as the collapse of the Soviet Union less than a decade previously, brazenly declared the objectives of their program to promote US global hegemony in a series of comuniqués which recommended, among other measures:
· Increased defense spending
· Complete US militarization and domination of space
· An anti-missile system that came to be known sardonically as the “Star Wars” system
· The ability to “fight and decisively win multiple simultaneous major-theater wars”
· The policy of “critical regions,” especially the oil-rich Middle East
(Source: Stone and Kuznick, The Untold History of the United States, 2013)
At the top of PNAC’s immediate agenda was the toppling of the Sadam Hussein regime in Iraq. Sadam was their ally when his military served as an American proxy army against Iran in the 80s but by 2003 he was no longer useful. They had other plans for Sadam. Seen in retrospect, their strategy was to devastate Iraq, grab their oil (following much the same process as they are doing today in the Kurdish zone of Syria), then rebuild the country with the income from Iraq’s own petroleum. (Yes, it sounds just as absurd as making the Mexicans pay for the wall.) There was only one factor holding them back. Sadam had not committed any crime nor outrage grave enough to justify levelling his country in order to unseat him. Even the neocons could see that, and they alluded it in their contingency plans. They noted that, barring some catastrophic event such as the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor, there was nothing to be done.
Enter 911, 2001, right on cue, and the Americans marched manfully into Iraq. Wait a minute. All but four of the 19 hijackers were Saudis, so why didn’t Bush’s National Security team decide to invade Saudi Arabia? Silly question. It would have been bad for business. What about Afghanistan? Osama bin Laden, the alleged perpetrator of 911 was allegedly hiding out somewhere in them there Afghan hills, wasn’t he? So, if they were going to invade anywhere, wouldn’t simple fourth-grade logic suggest it be Afghanistan before Iraq? The neocon strategists were having none of that. Rumsfeld made a remark, something about “better targets” in Iraq, General Colin Powell found some weapons of mass destruction under the bed and the world’s most formidable war machine booted up and marched. Handily enough, they already had the plans prepared.
I have treated this absurd series of events as a lark because, in the end, that is exactly what it turned out to be, a big, fat, lethal lark with a horrifying balance of dead and wounded Iraqi civilians, as well as millions being converted into homeless refugees. The number of Iraqi victims depends upon whom you listen to. The Iraq Body Count project (IBC) figure of documented civilian deaths from violence is 183,535 – 206,107 through April 2019. This includes reported civilian deaths “due to coalition and insurgent military action, sectarian violence and increased criminal violence.” The IBC site states: “many deaths will probably go unreported or unrecorded by officials and media.” According to the Associated Press‘s version more than 110,600 Iraqis had been killed since the start of the war to April 2009. (Source: Wikipedia)
It was President Barak Obama who was finally going to put the United States—and the world—in order and make things normal and decent again. So many American voters believed that message absolutely. Then, according to thebalance.com, he increased Bush’s “defense” budget to between $700 billion and $800 billion a year, and took the United States armed forces into Afghanistan. Coincidentally, Afghanistan sits on many billions (trillions?) of dollars worth of rare minerals. War, it seems, can look like good business, when regarded with a blind eye.
The Art of the Deal or Criminal Negligence?
Alleged heir to billions, real-estate developer, sexual harasser and reality TV star, Donald J. Trump achieved a surprising election victory in 2016 that produced a seismic awakening for a politically stale and morally drowsy United States. But the real shock took some time to sink in. Because, in obeyance to his wacky campaign promises, President Trump and his merry band of sociopaths have devoted the three years since he was elected to dismounting and demolishing the United States government as we know it. Lest you consider that categorical statement exaggerated, let’s take a look at the situation piece by piece. Investigative journalist and writer, Michael Lewis, makes that possible. In his thin (217-page) 2018 book, The Fifth Risk, he has given us enough reliable facts, laid out in an orderly and interesting manner, to get a reasonable grip on the situation.
The Fifth Risk is virtually a handbook of authoritative–and highly readable–information that Lewis obtained while criss-crossing the country and interviewing high-level civil servants from the Obama administration. These were the people responsible for the day-to-day functioning of vital federal agencies.
The most fascinating–and terrifying–sections of the book describe the transfer of power from the people who ran US government agencies under Obama to the new Trump appointees. We’re talking about agencies that run from the Patent Office, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the Department of Education and the Department of Commerce, up to the Department of Energy, a thirty-billion-dollar-a-year organization with about a hundred and ten thousand employees. This process is understandably complicated and its procedures are actually established by law. Well before the election, presidential candidates are required to form a “transition team” to facilitate the transfer of specialized knowledge required to keep the all-important federal agencies running smoothly. The law actually provides fully-furnished and operational office space for each transition team.
Lewis describes the importance of the departments and their management teams:
How to stop a virus, how to take a census, how to determine if some foreign country is seeking to obtain a nuclear weapon or if Korean missiles can reach Kansas City: these are enduring technical problems. The people appointed by a newly-elected president to solve these problems have roughly seventy-five days to learn from their predecessors. After the inauguration, a lot of deeply knowledgeable people will scatter to the four winds and be forbidden, by federal law, from initiating any contact with their replacements.
He makes it patently clear that Trump’s appointees form a demolition team, not a governing body, driven more by extreme-right-wing ideology than any expertise. Perhaps the most telling detail revealed by Lewis is that the day after the inauguration of President Trump, with all the Obama agency heads sitting in offices specially prepared for welcoming the incoming appointees with thick volumes of transition information and procedures, some of which took more than a year to prepare, no Trump representatives showed up. Days went by–in some cases weeks–and the Trump administration show no signs of life. When they finally appeared, instead of the expected teams of 20 or 30 experts, they were met with just a few incoming staff members, in one significant case a single elderly white man without a notebook nor a pencil.
Lewis quotes a comment by Steve Bannon, President Donald Trump’s White House Chief Strategist during the first seven months of his term, that sums up that insider’s view of the Obama-Trump transition:
I was fucking nervous as shit. I go, Holy fuck, this guy [Trump] doesn’t know anything. And he doesn’t give a shit.
The Trump policy was obviously not to do things, rather to undo them. And he and his cohorts are proceeding diligently down the same path today. Some of them seem to think that the nation’s problems can be solved by prayer.
Is the American Agenda Survivable?
From all outward signs, the objective of the Trump government is to continue to enrich the rich and subjugate the poor, thus placing in jeopardy the health and wellbeing—if not the very survival–of generations of Americans to come. Who can assure Americans that their children and grandchildren, and their children and grandchildren, will be capable of surviving the coming climate change, the wars, the famines, the water shortages, the industrial and electromagnetic pollution, the plummeting education standards and, above all, the false values that the American agenda is based upon. In order to survive as a nation, the Americans might benefit from teaching their children well. That is, to stop trying to convince them that they are superior to other people around the country and the world. They’re not smarter nor better than any of the other children around the world. If they are superior in anything, it’s as consumers of low-grade ultra-nationalism, “pop culture” and reality TV, the maximum expression of which is their own President Donald Trump.
Over the past half century the majority of the leaders in the American military, especially officers and non-coms were either from Southern States or had been formed on southern military bases. There they absorbed southern-dominated expressions of nationalism, weaponized patriotism and religion. An old friend who did his obligatory military service during the Vietnam War was so repelled by the redneckedness of the US Army that he left the country for good when he was discharged. Looking back a half a century he says with a mock meaningful smile, “I left the US the same year as Stanley Kubrick, 1968.”
Southernization’s Limitations on Voting Rights
The Voting Rights Act of 1965 signed into law on August 6, 1965, by President Lyndon Johnson, outlawed the discriminatory voting practices adopted in many southern states after the Civil War, including literacy tests as a prerequisite to voting. But on June 25, 2013, the United States Supreme Court, in the landmark Shelby County (Alabama) v. Holder case, reconsidered the constitutionality of two provisions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965: Section 5, which requires certain states and local governments to obtain federal preclearance before implementing any changes to their voting laws or practices; and Section 4(b), which contains the coverage formula that determines which jurisdictions are subjected to preclearance based on their histories of discrimination in voting. (Source: Wikipedia)
According to an article by Vann R. Newkirk II in The Atlantic of July 10, 2018:
Just five years after the landmark Shelby County v. Holder decision, it’s become clear that the decision has handed the country an era of renewed white racial hegemony. And we’ve only just begun.
The same author says on July 21, 2018:
Voter suppression almost certainly helped Donald Trump win the presidency. Multiple academic studies and court rulings indicate that racially biased election laws, such as voter-ID legislation in places like Wisconsin, favored Republican candidates in 2016. Like most other elections in American history, this one wasn’t a fair fight. A poll conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) and The Atlantic has uncovered evidence of deep structural barriers to the ballot for black and Latino voters, specifically in the 2016 election. More than that, the survey finds that the deep wounds of Jim Crow endure, leaving America’s democratic promise unfulfilled.
Nor is it necessary to resort to sophisticated big-data techniques to influence voting results significantly. There are effective redneck measures as simple as closing polling stations in Democratic neighborhoods. Unfair, discriminatory voting laws are already in effect. Some of them would be clearly illegal if challenged, but that is a complicated, time-consuming process that not all communities are prepared to face. It’s up to the Attorney General to file those suits, but Jeff Sessions hasn’t take the initiative, so cheated would-be voters–significantly many poor and elderly people and minorities who would vote for Democrats–are cut out of the mix.
What’s Next? Could Southernization Be Reversed?
In theory, everything is possible, but the de-southernization of the United States would be difficult to the point of impossible. With more than half a century of head start, southernization has its roots sunk deeply in large parts of the north and west. And let’s not forget the south, which is already southernized. We’re talking about changing people’s hearts and minds, which is never easy, as the Americans discovered in other people’s countries. What would be required? First and foremost: education. Ignorance fertilizes all the ills of an underdeveloped region, and the south is at the bottom of the US totem pole in high-school graduates. This is not because southerners are less intelligent. It’s because the south spends significantly less on public education. Deficient nutrition is also a factor. Hungry kids from poor families make worse students and the south lacks many programs to help them.
Michael Herr, one of the most lucid people I have never met, and who didn’t write much beyond a thin book called Dispatches and two of the seminal film scripts of the 20th century, Apocalypse Now and Full Metal Jacket, said, “They speak about the dumbing of America as a foregone thing, already completed, but, duh, it’s a process and we haven’t seen anything yet.”
A loosening of the grip that fundamentalist Christianity has on the southernized population would also help immensely. The belief in a better life after death is a terrible millstone around the neck of a society. Then there’s economic equality. If people are given real hope they don’t have to rely on charismatic leaders and magical religion.
Of course, the south’s (and the southernized north’s) deep-down racism would have to be tempered. According to the 2010 U.S. Census, 14 percent of all people in the United States are identified as black, either alone or in combination with one or more other races. In 2010, 55 percent of the US black population lived in the South, and 105 Southern counties had a black population of 50 percent or higher. The way things look today the necessity of eradicating the inequality and marginalization of so many innocent people seems to be a virtually insoluble problem.
Overblown, racially-discriminating incarceration rates in the United States are the highest in the world, and their effects on the society are more damaging than most of the original crimes themselves. Not only is prison–especially long mandatory terms– disastrous for the families concerned, but it is a sure generator of more delinquency. What keeps American lawmakers from realizing that? Never lose sight of the fact that a disproportionate number of those in prison are people of color. Could it have to do with racism?
Where’s the Will to Make America Great Again?
Is there a firm determination, or even a mild desire in the American power structure to redress all these wrongs and put the country back on the path of solidarity and sanity? That is to say, to make America great again. Patently not. Such a change of priorities would require tremendous political conviction and the commitment of so many resources that the United States would no longer be able to devote itself to its primary businesses: world domination and never-ending war. Unfortunately, the decision to make any sort of fundamental changes in the country lies in the hands of the same southernized politicians who created the current situation, so any significant change is highly unlikely. Those politicians are too firmly backed by their southernized voters, approximately half the country, along with the big business interests which have financed reelection for most of the United States Congress. Therein lies the problem.
There’s the other inevitable American reality: too many powerful interests are satisfied with the status quo. Workers wages are so low in the south that industries are beginning to relocate their traditional northern manufacturing operations to the south, and even to bring some of them back from Asia. This, however, doesn’t necessarily indicate a bright future. Better than cheap labor is no labor, and most manufacturing jobs will soon be in the “hands” of robots.
In an article for American Prospect, Harold Meyerson says:
The Old South may not be able to bring back the days of unpaid slave labor, but the GOP’s doing the next best thing by shredding our safety net, slashing our wages, and taking aggressive measures to keep us from voting them out of power.
So, could the southernization of America be reversed or tempered? The odds tend towards “not a chance,” save the occurance of some unforseen cataclysmic event or, failing that, a miraculous awakening of the sedated American electorate.
Racism is as American as apple pie. It’s a tradition that has been ongoing on many fronts, starting even before shiploads of African slaves began landing in the New World. Its first victims were the “savage and godless” Native Americans. But their wildness and heathenism were not the worst of it. They were also the “proprietors” of two entire continents that were fabulously rich in natural resources and potential for “development.” That anomalous situation simply would not do. It was imperative that they should be relieved of those lands and riches by members of a superior godfearing white race. From the very beginning racism was linked with profit and religion was used as a blunt instrument.
What made the white race superior, after all? It was mainly horses and gunpowder and, ironically, savagery. With these advantages the white European riff-raff overwhelmed the noble American Indians, whose values were arguably superior to those of the Europeans. They inhabited a humane society based on solidarity, tolerance, and respect for their natural surroundings and everything that inhabited them. But they were destined to succumb utterly to a series of rapacious European invaders driven by predatory greed and an intolerant religious ideology. And, as we shall see, in half a millenium not much has changed.
Though the United States’ racist ideology has been tempered by legislation, both out of fairness and for reasons of political correctness, much of its effectiveness was–and is–thwarted by shrewd racist maneuvers like election tampering. So not much has changed. They celebrate fewer lynchings today but new procedures have arisen to take their place, such as white police officers killing colored men and boys with total impunity. It is, after all, more pragmatic. They don’t need a rope.
Let’s Talk About Lynching
According to the Wikipedia:
Lynching is the practice of murder by a group of people by extrajudicial action. Lynchings in the United States rose in number after the American Civil War in the late 19th century, following the emancipation of slaves; they declined in the 1920s. Most lynchings were of African-American men in the Southern United States, but women and non-blacks were also lynched, not always in the South. White lynchings of blacks also occurred in the midwestern United States and the border states, especially during the 20th-century Great Migration of blacks out of the Southern United States. The purpose was to enforce white supremacy and intimidate blacks through racial terrorism.
First You Must De-Humanize the Victims
Despite the fact that some white people were also lynched, the practice always has been a special atrocity aimed at people of color. It occurred most often in the Southern United States, where slavery had paved the way for dehumanizing black folks as sub-human or even non-human and, therefore, subject to be bought and sold as personal possessions (hence “chattel slavery”), treated like beasts of burden, having their families broken apart, and murdered with impunity. Even slaves born on American soil enjoyed no rights, no personal freedom, insofar as they were not recognized as “persons.”
It is important to note that this dehumanization process occurred mainly in the South and spread from there over the decades as proponents of the Southern way of life moved North and into positions of power in the United States government. Racism migrated north not only with the good old boys in government, but with workers seeking northern jobs, and it went hand-in-hand with the increasing adoption of Southern-style Evangelical religion and the South’s switch from the Democratic to the Republican Party. In 1948 all the states of the “solid South” voted Democratic majorities. By 1972, thanks largely to the Democrats’ embracing the cause of civil rights, the South was solidly Republican.
Obviously, most of the racism that spread around the country was not openly declared, rather of the wink-and-nod variety, such as President Trump’s declaration after the May 2017, Charlottesville Unite the Right white-supremacist rally. That was where the Nazis and the Klan played starring roles and a woman was killed by a car that was deliberately driven into a crowd of peaceful anti-fascist protesters. Afterwards, the President highlighted his comments with, “You also had people that were very fine people on both sides.”
American racism is not just attributable to bands of fanatical crazies loose on the streets. Its also woven into the fabric of American institutions from top to bottom. Here’s the National Football League’s response to San Francisco quarterback Kevin Kaepernick’s gesture of solidarity with the black victims of police shootings, by kneeling during the national anthem. On Sept. 7, 2016, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said this about Kaepernick’s one-man protest:
“…we believe very strongly in patriotism in the NFL. I personally believe very strongly in that. I think it’s important to have respect for our country, for our flag, for the people who make our country better; for law enforcement, and for our military who are out fighting for our freedoms and our ideals.
He concludes: “…clearly we have things that can get better in society, and we should get better. But we have to choose respectful ways of doing that so that we can achieve the outcomes we ultimately want and do it with the values and ideals that make our country great.”
Goodell’s first paragraph is a cheap shot, pulling out the patriotism card. The issue here has nothing to do with patriotism, as he well knows, but he also knows that just mentioning it will warm up an American audience. The operative word in his closing remarks is “respectful,” as if kneeling weren’t a respectful way of expressing dissent. The subtext here is thinly-disguised racism. If Kaepernick had been white, addressing a non-racial issue, might the story not have been a little different?
An Intellectual’s First-Hand Observations of Racism
James Baldwin said this in a 1962 article in The New Yorker:
But the Negro’s experience of the white world cannot possibly create in him any respect for the standards by which the white world claims to live. His own condition is overwhelming proof that white people do not live by these standards. Negro servants have been smuggling odds and ends out of white homes for generations, and white people have been delighted to have them do it, because it has assuaged a dim guilt and testified to the intrinsic superiority of white people.
In any case, white people, who had robbed black people of their liberty and who profited by this theft every hour that they lived, had no moral ground on which to stand. They had the judges, the juries, the shotguns, the law—in a word, power. But it was a criminal power, to be feared but not respected, and to be outwitted in any way whatever. And those virtues preached but not practiced by the white world were merely another means of holding Negroes in subjection.
Every Step Is Loaded
Every step of the American justice system, from the police to the prosecutors to the judges and the prison system, is loaded with explicit or implicit racism, and the proof is in the pudding. Let’s take a look at the statistics. Here’s what Republican Congressman Rand Paul has to say on on his website on March 9, 2015, regarding America’s overall prison population:
“Though only five percent of the world’s population lives in the United States, it is home to 25 percent of the world’s prison population. … Not only does the current overpopulated, underfunded system hurt those incarcerated, it also digs deeper into the pockets of taxpaying Americans.”
Even more alarming are these “incarceration trends” compiled by NAACP.org:
Incarceration Trends in America
Between 1980 and 2015, the number of people incarcerated in America increased from roughly 500,000 to over 2.2 million.
1 in every 37 adults in the United States, or 2.7% of the adult population, is under some form of correctional supervision.
Racial Disparities in Incarceration
In 2014, African Americans constituted 2.3 million, or 34%, of the total 6.8 million correctional population.
African Americans are incarcerated at more than five times the rate of whites.
The imprisonment rate for African American women is twice that of white women.
Nationwide, African American children represent 32% of children who are arrested,
42% of children who are detained, and 52% of children whose cases are judicially
waived to criminal court.
Though African Americans and Hispanics make up approximately 32% of the US
population, they comprised 56% of all incarcerated people in 2015.
If African Americans and Hispanics were incarcerated at the same rates as whites,
prison and jail populations would decline by almost 40%.
Drug Sentencing Disparities
In the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, about 17 million whites and 4 million African Americans reported having used an illicit drug within the last month.
African Americans and whites use drugs at similar rates, but the imprisonment rate of African Americans for drug charges is almost 6 times that of whites.
African Americans represent 12.5% of illicit drug users, but 29% of those arrested for drug offenses and 33% of those incarcerated in state facilities for drug offenses.
The deck is clearly stacked and the principal motor of this curious situation is not a mystery. In one form or another it is racism .
Lee Atwater on The Southern Strategy
Lee Atwater was an atypical rock ‘n rollin’ Republican strategist, and later chairman of the Republican National Committee who died at 40 of a brain tumor. Born in Georgia and raised in South Carolina he was southern through and through. He is interesting to us for an anonymous interview he gave to political scientist Alexander Lamis in 1981, while he was working for the Reagan government. This interview, which wasn’t made public until 11 years after his death, surfaced as an audio published by The Nation on November 1, 2012. Its content gives us a privileged peek into the underlying thinking behind the almost subliminal use of racism in the Southern Republican strategy:
Atwater: As to the whole Southern strategy that Harry S. Dent, Sr. and others put together in 1968, opposition to the Voting Rights Act would have been a central part of keeping the South. Now you don’t have to do that. All that you need to do to keep the South is for Reagan to run in place on the issues that he’s campaigned on since 1964, and that’s fiscal conservatism, balancing the budget, cut taxes, you know, the whole cluster.
Questioner: But the fact is, isn’t it, that Reagan does get to the Wallace voter and to the racist side of the Wallace voter by doing away with legal services, by cutting down on food stamps?
Atwater: Y’all don’t quote me on this. You start out in 1954 by saying, “Nigger, nigger, nigger”. By 1968 you can’t say “nigger”—that hurts you. Backfires. So you say stuff like forced busing, states’ rights and all that stuff. You’re getting so abstract now [that] you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is [that] blacks get hurt worse than whites. And subconsciously maybe that is part of it. I’m not saying that. But I’m saying that if it is getting that abstract, and that coded, that we are doing away with the racial problem one way or the other. You follow me—because obviously sitting around saying, “We want to cut this”, is much more abstract than even the busing thing, and a hell of a lot more abstract than “Nigger, nigger”. So, any way you look at it, race is coming on the backbone.
Atwater, the Republican insider, is notable for this devastating statement he made in a Life magazine article in February of 1991, a month before he died:
My illness helped me to see that what was missing in society is what was missing in me: a little heart, a lot of brotherhood. The 1980s were about acquiring – acquiring wealth, power, prestige. I know. I acquired more wealth, power, and prestige than most. But you can acquire all you want and still feel empty. What power wouldn’t I trade for a little more time with my family? What price wouldn’t I pay for an evening with friends? It took a deadly illness to put me eye to eye with that truth, but it is a truth that the country, caught up in its ruthless ambitions and moral decay, can learn on my dime. I don’t know who will lead us through the ’90s, but they must be made to speak to this spiritual vacuum at the heart of American society, this tumor of the soul.
By Way of Homage to Martin Luther King
This is the full text of Martin Luther King’s “I’ve been to the mountaintop…” speech, given in Memphis, Tennessee, April 3, 1968, the day before he was assassinated.
Thank you very kindly, my friends. As I listened to Ralph Abernathy and his eloquent and generous introduction and then thought about myself, I wondered who he was talking about. It’s always good to have your closest friend and associate to say something good about you. And Ralph Abernathy is the best friend that I have in the world. I’m delighted to see each of you here tonight in spite of a storm warning. You reveal that you are determined to go on anyhow.
Something is happening in Memphis; something is happening in our world. And you know, if I were standing at the beginning of time, with the possibility of taking a kind of general and panoramic view of the whole of human history up to now, and the Almighty said to me, “Martin Luther King, which age would you like to live in?” I would take my mental flight by Egypt and I would watch God’s children in their magnificent trek from the dark dungeons of Egypt through, or rather across the Red Sea, through the wilderness on toward the promised land. And in spite of its magnificence, I wouldn’t stop there.
I would move on by Greece and take my mind to Mount Olympus. And I would see Plato, Aristotle, Socrates, Euripides and Aristophanes assembled around the Parthenon. And I would watch them around the Parthenon as they discussed the great and eternal issues of reality. But I wouldn’t stop there.
I would go on, even to the great heyday of the Roman Empire. And I would see developments around there, through various emperors and leaders. But I wouldn’t stop there.
I would even come up to the day of the Renaissance, and get a quick picture of all that the Renaissance did for the cultural and aesthetic life of man. But I wouldn’t stop there.
I would even go by the way that the man for whom I am named had his habitat. And I would watch Martin Luther as he tacked his ninety-five theses on the door at the church of Wittenberg. But I wouldn’t stop there. I would come on up even to 1863, and watch a vacillating President by the name of Abraham Lincoln finally come to the conclusion that he had to sign the Emancipation Proclamation. But I wouldn’t stop there.
I would even come up to the early thirties, and see a man grappling with the problems of the bankruptcy of his nation. And come with an eloquent cry that we have nothing to fear but “fear itself.” But I wouldn’t stop there. Strangely enough, I would turn to the Almighty, and say, “If you allow me to live just a few years in the second half of the 20th century, I will be happy.”
Now that’s a strange statement to make, because the world is all messed up. The nation is sick. Trouble is in the land; confusion all around. That’s a strange statement. But I know, somehow, that only when it is dark enough can you see the stars. And I see God working in this period of the twentieth century in a way that men, in some strange way, are responding. Something is happening in our world. The masses of people are rising up. And wherever they are assembled today, whether they are in Johannesburg, South Africa; Nairobi, Kenya; Accra, Ghana; New York City; Atlanta, Georgia; Jackson, Mississippi; or Memphis, Tennessee — the cry is always the same: “We want to be free.”
And another reason that I’m happy to live in this period is that we have been forced to a point where we are going to have to grapple with the problems that men have been trying to grapple with through history, but the demands didn’t force them to do it. Survival demands that we grapple with them. Men, for years now, have been talking about war and peace. But now, no longer can they just talk about it. It is no longer a choice between violence and nonviolence in this world; it’s nonviolence or nonexistence. That is where we are today.
And also in the human rights revolution, if something isn’t done, and done in a hurry, to bring the colored peoples of the world out of their long years of poverty, their long years of hurt and neglect, the whole world is doomed. Now, I’m just happy that God has allowed me to live in this period to see what is unfolding. And I’m happy that He’s allowed me to be in Memphis.
I can remember — I can remember when Negroes were just going around as Ralph has said, so often, scratching where they didn’t itch, and laughing when they were not tickled. But that day is all over. We mean business now, and we are determined to gain our rightful place in God’s world.
And that’s all this whole thing is about. We aren’t engaged in any negative protest and in any negative arguments with anybody. We are saying that we are determined to be men. We are determined to be people. We are saying — We are saying that we are God’s children. And that we are God’s children, we don’t have to live like we are forced to live.
Now, what does all of this mean in this great period of history? It means that we’ve got to stay together. We’ve got to stay together and maintain unity. You know, whenever Pharaoh wanted to prolong the period of slavery in Egypt, he had a favorite, favorite formula for doing it. What was that? He kept the slaves fighting among themselves. But whenever the slaves get together, something happens in Pharaoh’s court, and he cannot hold the slaves in slavery. When the slaves get together, that’s the beginning of getting out of slavery. Now let us maintain unity.
Secondly, let us keep the issues where they are. The issue is injustice. The issue is the refusal of Memphis to be fair and honest in its dealings with its public servants, who happen to be sanitation workers. Now, we’ve got to keep attention on that. That’s always the problem with a little violence. You know what happened the other day, and the press dealt only with the window-breaking. I read the articles. They very seldom got around to mentioning the fact that one thousand, three hundred sanitation workers are on strike, and that Memphis is not being fair to them, and that Mayor Loeb is in dire need of a doctor. They didn’t get around to that.
Now we’re going to march again, and we’ve got to march again, in order to put the issue where it is supposed to be — and force everybody to see that there are thirteen hundred of God’s children here suffering, sometimes going hungry, going through dark and dreary nights wondering how this thing is going to come out. That’s the issue. And we’ve got to say to the nation: We know how it’s coming out. For when people get caught up with that which is right and they are willing to sacrifice for it, there is no stopping point short of victory. We aren’t going to let any mace stop us. We are masters in our nonviolent movement in disarming police forces; they don’t know what to do. I’ve seen them so often. I remember in Birmingham, Alabama, when we were in that majestic struggle there, we would move out of the 16th Street Baptist Church day after day; by the hundreds we would move out. And Bull Connor would tell them to send the dogs forth, and they did come; but we just went before the dogs singing, “Ain’t gonna let nobody turn me around.”
Bull Connor next would say, “Turn the fire hoses on.” And as I said to you the other night, Bull Connor didn’t know history. He knew a kind of physics that somehow didn’t relate to the transphysics that we knew about. And that was the fact that there was a certain kind of fire that no water could put out. And we went before the fire hoses; we had known water. If we were Baptist or some other denominations, we had been immersed. If we were Methodist, and some others, we had been sprinkled, but we knew water. That couldn’t stop us.
And we just went on before the dogs and we would look at them; and we’d go on before the water hoses and we would look at it, and we’d just go on singing “Over my head I see freedom in the air.” And then we would be thrown in the paddy wagons, and sometimes we were stacked in there like sardines in a can. And they would throw us in, and old Bull would say, “Take ’em off,” and they did; and we would just go in the paddy wagon singing, “We Shall Overcome.”
And every now and then we’d get in jail, and we’d see the jailers looking through the windows being moved by our prayers, and being moved by our words and our songs. And there was a power there which Bull Connor couldn’t adjust to; and so we ended up transforming Bull into a steer, and we won our struggle in Birmingham. Now we’ve got to go on in Memphis just like that. I call upon you to be with us when we go out Monday.
Now about injunctions: We have an injunction and we’re going into court tomorrow morning to fight this illegal, unconstitutional injunction. All we say to America is, “Be true to what you said on paper.” If I lived in China or even Russia, or any totalitarian country, maybe I could understand some of these illegal injunctions. Maybe I could understand the denial of certain basic First Amendment privileges, because they hadn’t committed themselves to that over there.
But somewhere I read of the freedom of assembly. Somewhere I read of the freedom of speech.
Somewhere I read of the freedom of press. Somewhere I read that the greatness of America is the right to protest for right. And so just as I say, we aren’t going to let dogs or water hoses turn us around, we aren’t going to let any injunction turn us around. We are going on.
We need all of you. And you know what’s beautiful to me is to see all of these ministers of the Gospel. It’s a marvelous picture. Who is it that is supposed to articulate the longings and aspirations of the people more than the preacher? Somehow the preacher must have a kind of fire shut up in his bones. And whenever injustice is around he tell it. Somehow the preacher must be an Amos, and saith, “When God speaks who can but prophesy?” Again with Amos, “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.” Somehow the preacher must say with Jesus, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me,” and he’s anointed me to deal with the problems of the poor.”
And I want to commend the preachers, under the leadership of these noble men: James Lawson, one who has been in this struggle for many years; he’s been to jail for struggling; he’s been kicked out of Vanderbilt University for this struggle, but he’s still going on, fighting for the rights of his people. Reverend Ralph Jackson, Billy Kiles; I could just go right on down the list, but time will not permit.
But I want to thank all of them. And I want you to thank them, because so often, preachers aren’t concerned about anything but themselves. And I’m always happy to see a relevant ministry.
It’s all right to talk about “long white robes over yonder,” in all of its symbolism. But ultimately people want some suits and dresses and shoes to wear down here! It’s all right to talk about “streets flowing with milk and honey,” but God has commanded us to be concerned about the slums down here, and his children who can’t eat three square meals a day. It’s all right to talk about the new Jerusalem, but one day, God’s preacher must talk about the new New York, the new Atlanta, the new Philadelphia, the new Los Angeles, the new Memphis, Tennessee. This is what we have to do.
Now the other thing we’ll have to do is this: Always anchor our external direct action with the power of economic withdrawal. Now, we are poor people. Individually, we are poor when you compare us with white society in America. We are poor. Never stop and forget that collectively — that means all of us together — collectively we are richer than all the nations in the world, with the exception of nine. Did you ever think about that?
After you leave the United States, Soviet Russia, Great Britain, West Germany, France, and I could name the others, the American Negro collectively is richer than most nations of the world. We have an annual income of more than thirty billion dollars a year, which is more than all of the exports of the United States, and more than the national budget of Canada. Did you know that? That’s power right there, if we know how to pool it.
We don’t have to argue with anybody. We don’t have to curse and go around acting bad with our words. We don’t need any bricks and bottles. We don’t need any Molotov cocktails. We just need to go around to these stores, and to these massive industries in our country, and say, “God sent us by here, to say to you that you’re not treating his children right. And we’ve come by here to ask you to make the first item on your agenda fair treatment, where God’s children are concerned.
Now, if you are not prepared to do that, we do have an agenda that we must follow. And our agenda calls for withdrawing economic support from you.”
And so, as a result of this, we are asking you tonight, to go out and tell your neighbors not to buy Coca-Cola in Memphis. Go by and tell them not to buy Sealtest milk. Tell them not to buy — what is the other bread? — Wonder Bread. And what is the other bread company, Jesse? Tell them not to buy Hart’s bread. As Jesse Jackson has said, up to now, only the garbage men have been feeling pain; now we must kind of redistribute the pain.
We are choosing these companies because they haven’t been fair in their hiring policies; and we are choosing them because they can begin the process of saying they are going to support the needs and the rights of these men who are on strike. And then they can move on town — downtown and tell Mayor Loeb to do what is right.
But not only that, we’ve got to strengthen black institutions. I call upon you to take your money out of the banks downtown and deposit your money in Tri-State Bank. We want a “bank-in” movement in Memphis. Go by the savings and loan association. I’m not asking you something that we don’t do ourselves at SCLC. Judge Hooks and others will tell you that we have an account here in the savings and loan association from the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
We are telling you to follow what we are doing. Put your money there. You have six or seven black insurance companies here in the city of Memphis. Take out your insurance there. We want to have an “insurance-in.”
Now these are some practical things that we can do. We begin the process of building a greater economic base. And at the same time, we are putting pressure where it really hurts. I ask you to follow through here.
Now, let me say as I move to my conclusion that we’ve got to give ourselves to this struggle until the end.
Nothing would be more tragic than to stop at this point in Memphis. We’ve got to see it through. And when we have our march, you need to be there. If it means leaving work, if it means leaving school — be there. Be concerned about your brother. You may not be on strike. But either we go up together, or we go down together.
Let us develop a kind of dangerous unselfishness. One day a man came to Jesus, and he wanted to raise some questions about some vital matters of life. At points he wanted to trick Jesus, and show him that he knew a little more than Jesus knew and throw him off base…. Now that question could have easily ended up in a philosophical and theological debate. But Jesus immediately pulled that question from mid-air, and placed it on a dangerous curve between Jerusalem and Jericho. And he talked about a certain man, who fell among thieves. You remember that a Levite and a priest passed by on the other side.
They didn’t stop to help him. And finally a man of another race came by. He got down from his beast, decided not to be compassionate by proxy. But he got down with him, administered first aid, and helped the man in need. Jesus ended up saying, this was the good man, this was the great man, because he had the capacity to project the “I” into the “thou,” and to be concerned about his brother.
Now you know, we use our imagination a great deal to try to determine why the priest and the Levite didn’t stop. At times we say they were busy going to a church meeting, an ecclesiastical gathering, and they had to get on down to Jerusalem so they wouldn’t be late for their meeting. At other times we would speculate that there was a religious law that “One who was engaged in religious ceremonials was not to touch a human body twenty-four hours before the ceremony.” And every now and then we begin to wonder whether maybe they were not going down to Jerusalem — or down to Jericho, rather to organize a “Jericho Road Improvement Association.”
That’s a possibility. Maybe they felt that it was better to deal with the problem from the causal root, rather than to get bogged down with an individual effect.
But I’m going to tell you what my imagination tells me. It’s possible that those men were afraid. You see, the Jericho road is a dangerous road. I remember when Mrs. King and I were first in Jerusalem. We rented a car and drove from Jerusalem down to Jericho. And as soon as we got on that road, I said to my wife, “I can see why Jesus used this as the setting for his parable.” It’s a winding, meandering road. It’s really conducive for ambushing. You start out in Jerusalem, which is about 1200 miles — or rather 1200 feet above sea level. And by the time you get down to Jericho, fifteen or twenty minutes later, you’re about 2200 feet below sea level. That’s a dangerous road. In the days of Jesus it came to be known as the “Bloody Pass.”
And you know, it’s possible that the priest and the Levite looked over that man on the ground and wondered if the robbers were still around. Or it’s possible that they felt that the man on the ground was merely faking. And he was acting like he had been robbed and hurt, in order to seize them over there, lure them there for quick and easy seizure. And so the first question that the priest asked — the first question that the Levite asked was, “If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?” But then the Good Samaritan came by. And he reversed the question: “If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?”
That’s the question before you tonight. Not, “If I stop to help the sanitation workers, what will happen to my job. Not, “If I stop to help the sanitation workers what will happen to all of the hours that I usually spend in my office every day and every week as a pastor?” The question is not, “If I stop to help this man in need, what will happen to me?” The question is, “If I do not stop to help the sanitation workers, what will happen to them?” That’s the question.
Let us rise up tonight with a greater readiness. Let us stand with a greater determination. And let us move on in these powerful days, these days of challenge to make America what it ought to be. We have an opportunity to make America a better nation. And I want to thank God, once more, for allowing me to be here with you. You know, several years ago, I was in New York City autographing the first book that I had written. And while sitting there autographing books, a demented black woman came up.
The only question I heard from her was, “Are you Martin Luther King?” And I was looking down writing, and I said, “Yes.” And the next minute I felt something beating on my chest. Before I knew it I had been stabbed by this demented woman. I was rushed to Harlem Hospital. It was a dark Saturday afternoon. And that blade had gone through, and the X-rays revealed that the tip of the blade was on the edge of my aorta, the main artery. And once that’s punctured, your drowned in your own blood — that’s the end of you.
It came out in the New York Times the next morning, that if I had merely sneezed, I would have died. Well, about four days later, they allowed me, after the operation, after my chest had been opened, and the blade had been taken out, to move around in the wheel chair in the hospital.
They allowed me to read some of the mail that came in, and from all over the states and the world, kind letters came in. I read a few, but one of them I will never forget. I had received one from the President and the Vice-President. I’ve forgotten what those telegrams said. I’d received a visit and a letter from the Governor of New York, but I’ve forgotten what that letter said. But there was another letter that came from a little girl, a young girl who was a student at the White Plains High School. And I looked at that letter, and I’ll never forget it. It said simply,
“Dear Dr. King, I am a ninth-grade student at the White Plains High School.”
And she said,
“While it should not matter, I would like to mention that I’m a white girl. I read in the paper of your misfortune, and of your suffering. And I read that if you had sneezed, you would have died. And I’m simply writing you to say that I’m so happy that you didn’t sneeze.”
And I want to say tonight — I want to say tonight that I too am happy that I didn’t sneeze. Because if I had sneezed, I wouldn’t have been around here in 1960, when students all over the South started sitting-in at lunch counters. And I knew that as they were sitting in, they were really standing up for the best in the American dream, and taking the whole nation back to those great wells of democracy which were dug deep by the Founding Fathers in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.
If I had sneezed, I wouldn’t have been around here in 1961, when we decided to take a ride for freedom and ended segregation in inter-state travel.
If I had sneezed, I wouldn’t have been around here in 1962, when Negroes in Albany, Georgia, decided to straighten their backs up. And whenever men and women straighten their backs up, they are going somewhere, because a man can’t ride your back unless it is bent.
If I had sneezed — If I had sneezed I wouldn’t have been here in 1963, when the black people of Birmingham, Alabama, aroused the conscience of this nation, and brought into being the Civil Rights Bill.
If I had sneezed, I wouldn’t have had a chance later that year, in August, to try to tell America about a dream that I had had.
If I had sneezed, I wouldn’t have been down in Selma, Alabama, to see the great Movement there.
If I had sneezed, I wouldn’t have been in Memphis to see a community rally around those brothers and sisters who are suffering.
I’m so happy that I didn’t sneeze.
And they were telling me –. Now, it doesn’t matter, now. It really doesn’t matter what happens now. I left Atlanta this morning, and as we got started on the plane, there were six of us.
The pilot said over the public address system, “We are sorry for the delay, but we have Dr. Martin Luther King on the plane. And to be sure that all of the bags were checked, and to be sure that nothing would be wrong with on the plane, we had to check out everything carefully. And we’ve had the plane protected and guarded all night.”
And then I got into Memphis. And some began to say the threats, or talk about the threats that were out. What would happen to me from some of our sick white brothers?
Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind.
Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land!
And so I’m happy, tonight.
I’m not worried about anything.
I’m not fearing any man.
Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.