In his rousing speech to the NAACP, President Obama praised the civil rights leaders of the past whose sacrifices “began the journey that has led me” (to the White House). He neglected to mention, however, that the majority of those civil rights leaders, most notably Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., opposed the war in Viet Nam and, if they were alive today, likely would decry his escalation of the war in Afghanistan.
Painting himself as the beneficiary of the NAACP’s work, Obama cited historical figures from W.E.B. DuBois to Thurgood Marshall, Martin Luther King Jr. to Emmet Till, to explain how the path to the presidency was cleared by visionaries,” Associated Press reported. All that is true, of course.
And Obama brought the NAACP audience to its feet when he spoke about his vision for their children: “I want them aspiring to be scientists and engineers, doctors and teachers, not just ballers and rappers,” Obama said. “I want them aspiring to be a Supreme Court justice. I want them aspiring to be president of the United States.”
But there are disturbing reports of escalating civilian casualties emerging from Afghanistan, a war that is now very much Obama’s War, and distressing photos being displayed of Afghan children lying in hospitals with burned faces and bandaged limbs. We might well ask, “What about their futures?”
Civilian deaths in Afghanistan jumped 24% over 2008, according to the United Nations, CNN reported July 31st. There were 1,013 civilian deaths in the first six months of this year and 30% of the slain were killed by Western military air strikes. The UN said the air strikes “remain responsible for the largest percentage of civilian deaths” attributed to foreign troops in Afghanistan.
Not surprisingly, Afghan President Hamid Karzai pleaded months ago “for the U.S. to halt air strikes in his country, following attacks that Afghan officials said killed 147 people,” Reuters reported.
But President Obama isn’t listening to the president of Afghanistan. Neither is he listening to the swelling chorus of Americans who regard the attack on Afghanistan as “a mistake” and who believe, says Gallup Poll, that by a two to one margin the U.S. is spending “too much” on defense. Apparently, some Americans are painfully aware that dollars spent to conquer Afghanistan will never fund education or retraining in America.
Of the five major civil rights organizations, the NAACP and the National Urban League, the two oldest and most conservative, backed U.S. involvement in Viet Nam. The NAACP was determined to show how patriotic African-American Americans were, even as Pentagon records in 1966 revealed a disproportionate number of Army casualties, some 23%, were African-Americans.
And while privately many Urban League officials opposed the Viet Nam war, the organization was reaping Federal anti-poverty grants for its job training and job-finding work from President Johnson. This followed the Urban League’s successful voter registration campaign in 1964 that enrolled an estimated 1 million new black voters. The campaign was non-partisan, of course, but well over 90% of Negroes signed up would vote for LBJ over Republican challenger Sen. Barry Goldwater of Arizona.
Yet three courageous civil rights organizations attacked the war: Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) and, most significantly, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). SCLC’s Rev. King, the Nobel Peace Prize recipient, called the Viet Nam war “blasphemy against all that America stands for.” And was criticized for his stand by Roy Wilkins of the NAACP and Whitney Young of the Urban League.
If he had not been assassinated, Rev. King likely would be highly critical of U.S. aggression against Afghanistan and Iraq today. They are countries whose subjugation is sought, respectively, for their potential pipeline routes and rich oil resources. The U.S., of course, has no legal right to wage these wars.
If President Obama wants to honor Dr. King’s memory for all that he did for him, he might begin by bringing U.S. troops home from the Middle East now. As for visions, how about an America that does not live by the sword?