War is a racket. It always has been.
“It is possibly the
oldest, easily the most profitable, surely the most vicious. It is the
only one international in scope. It is the only one in which the profits
are reckoned in dollars and the losses in lives. A racket is best
described, I believe, as something that is not what it seems to the
majority of the people.
Only a small ‘inside’ group knows what it is about. It is
conducted for the benefit of the very few, at the expense of the very
many. Out of war a few people make huge fortunes.” – The late United States Marine Corps Major General Smedley D. Butler
Martin Luther King, Jr. saw clearly the interrelatedness of war, poverty, and racism and
recognized how taking on one required confronting the others.
King challenged the draining of our national resources for the
military. He opposed the Vietnam War and other aspects of U.S. foreign
policy. He questioned an economic system that created enormous poverty
amid great wealth. He was assassinated while organizing the Poor
People’s March, in which he planned to lead thousands of poor Americans
of all races to Washington, D.C., to demand economic justice.
In speaking out against the Vietnam War, King recognized that
it was “the symptom of a far deeper malady within the American spirit.”
pegged the U.S. government as “the greatest purveyor of violence in the
world today.” He warned,
prophetically, of how the United States would be trapped in a series of
overseas military entanglements while the gap between the rich and poor
back home grew ever larger. He noted that the U.S. political and
economic system was “on the side of the wealthy, and the secure, while
we create a hell for the poor.” [x]
“But if a man doesn’t have a job or an income, he has neither life nor
liberty nor the possibility for the pursuit of happiness. He merely
In 1968 Martin Luther King, Jr. had begun to organize the Poor People’s Campaign. It was a multiracial effort aimed at alleviating
poverty regardless of race in order to build the network needed to achieve the goal of redistributing political and economic power. King had shifted his focus to these issues after observing
that gains in civil rights had not improved the material conditions of
life for many African Americans. Just as King was beginning this campaign he was assassinated.
In April 1968 King had answered a call from Memphis activists who
needed him to help energize a sanitation workers’ strike, a cause for
economic justice that would be his last. King aligned with the struggle of the poor and black sanitation workers
in Memphis and suggested that their
struggle for dignity was a dramatization of the issues taken up by the
Poor People’s Campaign—a fight by capable, hard workers against
dehumanization, discrimination and poverty wages in the richest country
in the world.
In his final speech King stated: “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. Be concerned about your
brother. You may not be on strike. But either we go up together, or we
go down together.“