Byline: The Register-Guard
Here are three winning submissions in the Martin Luther King Jr. Day essay contest for Eugene and Bethel students, sponsored by the Eugene School District Multicultural/Equity Office. A fourth winning essay starts on Page 1B.
In his speech "Beyond Vietnam," Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. describes the negative impacts of the Vietnam war on society and the importance, therefore, of changing battle plans. He suggests compromising to achieve a result far more heroic in the long run. There are both parallels to and striking opposites between this speech and the current global situation.
First, Dr. King spoke of a war that was very different from the war we face today. The United States of America's participation in the first war of the millennium is in response to a direct attack on our country. Vietnam was distant and foreign to America; this war has been practically demanded by its citizens. People feel empty if they fail to exact revenge. Taking an eye and more for an eye is basic instinct. Does Dr. King's speech then not apply to today's situation?
Quotes from Dr. King's speech protest otherwise. This speech reads as though Dr. King presented it last week on national television.
"Even when pressed by the demands of inner truth, men do not easily assume the task of opposing their government's policy, especially in time of war." Measures that President Bush failed in passing earlier flew through Congress almost unanimously. Once the hurdle of patriotism and the looming possibility of war presented themselves, members found it hard to turn down the president's requests.
"And I knew that America would never invest the necessary funds or energies ... so long as adventures like Vietnam ... continued to draw ... skills and money ..." Both then and now, war has rearranged our country's priorities.
"... at least twenty casualties from American firepower for one Vietcong-inflicted injury." A fact not widely broadcast via the media is that the death toll on Sept. 11 has been surpassed by the total number of civilian deaths taken by American bombs in Afghanistan.
If those examples read true today, then pieces of advice given by Dr. King in his speech must surely apply as well.
"... history is cluttered with the wreckage of nations and individuals that pursue this self-defeating path of war." Similarly, the future looks just as bleak if we as a global community continue to take this path. Add in the increasing threat of nuclear weapons if war erupts in the wrong places, and the risk shoots up. We've already seen the danger of chemical weapons in the anthrax scare, which hardly involved advanced methods and was by no means pursued as thoroughly as could have been.
"America, the richest and most powerful nation in the world can lead the way in this revolution ..." America has not to any degree lost its hegemony over the rest of the world since the Vietnam era. Anything America wants to do and proceeds to pursue will not be long in being followed by the rest of the world, to some degree. What if the United States had responded to terrorism differently? The media has been flooded with rumored threats of bin Laden and company to carry out more such attacks, yet have we seen any? Is this because of our bombing of Afghanistan or simply because we're now on a much higher level of security and readiness? We could revolutionize our methods even now. Call the military back. Use techniques involving less "collateral damage."
"We can no longer afford to worship hate or bow before the altar of retaliation." There are endless reasons for a "radical revolution of values" now in the time of war. This is the first war, in purpose if not in name, of the millennium as well as the year and century. A new year is the metaphorical blank slate, the very time for changes and new starts. War today is potentially disastrous to the scale of Armageddon. …