Academic journal article Social Justice

The Bombs Explode at Home: Policing, Prisons, and Permanent War

Academic journal article Social Justice

The Bombs Explode at Home: Policing, Prisons, and Permanent War

Article excerpt

The bombs in Vietnam explode at home. The security we profess to seek in foreign ventures we will lose in our decaying cities. --Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., "The Crisis in American Cities"(1967)

THE YEAR 2017 MARKED THE 50TH ANNIVERSARY OF DR. MARTIN Luther King Jr.'s speech "A Time to Break Silence." In that speech, Dr. King famously breached the Cold War consensus by opposing the US war in Vietnam and illuminating the relationships between "racism, materialism, and militarism" (King 1986, 240). Although many of his aides insisted that he should remain focused on the purportedly domestic civil rights struggle against Jim Crow, King disclosed the "cruel irony" of television images depicting Black and white soldiers as "they kill and die together for a nation that has been unable to seat them together in the same schools" (King 1986, 233). Mass audiences, he noted, were thus presented with a kind of "brutal solidarity" between working-class soldiers of empire as they burned "the huts of a poor village" but "would never live on the same block in Detroit" (ibid.).

King was compelled to intervene amid growing resistance to US imperialism and an expanding geography of urban insurrections in Watts (1965), Detroit (1967), and hundreds of other cities. Significantly, King argued that the same security forces deployed in the US imperialist war in Vietnam were being used to suppress insurgent struggles in North America. His analysis of the situation highlighted how reactionary forces had exploited racism and nationalism to justify this imperial project. Consider, for example, his argument that "the war in Vietnam has produced a shameful order of priorities in which the decay, squalor, and pollution of the cities are neglected" (King 2012, 142). In turn, he noted "the bizarre spectacle of armed forces of the United States fighting in ghetto streets of America while they are fighting in jungles in Asia," and he underscored that these political responses to the dramatic events "extinguished the beginnings of progress toward racial justice" (ibid.). Amidst a multi-sited deployment of force aimed at ensuring at once the containment of communism, the suppression of urban uprisings and anti-war mobilizations, and the consolidation of US hegemony on a global scale, King's words poignantly articulated an internationalist perspective.

A veteran of peace, freedom, and labor struggles by 1967, King had come to the inescapable conclusion that overcoming racism would require attacking its roots in the political economy of capitalism and US imperialism (Mantler 2013). As such, his critique of the imperial war signaled a legitimacy crisis--one that led him to declare that he "could never against raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos" without first speaking "clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today--my own government" (King 1986, 233). Indeed, King observed the ways in which the bombs deployed in Vietnam did "explode at home" (King 1967). The United States had dropped 8 million bombs in the war, killing an estimated 2 to 4 million people, the majority of whom were civilians. Robert McNamara, the secretary of defense under Lyndon Johnson, had overseen one of the longest bombing campaigns in imperial history in Vietnam. The goal of the campaign was to ensure the survival of an unpopular anti-communist regime in Southeast Asia (Tunaka 2009, Young 2009). King encouraged audiences to better understand the relationships between racism, capitalism, and imperial warfare.

King emphasized how the United States' anti-communist war in Vietnam "strengthened domestic reaction" and delineated the ways in which the war gave "the extreme right, the anti-labor, anti-Negro, and anti-humanistic forces a weapon of spurious patriotism to galvanize its supporters into reaching for power, right up to the White House" (King 2012, 142). He offered an analysis of the US war as a form of imperialism that served the interests of the capitalist elites (Honey 2011). …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.