Yesterday was Martin Luther King’s birthday. Today a horrific tragedy is going on in Haiti. While some men of the cloth are using the incident to spread their twisted world views, Martin surely would’ve used the occasion to spread wisdom and good will and encourage his fellow man to help out our Haitian brothers and sisters in need. But still what happened in Haiti is deeper than that.
For King, giving money to Haiti would not be enough. In order to be good citizens of the world, it is not good enough to just to give money, we must make sure to end the economic and social climate that led to the disaster. Here’s an excerpt from his speech “Beyond Vietnam.”
A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies. On the one hand we are called to play the good Samaritan on life’s roadside; but that will be only an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life’s highway. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it is not haphazard and superficial. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring. A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth.
King goes on, addressing America’s foreign policy and how it is destructive to the Third World.
With righteous indignation, it will look across the seas and see individual capitalists of the West investing huge sums of money in Asia, Africa and South America, only to take the profits out with no concern for the social betterment of the countries, and say: “This is not just.” It will look at our alliance with the landed gentry of Latin America and say: “This is not just.” The Western arrogance of feeling that it has everything to teach others and nothing to learn from them is not just.
King also condemns countries that spend more money on wars than social program. The USA has pledged $100 million in aid to Haiti, while pledging upwards of $30 billion to add 30,000 troops in Afghanistan.
A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death. America, the richest and most powerful nation in the world, can well lead the way in this revolution of values. There is nothing, except a tragic death wish, to prevent us from reordering our priorities, so that the pursuit of peace will take precedence over the pursuit of war. There is nothing to keep us from molding a recalcitrant status quo with bruised hands until we have fashioned it into a brotherhood.
So on Martin Luther King’s birthday, let us reflect on our fellow human beings in Haiti. Let us help them out with our donations, but also let’s fight so third world people do not have to suffer through the poverty that has inflamed this natural disaster. Let us be reminded of how what goes on in our own country affects the rest of the world.
Martin Luther King “Beyond Vietnam”