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What do Eisenhower, King and Jesus have in common?


Two events are memorialized during the month of January.

The first is the birth of Martin Luther King, Jr. King was born on January 15, 1929. The second is the “farewell address” delivered by then President Dwight D Eisenhower on January 17, 1961.

King’s best known speech, of course, is the one delivered on the National Mall where he shared his Dream of a more equal and just America. Less known is the sermon he delivered to the Riverside Church of New York City in 1967, one year before his assassination. Against the advice of his most trusted advisors, King openly criticized the Johnson Administration for its participation in the Vietnam War.

King opposed the War because it consumed money and resources that could have been spent to help the poor and needy at home. He summed up this aspect by saying, “A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.”

Six years earlier, in his final address to the nation, Eisenhower had shared similar concerns.  Beware, he warned his fellow citizens. of the corrupt influences of what he called the “military-industrial complex”. By that phrase Eisenhower meant the union, for profits, of the nation’s military forces and the arms industries that supplied them with weapons. Such a union, designed to financially award military contractors, was, in Eisenhower’s opinion, not only a danger to American democracy but the theft of tax funds from programs benefiting the poor, the hungry, the ill and the homeless.

“Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.”

“The cost of one modern heavy bomber is this: a modern brick school in more than 30 cities. It is two electric power plants, each serving a town of 60,000 population. It is two fine, fully equipped hospitals. It is some fifty miles of concrete pavement. We pay for a single fighter plane with a half million bushels of wheat. We pay for a single destroyer with new homes that could have housed more than 8,000 people.”

Last month, Democrats and Republicans in Congress, by huge margins, approved the largest military budget in American history. The final amount, $858 billion (with a B), contains $45 B more than the military requested. $45B that could have been used to get millions of American students out of debt; build thousands of homes for the poor and homeless; fund health care clinics across the nation; help Americans pay for groceries and medications and stay warm during the winter. Instead, it will go into the coffers of companies that supply much of the world with killing machines.

What Eisenhower and King had in common was a dream of a different kind of America. One whose military forces are not part of a complex that awards military arms dealers with billions of dollars it doesn’t want or need.  One that dedicates more of its vast financial resources to the feeding of its hungry children, the curing of its ill citizens, the removal of debt from its students, or the building of adequate mental health facilities.

The kind of nation envisioned by another peacemaker. A man called Jesus.

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