Approaching Spiritual Death 

“A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.” 

Gary G. Kohls, MD 

03/29/05 "ICH" - - Those were the words of Martin Luther King, Jr. in his famous speech 38 years ago, April 4, 1967, (Listen to full speech here) one year to the day of his1968 assassination in Memphis, TN. The people who heard that speech recognized it as one of the most powerful speeches ever given articulating the immorality of the Viet Nam War. Some also saw that King was signing his own death warrant by exposing so forcefully the perpetrators of what was known as “the overwhelming atrocity that was Viet Nam.” 

King was speaking out from his deeply felt sense of outrage and anguish over the horrible suffering of millions of innocent and unarmed Vietnamese civilians. King knew that women and children were the main victims of a whole host of highly lethal US weapons, including one of the US Air Force’s favorites, napalm, which burned the flesh off of whatever part of the body that the flaming, jellied gasoline splashed on. 

King knew of the atrocities that our GIs were ordered to commit in the name of “anti-communism.” He saw the connections between the killing of dispensable “gooks” on the battlefields of Southeast Asia and the oppression, impoverishment, imprisoning and lynching of “dispensable blacks” in America. 

King was being faithful to his commitment to the nonviolence teachings and life of Jesus of Nazareth by speaking out against injustice wherever he saw it. He knew that the violence of racism, the violence of orchestrated poverty and the violence of militarism have the same sources: fear of “the other” and the willingness to protect one’s own wealth and privilege from the poor and underprivileged. 

King knew that the opposition to his nonviolence movement was formidable: from cruel racists in the south to indifferent bystanders everywhere to J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI in the north. Those violent forces were dangerous enough, but by speaking out he was opposing an entrenched system with the capability for unleashing enormous violence against any and all perceived enemies, domestic and foreign. 

Tremendous fortunes are made in every war, and the Viet Nam War was no exception. Weapons manufacturers thrived, becoming more deeply entrenched with every passing year. Huge expenditures were made for weapons research and development. Huge numbers of workers were hired for weapons production. And the economy boomed – but on borrowed money. And so the war was popular with the power elite, the Pentagon, the CIA, the politicians, the defense industry and the people who needed the work. But King threatened those groups’ self-interest, and exactly one year later he was dead. 

King’s April 4, 1967 speech at the Riverside Church in New York City was too truthful for the masters of war who tried to convince the populace that the Viet Nam War was the patriotic thing to do. And so at first they tried to silence him by a massive disinformation campaign discrediting him, as is done to idealistic and dangerously progressive thinkers such as Jesus of Nazareth, Abraham Lincoln, Gandhi, Malcolm X, John F. Kennedy, Bobby Kennedy and Paul Wellstone. The easily brain-washable public bought the lies, and support for King and his civil rights movement waned. The US Army, the FBI and various law enforcement officials led the disinformation campaign and, on April 4, 1968 a hired assassin other than the framed James Earl Ray pulled the trigger that ended the life of another in a long string of prophetic voices. 

King was right about a lot of things, including his prophecy that America was losing its soul. Violence of all types in epidemic, especially the violence of poverty. Gun violence, from homicide to suicide, is all too common. Those making obscene profits in the weapons industry have sabotaged even the most modest logical handgun and assault rifle controls – all the while flooding America and the world with increasingly lethal weapons. It may be too late now to stop the oncoming carnage. 

Both The affluent and the poor have succumbed to the addictions of exploitative, corrupt capitalism – an economic system that has run amok. Addictions involving entertainment, gambling, shopping, drugs (both legal and illegal), sports and religion have overwhelmed the lives of many Americans who then have no time or energy left to tend the soul. 

The 1980s and 1990s Decades of Greed I and II, were spent trying to attain wealth at any cost. Greed blows out the spark of spirituality in all addicts, simultaneously worsening the desperate poverty of the losers and those suffering billions who live in the exploited developing world whose resources are being stolen from them. 

At the end of his Viet Nam speech, King concluded: “War is not the answer. We still have a choice today; nonviolent coexistence or violent co-annihilation. We must move past indecision to action. We must find new ways to speak for peace and justice throughout the developing world – a world that borders on our doors. If we do not act we shall surely be dragged down the long dark and shameful corridors of time reserved for those who possess power without compassion, might without morality and strength without sight.” 

“Now let us begin. Now let us rededicate ourselves to the long and bitter – but beautiful – struggle for a new world. This is the calling of the sons (and daughters) of God, and our brothers (and sisters) wait eagerly for our response.” 

America, especially its majority Christian lay or clergy leaders (whether fundamentalist, conservative, moderate or liberal), has failed the vision of Martin Luther King. It is on the brink of spiritual death. The hundreds of billions of American tax dollars wasted annually for war and war preparation is money that is then unavailable for programs of social uplift, including hunger relief, poverty reduction, affordable housing, education, medical care or useful jobs. America may have sealed its doom when the various militarist administrations of the last 25 years started incurring the massive national debt, currently, under the Cheney/Bush war-mongering regime, reaching a crippling $7 trillion – initially for war-readiness and then for the mass slaughter of innocent, unarmed civilian women and children in Iraq and Afghanistan. The wealthy financiers and investors are profiting handsomely making money in the form of interest on bonds that we the people and our children and grandchildren will have to pay back some sad day. 

America’s spiritual corpse is being hoisted up on top of the idolatrous altars to godless, soulless capitalism, compassionless militarism, excess luxury wealth, blind patriotism and the decidedly unChristlike God of War. 

Is it already too late for a resuscitation attempt on the hulk? Or is there no political will to even try? 

April 2005 - Gary G. Kohls, MD, Duluth, MN for Every Church A Peace Church (

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