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Saturday, August 31, 2013

Dr. King’s ‘Four Catastrophes’

Dr. King’s ‘Four Catastrophes’

By Laura Finley
August 31, 2013

The commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the March on
Washington has seen reflections and conversations about the
nation’s progress toward achieving Dr. Martin Luther King’s
dream of the beloved community.

Not surprisingly, the focus has been on assessing racial equality,
as many know Dr. King largely for his work on this issue.

Dr. King’s vision and advocacy, however, was much broader in

As his writings and speeches show, Dr. King was concerned about
what he called, “four catastrophes:” militarism, materialism,
racism, and poverty.

Dr. King described militarism as an, “imperial catastrophe.”

King, and others before him, critiqued not just the United States
engagement in violent conflict but also the values that underlie
militarism: hierarchy, obedience, discipline, and power over others.

King exclaimed in his April 4, 1967 speech, “Beyond Vietnam,” “I
knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence
of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly
to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today, my own

Yet, despite Dr. King’s warnings, the U.S military remains the
greatest purveyor of violence, with the largest military in the

We spend more on our military than China, Russia, UK,
France, Japan, India, Saudi Arabia, Germany, and Brazil

The U.S. is also the leader in global weapons sales.

As I write, President Obama continues to use drones to kill
innocent civilians in Pakistan, Yemen and other places and
is poise to authorize some form of military action in Syria.

To Dr. King, racism is a moral catastrophe.

This moral catastrophe continues, as racial profiling,
disparate access to education, wage differentials, and
more, remain intractable problems.

All are exacerbated by Supreme Court decisions, such as the
Court’s June 2013 announcement that “enough progress has
been made” to overturn key parts of the Voting Rights Act
that are intended to help ensure adequate civic participation
by people of color.

Materialism, according to Dr. King, is a spiritual catastrophe.

Instead of caring for one another, we are taught that it is
buying things that make us who we are.

Often referred to as “affluenza” it really is like many of us
are sick with the need to buy things bigger, better, faster,
and always, more, more, more.

Poverty is the economic catastrophe.

King’s later work, fighting for worker’s rights, was what
scared those in power the most.

A recently released report documented the over-payment
of CEOs, at the expense of laborers.

Additionally, the report found that almost 40 percent of the
men on the list of the 25 highest-paid corporate leaders in
American between 1993 and 2012 have led companies that
were bailed out by U.S. taxpayers, had been fired for poor
performance, or led companies charged with some type of

This while 46.2 million Americans remain in poverty.

Until we move beyond seeing Dr. King as just an icon of racial
equality, it will be hard to fully engage the interrelated four
catastrophes he found so problematic.

Laura Finley, Ph.D., teaches in the Barry University Department
of Sociology & Criminology.

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