‘Cruel Manipulation of the Poor’: Memorial Day reflections

by Tim W. Shenk
CUSLAR Coordinator


CUSLAR was founded in 1965 by Cornell University students and clergy seeking justice after the unjust U.S. military invasion of the Dominican Republic. Two years later, Rev. Dr. Martin Lither King, Jr. gave his famous “Beyond Vietnam” speech, where he called the U.S. war in Southeast Asia “a cruel manipulation of the poor.”


Today on Memorial Day, we mourn our dead. We mourn the young people from the U.S. and its territories, recruited mostly from among the ranks of the poor, who are compelled by the U.S. government to kill and die in war. We mourn the soldiers who come home to find their communities and lives in disarray and take their own lives at the rate of 20 per day.


Today we mourn the millions killed across the world by wars that profit U.S. billionaires, by U.S. economic sanctions, and by U.S.-made weapons. We mourn the continued forced displacement of indigenous peoples for profit and the destruction of the planet by military operations.


Today we mourn all of our ancestors, and all of our brothers and sisters, who have paid the ultimate sacrifice on the altars of big capital.


Rev. Dr. King said, “America would never invest the necessary funds or energies in rehabilitation of its poor so long as adventures like Vietnam continued to draw men and skills and money like some demonic, destructive suction tube. So I was increasingly compelled to see the war as an enemy of the poor and to attack it as such.”


John Wessel-McCoy writes: “This assessment continues to be true today.  The policy of destructive and costly wars has a direct relationship to the defunding of vital programs in housing, education, healthcare, and so on. However, this is not only a question of misguided distribution of resources or bad budgetary priorities or misdirected policies. It is a war on the poor on a global scale. The ruling class uses the state to wage war on the poor at home and abroad.”


Today, immersed as we are in a global pandemic, may we no longer fall victim to the strategies that mean to divide us. May today be a day to memorialize with our work the lives of those who have died — and to continue to fight like hell for the living.


Read Wessel-McCoy’s full article, “Cruel Manipulation of the Poor: How the Ruling Class Rules.”


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