The Words of Martin Luther King, Jr.
Condemning the Vietnam War Speak to Us Powerfully About the War on Terrorism
The Martin Luther King the
Corporate Media Doesn't Want You to See
January 20, 2002
Tomorrow is a national holiday
commemorating the birthday of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The
official version of Dr. King's life is that he was a fighter for racial
justice in America, and that's that.
The reality is, in the last years of
his life, Dr. King articulated a far broader vision, encompassing an
analysis and severe criticism not only of the role of the United States in
the world, but of the very nature of our economic system.
This vision was articulated most
powerfully in Martin Luther King's "Beyond
Vietnam" speech delivered at Riverside Church in New York
While Dr. King was speaking about
Vietnam, his words resonate down to us today.
If you have the time, please read the
entire speech. Imagine he's speaking about the war against terrorism,
especially insofar as it fails to address the root causes of most
anti-American feeling abroad.
Following are a few
highlights of Dr. King's address:
Martin Luther King:
"Beyond Vietnam" Speech
On the necessity for
religious leaders to speak out boldly:
And we must rejoice as
well, for surely this is the first time in our nation's history that a
significant number of its religious leaders have chosen to move beyond the
prophesying of smooth patriotism to the high grounds of a firm dissent
based upon the mandates of conscience and the reading of history.
It is the "need to
maintain social stability for our investments, our "refusing to give up
the privileges and the pleasures that come from the immense profits of
overseas investments" that governs our foreign policy, and makes the
United States the "greatest purveyor of violence in the world
A true revolution of values
will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth.
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
Dr. King explicitly links
racism, materialism and militarism:
When machines and
computers, profit motives and property rights, are considered more
important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism,
and militarism are incapable of being conquered.
How can we best defend
ourselves, according to Dr. King?
[O]ur greatest defense
against communism is to take offensive action in behalf of justice. We
must with positive action seek to remove those conditions of poverty,
insecurity, and injustice, which are the fertile soil in which the seed of
communism grows and develops.
These are revolutionary
times. All over the globe men are revolting against old systems of
exploitation and oppression, and out of the wounds of a frail world, new
systems of justice and equality are being born.
The shirtless and barefoot
people of the land are rising up as never before. The people who sat in
darkness have seen a great light. We in the West must support these
With insightful prophecy, Dr.
King predicts that our failure to change our ways will lead to countless
The war in Vietnam is but a
symptom of a far deeper malady within the American spirit, and if we
ignore this sobering reality, we will find ourselves organizing
"clergy and laymen concerned" committees for the next
They will be concerned
about Guatemala and Peru. They will be concerned about Thailand and
Cambodia. They will be concerned about Mozambique and South Africa.
We will be marching for
these and a dozen other names and attending rallies without end unless
there is a significant and profound change in American life and
policy. So such thoughts take us beyond Vietnam, but not beyond our
calling as sons of the living God.
Dr. King is not afraid to
give a dire warning to the American people:
...A nation that continues
year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs
of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.
Yes, I certainly believe Dr. King
would have supported our protecting ourselves against Osama bin laden, the
Taliban and Al Qaeda. But he would certainly have objected to our
methods, which have killed thousands
of innocent Afghan civilians. And Dr. King would also have insisted that we
change ourselves and our foreign policy so that we don't continue to support
the poverty and oppression that creates a global breeding ground for
Martin Luther King:
"Beyond Vietnam" and His Assassination
What was the date Martin Luther King
delivered his "Beyond Vietnam" speech? April 4, 1967.
It is not, many believe, without coincidence that precisely on that date one
year later Dr. King was assassinated.
The powers that be could tolerate a
preacher fighting for civil rights for African-Americans. But the
powers that be could not, I submit, allow as famous and powerful a figure as
Martin Luther King, Jr. to morally challenge U.S. dominion over the rest of
the world -- indeed, to claim common ground between the struggles of
African-Americans in this country and those of oppressed peoples abroad.
The parallels in these first years of
the 21st century to the concerns raised by Dr. King in his speech 34 years
ago are eerie.
The absence in American public life of
anyone with even a small iota of the vision and guts of Martin Luther King