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martin luther king, jr.beyond vietnam speech

MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR.
"BEYOND VIETNAM" SPEECH

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 City. 

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 today":

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 just."

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 revolutions.

With insightful prophecy, Dr. King predicts that our failure to change our ways will lead to countless further wars:

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 generation.

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 terrorism.

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 is tragic.

This was a selection from The Daily Diatribe

More on the concerns raised by
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

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