Even when pressed by the demands of inner truth, men do not easily assume the task of opposing their government's policy, especially in time of war. Nor does the human spirit move without great difficulty against all the apathy of conformist thought within one's own bosom and in the surrounding world.
Martin Luther King Jr, Beyond Vietnam, April 1967
As Jeff Cohen
and Norman Solomon
have so ably noted, though much homage is paid to Martin Luther King Jr, few of his words from the last three years of his life are actually reported or shown. It's as if he stopped working after passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965
. He didn't, but his focus changed. His speech, Beyond Vietnam
, is an example.
King moved beyond the rights of blacks to the rights of all. In Vietnam he saw the tragic irony of poor blacks and poor whites dying side-by-side; since in America they rarely lived side-by-side. King became a champion for human rights. And his deeply Christian belief in nonviolence caused him to oppose the war and at the same time try to change the attitude of violence he found in so many of America's cities where riots blazed from coast to coast:
As I have walked among the desperate, rejected and angry young men I have told them that Molotov cocktails and rifles would not solve their problems. I have tried to offer them my deepest compassion while maintaining my conviction that social change comes most meaningfully through nonviolent action. But they asked -- and rightly so -- what about Vietnam? They asked if our own nation wasn't using massive doses of violence to solve its problems, to bring about the changes it wanted. Their questions hit home, and 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 government.
Wars in the name of religion
are common throughout history. The misuse of religion by the fanatic
al to kill their enemies is commonplace. Dr. King seems seriously perplexed that Christians in America could follow this path. To him it defied all that Jesus Christ
stood for; his words stand in stark contrast to the Jerry Falwell
s and Pat Robertson
s of today:
...I sometimes marvel at those who ask me why I am speaking against the war. Could it be that they do not know that the good news was meant for all men -- for Communist and capitalist, for their children and ours, for black and for white, for revolutionary and conservative? Have they forgotten that my ministry is in obedience to the one who loved his enemies so fully that he died for them? What then can I say to the "Vietcong" or to Castro or to Mao as a faithful minister of this one? Can I threaten them with death or must I not share with them my life?
King does not try to portray
the enemy as good. He believes that the war will solve nothing. He even makes the case that, from a strictly political
or military view, the war is not only futile, but likely counter-productive. Making this point he quotes a Vietnamese buddhist
It is curious that the Americans, who calculate so carefully on the possibilities of military victory, do not realize that in the process they are incurring deep psychological and political defeat. The image of America will never again be the image of revolution, freedom and democracy, but the image of violence and militarism.
In 1967 the US was still deeply afraid of communism. Replace that -ism with 'terrorism
' and King's words are as relevant today as they were 34 years ago. And sometimes, even without substitution, his words could have come from an editorial in one of today's less jingoistic
When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.
In Beyond Vietnam
, Martin Luther King Jr
has thrown aside the battle for racial equality
. He examines and discards the idea of nationalism
. He calls for the end of the war in Vietnam as a first step
in making America the nation it should be. Martin Luther King Jr was wrong; we eventually left Vietnam
, but we never took that first step.
The full text of Beyond Vietnam can be found at:
Jeff Cohen and Norman Solomon's column on Dr King can be found at: