"Beyond Vietnam": Martin Luther King Was Prophetic

The American national maladies of which Dr. King spoke in his "Beyond Vietnam" speech in April of 1967 have only gotten worse. Imagine how much more the shining city on a hill the United States could and would have been today if we had followed Dr. King's prophetic advice.

Why did they kill this man? Because he opposed their designs on America and the world. It has been more than fifty years, and we still haven't learned Dr. King's simple lesson.  On April 4, 1967, MLK inveighed against the sickness in American society. Said King:
A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death. 
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is a great man when only his advocacy of civil rights is taken into account. When his insights into foreign policy are considered as well, he becomes an intellectual and spiritual giant among us. I will admit that until today, I have never heard in its entirety King's "Beyond Vietnam".  at a meeting of Clergy and Laity Concerned at Riverside Church in New York City, Dr. King began his speech by saying
"A time comes when silence is betrayal." That time has come for us in relation to Vietnam. 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
Imagine if more Americans had stood up then against the senselessness that was the Vietnam war, how much less likely we would be involved in the equally senseless wars in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq and--potentially--Iran today. 

Dr, King's speech inveighs against almost all the problems of America today, but which have only gotten worse with the passage of just more than a half century. What we did to degrade Vietnamese society, we have done yet again to innocent Afghanis, Iraqis, and perhaps Iranians.
...the people read our leaflets and received regular promises of peace and democracy... Now they languish under our bombs and consider us -- not their fellow Vietnamese --the real enemy.

They watch as we poison their water, as we kill a million acres of their crops. They wander into the hospitals, with at least twenty casualties from American firepower for one "Vietcong"-inflicted injury. So far we may have killed a million of them -- mostly children. They wander into the towns and see thousands of the children, homeless, without clothes, running in packs on the streets like animals. They see the children, degraded by our soldiers as they beg for food.
In the melee, it is easy to forget what we've done to the psyches of our service men and women and their families.
Perhaps the more tragic recognition of reality took place when it became clear to me that the war was doing far more than devastating the hopes of the poor at home. It was sending their sons and their brothers and their husbands to fight and to die in extraordinarily high proportions relative to the rest of the population. So we have been repeatedly faced with the cruel irony of watching Negro and white boys on TV screens as they kill and die together for a nation that has been unable to seat them together in the same schools. So we watch them in brutal solidarity burning the huts of a poor village, but we realize that they would never live on the same block in Detroit. I could not be silent in the face of such cruel manipulation of the poor.
Why do we, just as in the Vietnam War era, still think of those far away and with skins unlike our own as "little brown people" who have far less value and deserve far less respect than ourselves?  In reality, it should be clear to all our minds that every person who has ever lived on this earth is a child of God and is deserving of equal respect. King said
I must be true to my conviction that I share with all men the calling to be a son of the living God. Beyond the calling of race or nation or creed is this vocation of sonship and brotherhood, and because I believe that the Father is deeply concerned especially for his suffering and helpless and outcast children, I come tonight to speak for them. 
And as I ponder the madness of Vietnam and search within myself for ways to understand and respond to compassion my mind goes constantly to the people of that peninsula. I speak now not of the soldiers of each side, not of the junta in Saigon, but simply of the people who have been living under the curse of war for almost three continuous decades now. I think of them too because it is clear to me that there will be no meaningful solution there until some attempt is made to know them and hear their broken cries. 
As a nation, we can do much better.  A dysfunctional world is on the brink of collapse. And we, the United States, have contributed mightily to that dysfunction. Rather than projecting the dark and evil harshness of our American corporations and military armaments that stretch across the globe, let us rather emphasize the shining goodness and charity of our individual people and our families.

The world would be a much better place.


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