“Beyond Vietnam” (April 4th 1967) is a speech Martin Luther King, Jr gave at the Riverside Church in New York exactly one year before he was shot dead. He came out against the Vietnam War, calling it immoral. It burned his bridges with the president. The Washington Post said it “diminished his usefulness to his cause, his country, his people.”
King could no longer remain silent – as a minister of Jesus Christ, as one of God’s children, as an American, as a believer in non-violence, as a winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. As a black man:
- How can he ask a young black man with a Molotov cocktail in his hand to put it down because violence is not the answer – when his own government thinks violence is the answer in Vietnam?
- How can he ask him to fight for freedom in Vietnam when there is no freedom in East Harlem?
- How can he ask him to fight alongside a white man in Vietnam when he cannot live alongside him on the same block in Chicago?
- How can he ask him to fight in a war where he is more likely to die than a white man?
Every bomb America drops on Vietnam destroys not just Vietnam, it destroys America:
- It destroys its fight against poverty.
- It destroys its good name.
- It destroys its moral values.
The American government says it is fighting for freedom and democracy against communism, yet:
- only a fourth of the people it is fighting are communists;
- America repeatedly undermines any serious chance of true democracy.
America is fighting for a cruel government no one likes except rich landowners who fear the land reform true democracy would bring. America is fighting France’s lost colonial war.
Because the communists led the war of independence against the French, the Japanese, the French again and now the Americans they will have to be part of any peace, of any lasting government.
American violence will only bring more of the same: cruel governments, military bases, prostitution, poverty, concentration camps, yet more physical destruction of the country, yet more millions dead.
America needs to stop the war, make the best and most just peace it can and help Vietnam get back on its feet.
America no longer stands for freedom and democracy. The Vietnam War makes that crystal clear to most of the world. Instead it stands for profits and property rights, for machines and computers, for racism, materialism and militarism. It needs to offer mankind a better hope than that to fight communism.
A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.
America is morally sick. Unless America has a revolution of values there will be more counterrevolutionary wars. Unless it puts people over profits, peace over war:
we shall surely be dragged down the long, dark and shameful corridors of time reserved for those who possess power without compassion, might without morality, and strength without sight.