(MintPress)— “I oppose the war in Vietnam because I love America. I speak out against it not in anger but with anxiety and sorrow in my heart, and above all with a passionate desire to see our beloved country stand as a moral example of the world.” — Martin Luther King Jr., 25 February 1967 […]
(MintPress)— “I oppose the war in Vietnam because I love America. I speak out against it not in anger but with anxiety and sorrow in my heart, and above all with a passionate desire to see our beloved country stand as a moral example of the world.” — Martin Luther King Jr., 25 February 1967
It may seem odd that out of the dozens of speeches and sermons given by Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., this particular quote pertaining to the Vietnam War should find itself inscribed at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial in Washington, DC. Although King is most popular for his 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech and leadership in the Civil Rights movement, his involvement in opposing the Vietnam War was arguably much more controversial, and in fact more pertinent to the issues facing the United States today.
Although the quote inscribed on King’s monument is taken from a speech at the Nation Institute in California, King gave his most controversial speech, “Beyond Vietnam,” just two months later on 4 April, 1967 at Riverside Church in New York City.
“Beyond Vietnam” was King’s formal condemnation of US involvement in the Vietnam War and a call to action of the American people against militarism, materialism, and racism. At the time, King’s anti-war activism sparked widespread denouncement from the US government, mass media, and even Civil Rights groups who felt he was straying from the equal rights agenda.
Today we celebrate King’s birthday and legacy of service as a national holiday without giving second thought to the controversy that shook the nation in 1967. Yet, King’s “Beyond Vietnam” speech may be just as controversial today when applied to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Arab Spring, Occupy Wall Street, and even the growing tensions with Iran.
King’s speech included powerful statements about the history of US support for dictators and colonialism, astronomical expenditures on the military instead of on domestic social uplift, the threat of corporate greed, and more. King said, “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.” Even before the advent of the Internet, King saw the danger of mass globalization to the rights of individuals. King believed that activists around the world would continue to protest these issues without end until a “true revolution of values” took place in American life and policy: and he was right.
King prophesied that, “a true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring poverty and wealth.” Such revolutions emerged in 2011 – a year that sparked protests worldwide aimed at restoring individual rights and ending wealth corruption.
Over the past year, Arab protesters in Egypt, Tunisia, and Libya overthrew corrupt dictators historically propped up by US support, South Sudanese rebels gained independence after a decades-long civil war that erupted in the aftermath of colonialism, and Occupy movements from New York to London to Lagos, Nigeria continue to protest wealth disparities and political corruption. “The Protester” was even named TIME magazine’s 2011 Person of the Year.
Martin Luther King Jr. continued to speak up against the Vietnam War despite the harsh political fallout he faced because of it. It is because of his commitment to a clear moral vision of justice in face of controversy that we hold King in such high regard today.
Tavis Smiley says it best in his PBS documentary, MLK: A Call to Conscience: “Today [Martin Luther King Jr.’s] life and legacy continue to challenge us to think more deeply and to act more honorably particularly in light of our current wars…and the deep philosophical and economical divisions here at home.” This 2012 Martin Luther King Jr. Day marks a time for Americans to reexamine what it really means to move “Beyond Vietnam” by taking a closer look at King’s speech in the context of today’s social change movements.