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Martin Luther King, “Why I Am Opposed to the War in Vietnam””

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The time has come for America to hear the truth about this tragic war. I have chosen to speak about the war in Vietnam today because I agree with Dante that the hottest places in hell are reserved for those who in a period of moral crisis maintained their neutrality. There comes a time when silence is betrayal. The truth of these words is beyond doubt but the mission to which they call us is a most difficult one. Even when pressed by the demands of inner truth men do not easily assume the task of opposing their governments policy, especially in time of war. Nor does the human spirit move without great difficulty against all the apathy of conformist thought within ones own bosom.

There has never been such a monumental dissent during a war by the American people, polls reveal that almost fifteen million Americans explicitly oppose the war in Vietnam and additional millions cannot bring themselves around to support it. This reveals that millions have chosen to move beyond the prophesying of smooth patriotism to the high grounds of firm dissent based upon the mandates of conscience and the reading of history. Of course one of the difficulties in speaking out today grows out of the fact that there are those who are seeking to equate dissent with disloyalty. It’s a dark day in our nation when high level authorities will seek to use every method to silence dissent. Something is happening and people are not going to be silenced. The truth must be told. I say that those who are seeking to make it appear that anyone who opposes the war in Vietnam is a fool or a traitor, or an enemy of our soldiers, is a person who has taken a stand against the best in our tradition.

Many persons have questioned me about the wisdom of my path. ‘Why are you speaking about the war Dr. King? Why are you joining the voices of dissent? Peace and civil rights do not mix.’ they say. So this morning I speak to you on this issue because I am determined to take the Gospel seriously. There is a very obvious and facile connection between the war in Vietnam and the struggle I and others have been waging in America. A few years ago there was a shining moment in that struggle. It seemed as if there was a real promise of hope for the poor – both black and white – through the poverty program. Then came the buildup in Vietnam, and I watched the program broken as if it was some idle political plaything of a society gone mad on war. And I knew that America would never invest the necessary funds or energies in rehabilitation of its poor so long as adventures like Vietnam continued to draw men and skills and money like some demonic destructive suction tube. You may not know it my friends it is estimated that we spend five hundred thousand dollars to kill each enemy soldier while we spend only fifty three dollars for each person classified as poor; much of that fifty three dollars goes for salaries to people who are not poor.

So I was increasingly compelled to see the war as an enemy of the poor and attacked it as such. Perhaps a 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 husband to fight and die in extraordinarily high proportions relative to the rest of the population. We were taking the black young men who had been crippled by society and sending them eight thousand miles away to guarantee liberties in Southeast Asia which they had not found in southwest Georgia and east Harlem. So we have been repeatedly faced with a cruel irony: watching negro and white boys on TV screens as they kill and die together for a nation which that has been unable to seat them together in the same schoolroom, though we watch them in brutal solidarity burning the huts of a poor village we realize that they would hardly live on the same block in Chicago or Atlanta. 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 they ask, and rightly so, ‘What about Vietnam?’ They asked if our own nation was not using massive doses of violence to solve its problems. 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.

America and most of its newspapers applauded me in Montgomery when I stood before thousands of negroes getting ready to riot when my home was bombed and said ‘We cannot do it this way.’ They applauded us in the sit-in movement when we nonviolently decided to sit-in at lunch counters. They applauded us on the Freedom Rides when we accepted blows without retaliation. Oh the press was so noble in its applause and so noble in its praise when I was saying be nonviolent toward Bull Connor. There is something strangely inconsistent about a nation and a press that would praise you when you say be nonviolent toward Jim Clark but will curse and damn you when you say be nonviolent toward little brown Vietnamese children. There is something wrong with that press. Another burden of responsibility was placed upon me in 1964. I cannot forget that the Nobel Peace prize was not just something taking place, but it was a commission, a commission to work harder than I had ever worked before for the brotherhood of Man. This is a calling that takes me beyond national allegiances, but even if it were not present, I would yet have to live with the meaning of my commitment to the ministry of Jesus Christ.

To me the relationship of this ministry to the making of peace is so obvious that I marvel sometimes at those who ask me why I am spreading against the war. Could it be that they do n not know that the good news was meant for all men: for communists and capitalists, for their children and ours, for black and 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 Viet Cong or Castro or Mao as a faithful minister of Jesus Christ? Can I threaten them with death or must I not share with them my life? There will be no meaningful solution until some attempt is made to know these people and hear their broken cries. And who are we supporting in Vietnam today? It’s a man by the name of General ki who flight with the French against his own people and who said on one occasion that the greatest hero of his life is Hitler. This is who we are supporting in Vietnam today.

Oh our government and press generally won’t tell us these things but God told me to tell you this morning. The truth must be told. And all the while the people read our leaflets and received regular promises of peace and democracy and land reform. And now they languish under our bombs and consider us – not their fellow Vietnamese – the real enemy. They see their children degraded by our soldiers as they beg for for food; we have destroyed their two most cherished institutions: the family and the village. We have destroyed their land and their crops. This is the role our nation has taken. The role of those who make peaceful revolutions impossible by refusing to give up the privileges and the pleasures that comes from the immense profits of overseas investment. And I am convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin to shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people the giant triplets of racism, militarism, and economic exploitation are incapable of being conquered.

A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our present policies. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar, 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 pick the profits out with no concern for the social betterment of the countries, and say ‘This is not just.’ It will look at our alliance with the landed gentry of Latin America and say ‘This is not just.’ The Western arrogance of feeling that it has everything to teach others and nothing to learn from them is not just. A true revolution of values will lay hands on the world order and say of war, ‘This way of settling differences is not just.’ This business of burning human beings with napalm and filling our nation’s homes with orphans and widows and injecting poisonous drugs of hate into the veins of people normally humane, of sending men home from darkened bloody battlefields physically handicapped and psychologically deranged cannot be reconciled with wisdom, justice, and love.

A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death. And it is a sad fact that because of comfort, complacency, a morbid fear of communism, and our proneness to adjust to injustice, the western nations that initiated so much of the revolutionary spirit in the modern world have now become the arch anti-revolutionaries. Our only hope today lies in our ability to recapture the revolutionary spirit
[Transcript in progress]

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Written by thetulsan

February 1, 2013 at 1:09 am

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