Dr. Martin Luther King: “Beyond Vietnam” Spoke to our Relationship To All Nations (Video)

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. "Beyond Vietnam - A Time to Break Silence", speech delivered April 4, 1967.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. “Beyond Vietnam – A Time to Break Silence”, speech delivered April 4, 1967.

Dear Readers,

The timing could not be closer. At precisely the same few days in current American affairs we (1) remember the universal call for brotherhood and non-violence so powerfully made by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and we (2) are told the Syrian government has ‘stepped over a red line’ drawn by our President, and we must respond with some kind of decisive force.

“Troubling irony” barely expresses what we might feel hearing our President’s remembrance of King as he (our President) stands on one foot – with the other solidly planted in willingness to use killing force to take a stand against killing.

Reverend King was not ‘just about’ domestic inequality. He taught of need to be all inclusive of all humanity. He spoke consistently with eloquent force and compassion on need for America to cease military-linked violence against people of other nations.

It was April 4, 1967, when Dr. King delivered his “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence” speech to an audience of Clergy and Laity Concerned at Riverside Church in New York City:

“Here is the true meaning and value of compassion and nonviolence when it helps us to see the enemy’s point of view, to hear his questions, to know his assessment of ourselves. For from his view we may indeed see the basic weaknesses of our own condition, and if we are mature, we may learn and grow and profit from the wisdom of the brothers who are called the opposition.”

In the same speech he also said:

“These are days which demand wise restraint and calm reasonableness.”

and this:

“A genuine revolution of values means in the final analysis that our loyalties must become ecumenical rather than sectional. Every nation must now develop an overriding loyalty to mankind as a whole in order to preserve the best in their individual societies.”

The title of King’s speech announces his theme. The thinking that got us into Vietnam was gravely erroneous.   What wisdom we gain from learning more about ourselves and learning more about ‘the enemy’ must be applied to future international relations. We must carry what we learn into our affairs “beyond Vietnam”.

One more quote from within the text of Dr. King’s “Beyond Vietnam” speech is now chilling when we consider ‘where we’ve been’ militarily in the years following this warning:

“… but I wish to go on now to say something even more disturbing. The war in Vietnam is but a symptom of a far deeper malady within the American spirit, and if we ignore this sobering reality we will find ourselves … organizing … committees… concerned about … these (named nations) and a dozen other names (countries) … without end … unless there is a significant and profound change in American life and policy. Such thoughts take us beyond Vietnam …”

Yes, disturbing. He delivered the speech in 1967; it is now the 9th month of 2013.

Forty-six years. Where have we been in that time? What have we done? Where are we going?

What motivations have prompted us? I don’t mean our ‘said out loud’ goal motivations; clearly “prosperity and justice for all”, and “a peaceful world” are nowhere close.

If prosperity, justice, and peace for all had been our true goals – shared by our policy makers – we’d have noticed by now that our strategies and actions were failing. “…if we ignore this sobering reality we will find ourselves (repeating Vietnam) in (nations and countries) without end.”

Where have we been, what have we done, where are we going. The heart breaks on behalf of many peoples – domestic and abroad.

We know history and global politics are an entangled affair. Dr. King details some of this in his remarks specific to our war in Vietnam – how did we get there?

As we listen to Dr. King reveal  ‘not said out loud’ motivations that led us into Vietnam, we can ask more questions of ‘not said out loud’ history and motivations that have held us in the Middle East for so long. Who are the children and families, the neighbors in community,  of Syria, of Iran, Iraq, Libya, Yemen, of the region generally –  and of nearby Somalia, Afghanistan and even Pakistan? What is the shared human longing that these people experience with us?  What is the history, and what are the motivations, that find us ‘there’ as a military force?

Has violence of war – meeting violence with greater violence – ever really brought humanity closer to enduring peace and thriving community?

InformationClearninghouse.info page includes the YouTube link to Dr. King’s “Beyond Vietnam” speech, includes the full text, and shares media response to Kings’ speech at the time – which was essentially to call King a traitor.

King’s speech suggests his answer to these accusations:

“Why are you speaking about war, Dr. King? Why are you joining the voices of dissent? Peace and civil rights don’t mix, they say. Aren’t you hurting the cause of your people, they ask? And when I hear them, though I often understand the source of their concern, I am nevertheless greatly saddened, for such questions mean that the inquirers have not really known me, my commitment or my calling. Indeed, their questions suggest that they do not know the world in which they live.”

… as he continues, he reminds his audience of his larger commitments:

“As if the weight of such a commitment to the life and health of America were not enough, another burden of responsibility was placed upon me in 1964; and I cannot forget that the Nobel Prize for Peace was also 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 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?”

My Best – To Absolutely Each and Every One of Us.   — MaggieAnn.

Note to any concerned about King’s “Christian” language – these are the teachings to which he devoted himself. If you listen carefully, you’ll discover King’s “Christianity” was in fact a commitment to universal wisdom, felt and followed by those ‘of faith’ as well as Humanists and others for whom ‘non-religious’ understandings are particularly important.

See/hear also: “Lions and Lambs – A Call to ‘Extreme’ Idealism“, featuring a recording of  Dr. King’s 23 minute sermon: “Why I Am Opposed To the War in Vietnam“.  The sermon makes many of the same points as “Beyond Vietnam” but is addressed to a different audience, is less ‘academic’. Its message includes different language to evoke awareness of human suffering, and is equally powerful.


About maggieannthoeni

A description once given of me was "rooted in the earth while roaming the stars" - and this has felt 'right'. I believe in something akin to this for each of us. I am a passionate supporter of discovering the autonomous self while serving the whole as primary intent. I believe in discovery of innate principles, clearing the overlay of socialization that obscures this from us. I believe it is our responsibility to leave no one behind - most particularly to respond to suffering as best we can whereever we find it, whenever we are made aware. I believe in this for the insect as well as the most magnificent form of humanity. I believe in brother/sisterhood without boundary. I believe in righteous indignation when it is appropriate, but do not believe in an enemy. I believe in consciousness, in intelligence, in logic, in rationality, in emotion, in transcendence - and am convinced until we generally practice explore and honor all this in ourselves, we remain profoundly immature. (I believe real maturity is known and practiced by many young children, and not enough adults!)
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3 Responses to Dr. Martin Luther King: “Beyond Vietnam” Spoke to our Relationship To All Nations (Video)

  1. Moe says:

    Maggie – stunning post. And such an important point – I noticed too how rapt and adoring everyone was over the MLK anniversary, but as you say, the rest of his life and the rest of his words were totally ignored. And in fact, his attention to Vietnam and to the poor had a serious impact on the country. But since we have nothing to brag about on those two issues, we must remain silent.

    • maggieannthoeni says:

      Remaining silent is probably a good idea … I seem to have some trouble on that! Thank you for your appreciation of this post! I’m pretty sure one key reason for wide-spread objection to bombing Syria is linked to a thought, “we need to attend to our troubles at home”. I hope part of that thought includes addressing poverty, funding issues in public schools, deteriorating infrastructure, and other community need issues!

      • Moe says:

        So do I. By now, maybe people are starting to notice the deterioration of our infrastructure and our dismal education and health outcomes.

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