Martin Luther King, Jr. on War

“Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence” Next Monday, we observe Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday.  We rightfully celebrate his remarkable accomplishments as a leader in the civil rights movement, especially his commitment to non-violent resistance that became so important in that movement and other struggles. King was more than a one-issue leader, however.  He exposed with often startling eloquence the connections between racism, poverty, colonialism, materialism and militarism. In 1968 (one year before his assassination) King gave a powerful speech, “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence,” in New York to a group of Christian clergy and laity deeply concerned about the escalating war in Vietnam.  He connected non-violence and pacifism to Christian compassion as children of one God.  It is one of his least known speeches, and he was strongly criticized afterward by both whites and blacks for his positions. In “Beyond Vietnam” King not only strongly denounced the war as an extension of colonialism, but as a symptom of “a far deeper malady within the American spirit.” “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 the 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, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.” As you remember MLK this year, consider again his insightful connections between many of the issues that we continue to struggle with forty years later. To read the entire text of “Beyond Vietnam” click here.

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