The Fire Behind MLK Jr’s “Beyond Vietnam” Speech Still Burns In 2018

America is at war with itself. 

When orange-faced Trump proclaims Make America Great Again, hes declaring war on the progressive America that Barack Obama began laying the groundwork for. The America where the poor and disadvantaged could get affordable health care without leaving the country they love. The America where police brutality is met with vocal condemnation, not complicit silence

This America is also at war with the America that Martin Luther King Jr vehemently claimed was being poisoned by the Vietnam War during his famous speech Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break The Silence address at Riverside Church in New York City to the Clergy and Laymen Concerned about Vietnam on April 7, 1967. On that day, the then 38-year pastor was admittedly compelled by his conscience to spread the truth. 51 years later, America is engaged in a war with itself and we still need those sage words from the fallen King. 

White nationalists and extremists are now emboldened in their racist ideals by a President who either remains loudly silent about civil rights violations, but vocal about extolling the goodness of the side of racists. The nation has told young Black men that their lives don’t matter in a variety of ways and the message was violent. guns, subsequently having their murders chalked up to the difficulties of police having to make life or death decisions in a matter of seconds. Then we find out the same police department has an alleged culture of carrying toy guns around to plant on people they kill.

What King said, in his speech, he told the youths in the ghettos slanging Molotov cocktails needs to reverberate in the minds of everyone who feels targeted by the police based on the color of their skin. They asked if our own nation wasnt using massive doses of violence to solve its problems, to bring about changes it wanted, King said. Their questions hit home, 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.

MLK: Beyond Vietnam – A Time to Break Silence

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s 1967 speech in New York. In this speech, he opposes violence and militarism, particularly the war in Vietnam.

Comparing the Vietnam War to the problems facing America today may seem fictitious if you believe Kings historic speech was simply about the Vietnam War. King explicitly used the Vietnam War as an emblem of the broken promises of progress made by President Lyndon B. Johnsons government, and he even painted the war itself as an enemy of the poor. Kings speech derided President Johnsons governments exorbitant allocation of funds towards the war after, and away from the fight on poverty and injustice, they proclaimed they were committed to fighting with the passages of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. King launched verbal nukes at the government in order to protect the hope of a brighter future he fully believed America was heading towards, that is a distant memory now.

According to the Washington Post-University of Maryland poll conducted through the first nine months of Trumps presidency, 70% of Americans believe the nation is as divided politically as it was during the Vietnam War. The same poll found that a vast majority of Americans not only view Trumps presidency as instrumental to the dysfunction of the U.S. political system but also view this as the new normal. Americans are being proverbially beaten into submission by an onslaught of seemingly insurmountable injustices, and we need Kings pleading for a shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society to help strengthen our resolve to fight. 

Today, Americans need to hear King speak about Americas long history of supporting dictators like Ngo Dinh Diem, former Prime Minister of the State of Vietnam, in order to disillusion Americans from thinking our country was ever wholly great. Americans need to hear King speak about the government misleadingly painting groups as communists, in order to show the blanket vilification of Muslims by the Trump administration is as American as apple pie. Americans need to hear King vociferously   a day when justice will roll down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream :

Martin Luther King Jr was assassinated on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee one year, to the day, after he gave his speech at Riverside Church. On the 50th anniversary of his death, America needs Kings harsh reality more than his dream to get us out of this nightmarish war America has waged on itself. 

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