Martin L. King - Opposition To The Vietnam War

Opposition To The Vietnam War

See also: Opposition to the U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War

In 1965 King began to publicly express doubts about the Vietnam War. In an April 4, 1967 appearance at the New York City Riverside Church—exactly one year before his death—King delivered a speech titled "Beyond Vietnam". He spoke strongly against the U.S.'s role in the war, insisting that the U.S. was in Vietnam "to occupy it as an American colony" and calling the U.S. government "the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today". He also connected the war with economic injustice, arguing that the country needed serious moral change:

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 take the profits out with no concern for the social betterment of the countries, and say: "This is not just."

King also opposed the Vietnam War because it took money and resources that could have been spent on social welfare at home. The United States Congress was spending more and more on the military and less and less on anti-poverty programs at the same time. He summed up this aspect by saying, "A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death".

King's opposition cost him significant support among white allies, including President Johnson, union leaders and powerful publishers. "The press is being stacked against me," King said, complaining of a double standard that applauded his non-violence at home, but deplored it when applied “toward little brown Vietnamese children.” Life magazine called the speech "demagogic slander that sounded like a script for Radio Hanoi", and The Washington Post declared that King had "diminished his usefulness to his cause, his country, his people."

King stated that North Vietnam "did not begin to send in any large number of supplies or men until American forces had arrived in the tens of thousands". He accused the United States of having killed a million Vietnamese, "mostly children." King also criticized the United States' resistance to North Vietnam's land reforms.

The speech was a reflection of King's evolving political advocacy in his later years, which paralleled the teachings of the progressive Highlander Research and Education Center, with whom King was affiliated. King began to speak of the need for fundamental changes in the political and economic life of the nation. Towards the time of his murder, King more frequently expressed his opposition to the war and his desire to see a redistribution of resources to correct racial and economic injustice. King guarded his language in public to avoid being linked to communism by his enemies, but in private he sometimes spoke of his support for democratic socialism. In one speech, he stated that "something is wrong with capitalism" and claimed, "There must be a better distribution of wealth, and maybe America must move toward a democratic socialism."

King had read Marx while at Morehouse, but while he rejected "traditional capitalism," he also rejected Communism because of its "materialistic interpretation of history" that denied religion, its "ethical relativism," and its "political totalitarianism."

King also stated in "Beyond Vietnam" that "true compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar ... it comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring". King quoted a United States official who said that, from Vietnam to Latin America, the country was "on the wrong side of a world revolution." King condemned America's "alliance with the landed gentry of Latin America," and said that the United States should support "the shirtless and barefoot people" in the Third World rather than suppressing their attempts at revolution.

King spoke at an Anti-Vietnam demonstration where he also brought up issues of civil rights and the draft.

I have not urged a mechanical fusion of the civil rights and peace movements. There are people who have come to see the moral imperative of equality, but who cannot yet see the moral imperative of world brotherhood. I would like to see the fervor of the civil-rights movement imbued into the peace movement to instill it with greater strength. And I believe everyone has a duty to be in both the civil-rights and peace movements. But for those who presently choose but one, I would hope they will finally come to see the moral roots common to both.

In 1967, King gave another speech, in which he lashed out against what he called the "cruel irony" of American blacks fighting and dying for a country which treated them as second class citizens:

We were taking the young black men who had been crippled by our society and sending them eight thousand miles away to guarantee liberties which they had not found in Southwest Georgia and East Harlem. ... We have been repeatedly faced with the cruel irony of watching Negro and white boys on TV screens as they kill and die together for a nation that has been unable to seat them in the same schools.

On January 13, 1968, the day after President Johnson's State of the Union Address, King called for a large march on Washington against "one of history's most cruel and senseless wars".

We need to make clear in this political year, to congressmen on both sides of the aisle and to the president of the United States, that we will no longer tolerate, we will no longer vote for men who continue to see the killings of Vietnamese and Americans as the best way of advancing the goals of freedom and self-determination in Southeast Asia.

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