An Examination of Martin Luther King Jr.’s Beyond Vietnam

Submitted to Thinking Outside the Boxe from a Pennsylvania Correspondent: Beyond Vietnam was written by Martin Luther King Jr. and presented on April 4, 1967 at Riverside church in New York City. The intention of the speech was to examine our effort in the war, “our” being the United States of America. The title itself expresses a need to analyze the reasons we were there and the repercussions of our actions. Many American’s believed King was losing direction, they felt that civil rights and peace are separate entities, this belief strengthen King’s conviction. He raised the need for America’s accountability. He opened a lens in which we could see our likeness to the people of Vietnam. His message was to end our conflict with Vietnam, and for American’s to realize the heavy burden afflicted on the parties involved in the war.

“A time to break the silence,” King and other activist felt that silence was a great betrayal in this conflict. While MLK acknowledges this voice could be considered unconstitutional in a time of war it was necessary and needed in a time of uncertainty, He emphasizes that it is an extraordinary act to question government and its authority. However the purpose of our government’s quest was misguided and deflected acts of a greater good. America the richest most powerful nation in the world must step into the light to exemplify the importance of people as resources. He urged American’s to stop submerging themselves in material means.

King found the number of people showing support to prove hopeful. “I also want to say that I consider it a great honor to share this program with Dr. Bennett, Dr. Commager, and Rabbi Heschel, and some of the distinguished leaders and personalities of our nation”(King, 1967). It was profound to have a diverse group of clergy men fight to break the silence and reflected a need of community beyond cultural boundaries. These men were mirror images of our need for humanity throughout nations.

One of Kings major concerns was the exploitation of the poor, America’s poor. Our young men sent to fight were not that of aristocrats or tycoons. He described a manipulation of our sons born to families of lower income. These young men did not have the opportunities of our elite and these same young men were not offered a slot to stand beside our privileged in our institutions back home. Instead they died in great numbers for the sons born heir to our great empire. King expressed further that monetary efforts provided to the war was a depletion of funds provided for poverty programs.

King’s major course of action throughout all of his work was nonviolence, and he was awarded The Nobel Peace Prize for his work. The war itself was a betrayal of America’s moral obligation, heightened by media portrayals of what is just for our nation. King expressed that our spirit continues to diminish as we diminish humanity across the world. His motive was for our populace to stop thinking in terms of our nations as a singular body, but to think of our nation as a model “that embraces the brotherhood of man” (King, 1967).

He required Americans to see the Vietnamese as our brothers and sisters and gave insight on the experience of the Vietnamese as people not enemies. King spoke of our complete funding handed to the French so they may advance in control of these people. “He proclaimed that America is a victim of Western arrogance for rejecting the revolutionary government seeking self determination in Vietnam” (Spence, 2009). King told us their story of devastation. He described our destruction of their resources. War efforts contributed to the loss of crops, tainted water supplies, and the demoralized the Vietnamese people in their efforts for survival during a time of great suffering (Spence, 2009).

King made it clear that the destruction of the Vietnamese culture was intertwined with the destruction of our own culture. He proclaimed that our troops were sent on a false precedence that only furthered agendas of our nations wealthy. Their agenda led our oppressed solders to death as they killed those oppressed in Vietnam. The propaganda in acquiring a watch dog status in the eyes of other nations mocked our pursuit. Our leaders could not articulate our purpose for being in Vietnam. A Great Buddhist leader commented that America was no longer revolutionary and democratic but the image of violence and militarism (Spence, 2009).

For over 5,000 years we have built empires and maintained a rich get richer mentality. We have seen those with wealth as models to obtain our own successes. We have left those who have needed aid the most behind to further our own successes. We have only risen to occasion of hope when we reap the highest benefits. The United States is trapped in an Imperial Consciousness: those not for our agenda are against our agenda. This way of thinking is dangerous and leads to Moral Autism.

”Imperial Consciousness may have the social intelligence to recognize it is easiest to steal from those who trust you, but lack the moral capacity to recognize that to do so constitutes a wrong in itself and destroys the fabric of trust essential to healthy social relationships” (Korten, 2006).

Beyond Vietnam lays the ground work for this school of thought not in a way that we should adopt it, but the urgency to abandon it. King’s speech captures the momentum needed for our nation to mature. King sought for our nation’s people to be true examples of revolutionaries. He demanded we abolish thoughts that privilege is earned and realize it is inherent. He asked we believe in people most disadvantaged and stop tucking them under our nation’s blanket of shame. The inherent shame is our own complacency in these matters and our brain washed minds that comply with the thinking that we do not matter or have the capacity to understand the complexity of decisions made by our own power structures.

It can be said that King’s message was to end the war, and it was. He projected ending the war was essential and gave a list on how.

“End to all bombing in Vietnam; unilateral cease fire; prevention of battle grounds in Southeast Asia; recognition of the National Liberation Front; a set date from removal of all foreign forces from Vietnam in accordance with the 1954 Geneva Convention; granting of asylum to Vietnamese suffering persecution; and the payment of reparations for harm done” (Spence, 2006).

He also described what could be done at home, stating we should continue to protest and stay active within our churches. While his message was to end the war, it was a stepping stone in the right direction for our nation’s obligation, honor and integrity.

Layer by layer embedded in his speech King ask Americans to make a worthy change. As our nation evolves and advances in wealth, industry, technology, the market and free trade with other nations we remain stagnant in social and cultural advances. We have lost sight in the power of our people and all people. We have without question remained faithful children of our empirical society only to watch our brothers and sisters fall, and when they fall we march to the guise that it is somehow their fault and their fault alone. We continually fault each in our race to the top.

King’s message is not a memo to the individual but a mass informant. We must change our institutions and how they support us. We must stop looking at our nonprofit organizations as less worthy because they are stated as not making a profit in our capitalist society. We must stop losing sight of our causes to obtain grant monies that slightly sway our causes. We must advance people in areas of expertise that are directly connected to the people in which they service. We must put check marks on markets and free trade. We must care about the woman in the third world nation that makes our clothes or computer parts. We must demand that people are our highest commodity and put above a precedent of all things material. We must look at all people as our people.

Beyond Vietnam is a speech that should be resurfaced again and again. Martin Luther King’s words take you to the past and reflect the present in a way that sends chills through your soul, and if you’re a person of any feeling and some intellect, it will heighten your very being. Be prepared for a journey before you engage, for such insight can cause anger, regret, and shame. Do not cling to these emotions. MLK has given each and everyone exposed to his message, a gift. He presents us with precision hidden by our meticulously wrapped ideology. One would think as a nation we would share his plea for humanity, instead we rewrap adding layer upon layer. We bury his endowment only to become systematic. Together we are robotic, uniformed servants of the power elite.

Forty four years later, we find ourselves weighted to the same consequences and predictions. We cannot expect new outcomes with old methods. While his speech could be given today with changes of names, people, and places; one cannot help but think this revolutionary would bring new ideas. He would urge us all to leap out of our boxes, question our nation’s fidelity, and unite as people for the people. He would enlighten society’s droids and ask them to become leaders in their families, communities, and nations. MLK would give praise to our brothers and sisters in Egypt with the pride that is bestowed upon a parent. He would exemplify that one man without shoes may go unnoticed but a heard of men on your doorstep cannot be forgotten. Today we can enter your home by internet and send messages to the masses. Martin Luther King would challenge us to catch up with technology and to use this communication as society’s tool for humanity. He would demand that people stop acting like machines, but use machines to aid us in a revolution of our best resources, each other.


Korten, David C. The Great Turning: from Empire to Earth Community. San Francisco, CA Berrett-Koehler, 2006. Print

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