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Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., "Beyond Vietnam" (1967)

January 8, 2020
In this speech, delivered at Riverside Church in New York City, King expresses his opposition to the Vietnam War. Read the full text of the speech here
accord
The recent statements of your executive committee are the sentiments of my own heart, and I found myself in full accord when I read its opening lines: “A time comes when silence is betrayal.”
apathy
Nor does the human spirit move without great difficulty against all the apathy of conformist thought within one’s own bosom and in the surrounding world.
conformist
Nor does the human spirit move without great difficulty against all the apathy of conformist thought within one’s own bosom and in the surrounding world.
dissent
And we must rejoice as well, for surely this is the first time in our nation’s history that a significant number of its religious leaders have chosen to move beyond the prophesying of smooth patriotism to the high grounds of a firm dissent based upon the mandates of conscience and the reading of history.
paragon
Neither is it an attempt to make North Vietnam or the National Liberation Front paragons of virtue, nor to overlook the role they must play in the successful resolution of the problem.
facile
There is at the outset a very obvious and almost facile connection between the war in Vietnam and the struggle I and others have been waging in America.
eviscerate
Then came the buildup in Vietnam, and I watched this program broken and eviscerated as if it were some idle political plaything on a society gone mad on war.
purveyor
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.
incandescent
Now it should be incandescently clear that no one who has any concern for the integrity and life of America today can ignore the present war.
creed
Beyond the calling of race or nation or creed is this vocation of sonship and brotherhood.
junta
I speak now not of the soldiers of each side, not of the ideologies of the Liberation Front, not of the junta in Saigon, but simply of the people who have been living under the curse of war for almost three continuous decades now.
abortive
For nine years we vigorously supported the French in their abortive effort to recolonize Vietnam.
quell
The peasants watched as all of this was presided over by United States influence and then by increasing numbers of United States troops who came to help quell the insurgency that Diem’s methods had aroused.
languish
Now they languish under our bombs and consider us, not their fellow Vietnamese, the real enemy.
hamlet
Soon the only solid physical foundations remaining will be found at our military bases and in the concrete of the concentration camps we call “fortified hamlets.”
repression
What of the National Liberation front, that strangely anonymous group we call “VC” or “communists”? What must they think of the United States of America when they realize that we permitted the repression and cruelty of Diem, which helped to bring them into being as a resistance group in the South?
condone
What do they think of our condoning the violence which led to their own taking up of arms?
overture
Hanoi remembers how our leaders refused to tell us the truth about the earlier North Vietnamese overtures for peace, how the president claimed that none existed when they had clearly been made.
subvert
I speak for those whose land is being laid waste, whose homes are being destroyed, whose culture is being subverted.
incur
It is curious that the Americans, who calculate so carefully on the possibilities of military victory, do not realize that in the process they are incurring deep psychological and political defeat.
extricate
I would like to suggest five concrete things that our government should do to begin the long and difficult process of extricating ourselves from this nightmarish conflict...
unilateral
Number two: Declare a unilateral cease-fire in the hope that such action will create the atmosphere for negotiation.
curtail
Three: Take immediate steps to prevent other battlegrounds in Southeast Asia by curtailing our military buildup in Thailand and our interference in Laos.
perverse
We must continue to raise our voices and our lives if our nation persists in its perverse ways in Vietnam.
conscientious
As we counsel young men concerning military service, we must clarify for them our nation’s role in Vietnam and challenge them with the alternative of conscientious objection.
alma mater
I am pleased to say that this is a path now chosen by more than seventy students at my own alma mater, Morehouse College, and I recommend it to all who find the American course in Vietnam a dishonorable and unjust one.
malady
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 “clergy and laymen concerned” committees for the next generation.
edifice
It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.
indignation
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.”
gentry
It will look at our alliance with the landed gentry of South America and say, “This is not just.”
reconcile
This business of burning human beings with napalm, of filling our nation’s homes with orphans and widows, of injecting poisonous drugs of hate into the veins of peoples normally humane, of sending men home from dark and bloody battlefields physically handicapped and psychologically deranged, cannot be reconciled with wisdom, justice, and love.
recalcitrant
There is nothing to keep us from molding a recalcitrant status quo with bruised hands until we have fashioned it into a brotherhood.
exploitation
All over the globe men are revolting against old systems of exploitation and oppression, and out of the wounds of a frail world, new systems of justice and equality are being born.
complacency
It is a sad fact that because of comfort, complacency, a morbid fear of communism, and our proneness to adjust to injustice, the Western nations that initiated so much of the revolutionary spirit of the modern world have now become the arch antirevolutionaries.
morbid
It is a sad fact that because of comfort, complacency, a morbid fear of communism, and our proneness to adjust to injustice, the Western nations that initiated so much of the revolutionary spirit of the modern world have now become the arch antirevolutionaries.
mores
With this powerful commitment we shall boldly challenge the status quo and unjust mores, and thereby speed the day when “every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low; the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain.”
exalt
With this powerful commitment we shall boldly challenge the status quo and unjust mores, and thereby speed the day when “every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low; the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain.”
ecumenical
A genuine revolution of values means in the final analysis that our loyalties must become ecumenical rather than sectional.
epistle
This Hindu-Muslim-Christian-Jewish-Buddhist belief about ultimate reality is beautifully summed up in the first epistle of Saint John: “Let us love one another, for love is God. And every one that loveth is born of God and knoweth God. He that loveth not knoweth not God, for God is love....If we love one another, God dwelleth in us and his love is perfected in us.”
conundrum
In this unfolding conundrum of life and history, there is such a thing as being too late.
ebb
The tide in the affairs of men does not remain at flood—it ebbs.
adamant
We may cry out desperately for time to pause in her passage, but time is adamant to every plea and rushes on.
militate
Will our message be that the forces of American life militate against their arrival as full men, and we send our deepest regrets?
blight
Once to every man and nation comes a moment do decide,
In the strife of truth and Falsehood, for the good or evil side;
Some great cause, God’s new Messiah offering each the gloom or blight,
And the choice goes by forever ‘twixt that darkness and that light.
elegy
And if we will only make the right choice, we will be able to transform this pending cosmic elegy into a creative psalm of peace.

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