On 4 April 1967 Martin Luther King delivered a speech entitled “Beyond Vietnam” in front of over 3,000 people at Rivereside Church in New York City. The speech has lost none of its actuality. The fundamental reality of capitalism and US permanent warfare and what it does to people, humanity and planet Earth is more acute today than it was fifty years ago. The USA spends yearly about $600 billion for the war industry and president Trump seeks to boost war spending by $54 billion. At the same time his administration continues a kind of war against ordinary people in the US.
Anything that can be of assistance to ordinary people, working people, middle-class people, people on the street—any such program has to be decimated. Anything that adds to wealth and power or that increases the use of force, that we carry forward. Source: Noam Chomsky, April 4, 2017, interview at Democracy Now! (click to read the interview)
The insane military spending represents an immense waste of material and human resources that could be used otherwise, to help people instead of destroying them. Permanent war is also a war against planet Earth. It contributes massively to the pollution and destruction of nature of which we are a part and on which our survival depends. By destroying planet Earth or by using nuclear weapons humanity is committing suicide. According to the Doomsday Clock Statement 2017, it is two and a half minutes to midnight (click to download PDF).
The speech was drafted from a collection of volunteers, including Spelman professor Vincent Harding and Wesleyan professor John Maguire.
King gave seven major reasons for speaking about the war in Vietnam.
1) The war in Vietnam is an enemy of the poor; it consumes all the funds and energies that would be needed to rehabilitate the poor.
2) The war demands much more victims among the black young men who had been crippled by our society. In Vietnam black and white boys kill and die together for a nation that has been unable to seat them together in the same schools.
3) I could never again raise my voice and tell the oppressed in the ghettos that violence is no solution for their problems without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today: my own government.
4) No one who has any concern for the integrity and life of America today can ignore the present war. America’s soul can never be saved so long as it destroys the hopes of men the world over.
5) The Nobel Peace Prize is a calling that takes me beyond national allegiances and demands that I work for the brotherhood of man.
6) To those who tell me that peace and civil rights don’t mix, I say that my ministry is in obedience to Jesus Christ who loved his enemies so fully that he died for them. What then can I say to the Vietcong or to Castro or to Mao as a faithful minister of this one? Can I threaten them with death or must I not share with them my life?
7) We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for the victims of our nation, for those it calls “enemy”, for no document from human hands can make these humans any less our brothers.
The war in Vietnam is but a symptom of a far deeper malady within the American spirit. We have seen emerge a pattern of suppression which justifies the presence of US military all over the world. This is the role our nation has taken, the role of those who make peaceful revolution impossible by refusing to give up the privileges and the pleasures that come from the immense profits of overseas investments.
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 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, extreme materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered. … A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.
We must not engage in a negative anticommunism, but rather in a positive thrust for democracy, realizing that our greatest defense against communism is to take offensive action in behalf of justice.
A genuine revolution of values means in the final analysis that our loyalties must become ecumenical rather than sectional. Every nation must now develop an overriding loyalty to mankind as a whole in order to preserve the best in their individual societies. This call for a worldwide fellowship that lifts neighborly concern beyond one’s tribe, race, class, and nation is in reality a call for an all-embracing and unconditional love for all mankind, which has become an absolute necessity for the survival of mankind.
We still have a choice today: nonviolent coexistence or violent coannihilation. We must find new ways to speak for peace and justice throughout the world. If we do not act, we shall surely be dragged down the long, dark and shamefull corridors of time reserved for those who possess power without compassion, might without morality, and strength without sight.
Now let us rededicate ourselves to the long and bitter, but beautiful struggle for a new world.
Jenseits von Vietnam: Click to read a German version of the speech