Forty years ago today, Dr. Martin Luther King gave the speech “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence.” It was April 4, 1967 — a year to the day before he was murdered. He was speaking at the Riverside Church here in New York. King billed the speech as a declaration of independence from the war and called the United States: “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today.” [includes rush transcript]
JUAN GONZALEZ: Forty years ago today, Dr. Martin Luther King gave the speech “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence.” It was April 4, 1967, a year to the day before he was murdered. He was speaking at the Riverside Church here in New York. King billed the speech as a declaration of independence from the war and called the United States “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today.” Time 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.”
We turn now to that speech that King gave in April 1967.
REV. MARTIN LUTHER KING JR.: If we do not stop our war against the people of Vietnam immediately, the world will be left with no other alternative than to see this as some horrible, clumsy and deadly game we have decided to play. The world now demands a maturity of America that we may not be able to achieve. It demands that we admit that we have been wrong from the beginning of our adventure in Vietnam, that we have been detrimental to the life of the Vietnamese people. The situation is one in which we must be ready to turn sharply from our present ways. In order to atone for our sins and errors in Vietnam, we should take the initiative in bringing a halt to this tragic war and set a date that we will remove all foreign troops from Vietnam in accordance with the 1954 Geneva Agreement.
Part of our ongoing commitment might well express itself in an offer to grant asylum to any Vietnamese who fears for his life under the new regime, which included the Liberation Front. Then we must make what reparations we can for the damage we have done. We must provide the medical aid that is badly needed, making it available in this country, if necessary. Meanwhile, we in the churches and synagogues have a continuing task: while we urge our government to disengage itself from a disgraceful commitment, we must continue to raise our voices and our lives if our nation persists in its perverse ways in Vietnam. We must be prepared to match actions with words by seeking out every creative method of protest possible.
These are the times for real choices and not false ones. We are at the moment when our lives must be placed on the line if our nation is to survive its own folly. Every man of humane convictions must decide on the protest that best suits his convictions, but we must all protest.
Now, there is something seductively tempting about stopping there and sending us all off on what in some circles has become a popular crusade against the war in Vietnam. I say we must enter that struggle, but I wish to go on now to say something even more disturbing.
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. They will be concerned about Guatemala and Peru. They will be concerned about Thailand and Cambodia. They will be concerned about Mozambique and South Africa. We will be marching for these and a dozen other names and attending rallies without end, unless there is a significant and profound change in American life and policy.
AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., giving his “Beyond Vietnam” speech at Riverside Church. It was April 4, 1967, 40 years ago today. A year later, he was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee.