Dr. King’s Speech, Beyond Vietnam

Forty years since we have heard his voice, forty years since the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King was murdered. If he had lived, he would not be the sainted figure who ‘had a dream’. He would be reviled and slandered now just as he was when he was alive.

Common Dreams has posted a long excerpt from Dr. King’s speech, ‘Beyond Vietnam’. The speech could be mined for sound-bytes on Fox quite effectively. King’s stand against the Vietnam War won him many enemies and lost him friends.

‘Beyond Vietnam’ is a long speech and a complex one. In the last twenty years the American public has chosen leaders who make it simple for us. At the same time, the percentage of people who bother to vote at all has dropped to a shameful low.

In 2005 the Iraqi people waved purple fingers for the cameras in what was supposed to be the beginning of democracy in Iraq. But the goal of real political order, established by the Iraqis themselves, is always the receding light at the end of the tunnel. The words of Dr. King, during the Vietnam War, have a resonance now…

“How do they judge us when our officials know that their membership is less than 25 per cent communist and yet insist on giving them the blanket name? What must they be thinking when they know that we are aware of their control of major sections of Vietnam and yet we appear ready to allow national elections in which this highly organized political parallel government will have no part? They ask how we can speak of free elections when the Saigon press is censored and controlled by the military junta. And they are surely right to wonder what kind of new government we plan to help form without them, the only party in real touch with the peasants. They question our political goals and they deny the reality of a peace settlement from which they will be excluded. Their questions are frighteningly relevant.

Here is the true meaning and value of compassion and non-violence, when it helps us to see the enemy’s point of view, to hear his questions, to know of his assessment of ourselves. For from his view we may indeed see the basic weaknesses of our own condition, and if we are mature, we may learn and grow and profit from the wisdom of the brothers who are called the opposition.”

If we persist in looking for simple answers, ‘they hate us because of our freedom’ or ‘they are evil’ or ‘they are islamofacists’ then there’s only one final solution: kill them all. We are not going to untangle the ‘good Iraqis’ vs the ‘evil Iraqis’ because with every mis-step, we are making enemies faster than we can kill them. If we can learn from Vietnam, I hope that we can construct an exit strategy that will not leave Iraq prey to the mass murders and dislocations that took place after the US withdrew our troops from Vietnam. I hope the terrible genocide that took place in Cambodia will never be repeated again in history. The way out won’t be easy or simple. It won’t break down into inspirational sound bytes.

Dr. King’s speech, ‘Beyond Vietnam’, doesn’t break down into quotable, feel-good phrases. It’s long, hard and complicated. It’s reality-based. It’s being heard more and more today, forty years later, as we ask ourselves again how we got to this place again.

4 thoughts on “Dr. King’s Speech, Beyond Vietnam

  1. Honestly, Nancy, I think that a significant chunk of our population truly would like to “kill them all.” This group, I suspect, is about the same size and composition as the 25-30% that still approves of GW Bush.

  2. klaus:

    Unfortunately, I have to agree. Consider the appeal: emotional separation from “the other”; tough-sounding slogans that boost the ego; easy-to-repeat talking points; and, not to mention, mindless nationalism that so easily convinces one of its “logic.”

    Hopefully, this election will erode that number even further — or, at least, tamp down this group’s ability to control the agenda for our nation.

  3. Jesse, you are more optimistic than I am in thinking that this group can be diminished further.

    This group is the “some of the people you can fool all of the time” that Abraham Lincoln spoke of.

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