Laughter

the human race has one really effective weapon

Why I Am Opposed to the War (Everywhere)

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photo by Marvin Koner

photo by Marvin Koner

As Martin Luther King Jr. Day and the presidential inauguration coincide for just the second time in history, many people will sit down to hear or see clips from King’s legendary “I Have a Dream” speech, delivered from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on 28 August 1963.

Due in part to its composition, King received the Nobel Peace Prize and Time magazine named him “Man of the Year.” It was so powerful and influential that it prompted the FBI to describe King as “the most dangerous Negro of the future in this Nation from the standpoint of communism, the Negro and national security.” Attended by over 200,000 civil rights protesters, it is rightly called “one of the defining moments of the American Civil Rights Movement” and regarded as one of the greatest speeches in American and world history.

But King wrote numerous sermons and delivered many more powerful speeches calling for justice and equality among men and nations, some of them even more revolutionary than “I Have a Dream.” Among these is “Why I Am Opposed to the War in Vietnam.” Delivered as a sermon to the Ebenezer Baptist Church on 30 April 1967, it continues a line of thought King began with “Beyond Vietnam/A Time to Break Silence,” a speech he gave just a few weeks earlier in New York City, on 4 April 1967. That speech, which calls the United States “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today,” did not meet with the universal applause that “I Have a Dream” enjoyed. According to Wikipedia:

King’s opposition [to Vietnam] cost him significant support among white allies, including President Johnson, union leaders and powerful publishers.”The press is being stacked against me”, King said, complaining of a double standard that applauded his non-violence at home, but deplored it when applied “toward little brown Vietnamese children.” Life 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.’

King recognized a connection between capitalism, war, and inequality that was too radical for the public to consider, much less accept. In “Why I Am Opposed” he reminds us of the economic dimensions of the war: “it is estimated that we spend $500,000 to kill each enemy soldier [in Vietnam], while we spend only fifty-three dollars for each person classified as poor, and much of that fifty-three dollars goes for salaries to people that are not poor. So I was increasingly compelled to see the war as an enemy of the poor, and attack it as such.” Accusations of communist sympathy were subsequently leveled against him.

Nearly 46 years later, this problem still runs rampant. The connections between capitalism, war, and poverty are perhaps stronger than ever. We could easily replace the word “Vietnam” in his speech with “Afghanistan” or “Iraq” and all meaning would be preserved. And so his speech remains a challenge to this country.

An edited version of “Why I Am Opposed to the War in Vietnam” was eventually released on album by Black Forum Records. At 22 minutes long, it is approximately half the length of the original sermon, but it preserves most—if not all—of King’s strongest points and most damning accusations. It also contains one of my favorite King quotes, which reminds us not to despair and that “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

I’ve posted the edited and full-length versions of this speech below, via Youtube. You can read along by visiting Berkeley’s Library website, which contains a complete transcript. And since today is Inauguration Day, I’ve also posted a clip of Princeton professor Cornel West taken from C-SPAN’s coverage of the “Future without Poverty” panel at George Washington University. In it, West questions Obama’s use of King’s bible during his inauguration and reminds us of the revolutionary spirit King wielded. The same one that made him a target of the FBI and eventually cost him his life.

Edited Version:

Full Version:

Cornel West:

Happy Martin Luther King Jr. day.

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Author: Laughter

I like music and philosophy. And baseball.

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