Anyone who lived through the 1960s or stayed awake during American History class knows at least the Cliff Notes version of what Dr. Marthin Luther King, Jr. stood for and can probably recognize passages from his famous 1963 “I have a dream” speech.
But an equally powerful is King’s “Why I Am Opposed to the War in Vietnam” speech (linked above).
Sadly, both the dream speech and the Vietnam War speech could have been delivered today. If anything, the United States has marched backward since 1963. Although the dream speech is highly poetic, in my opinion, the Vietnam War speech– which slams the military-industrial complex and war– was more dangerous and probably led to his assassination. Here are some excerpts.
We spend $500,000 to kill each enemy soldier [in the Vietnam War] while we spend only $53 for each person classified as poor…[If we spent $500,000 per enemy soldier killed in the early 1960s, what do we spend now????!!!]
War has become the enemy of the poor…The war was doing more than devastating the hopes of the poor, it is sending their sons, brothers, and husbands to fight and die in extremely high proportions relative to the rest of the population. We were taking the black young men who had been crippled by society and sending them 8,000 miles away to guarantee liberties in South East Asia that they have not found in Southwest Georgia or East Harlem…
We have been repeatedly faced with the cruel irony of watching Negro and white boys, on TV screens, kill and die together for a country which has been unable to seat them in the same school room…
I knew that I would never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without first speaking out clearly [against the War in Vietnam].
[12:25 minutes] This is the role our nation has taken– the role of those who make peaceful revolutions impossible by refusing to give up the privileges and pleasures that come from emence profits of overseas investmant. [Sound familiar?]
If we are to get on the right side of world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin to shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society. When machines, computers profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, militarism, and economic exploitation are incapable of being conquered. [This is where we are now!]
A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many or our present policies. Ture compassion is more than flinging a coin at a beggar. A true new set of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth with rightness indignation…
[ 14:18 minutes] A true revolution of values will lay hands on the world order and say of war, “This way of settling our differences is not just.’
Why was King assassinated? Not because he spoke of equal rights for black people but because he advocated for peace as a way of life.
As jazz vocalist Gil Scott Haron says in his song “Work for Peace.”, “Americans no longer fight to keep their shores safe, just to keep the jobs going in the arms-making workplace…
“The only thing wrong with peace is you can’t make no money in it.”