The words of Martin Luther King Jr. on war are as important as ever

April 4, 2018 is the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.


The people of the world would do well to listen to his words on war and morality.

Dr. King was an activist who developed and used the methods of nonviolent resistance in the struggle to end the oppression of Black people. He was an inspiration to many people of my generation. When I was a graduate student at the University of Wisconsin, I heard him speak (in 1963 I think).

I also remember the day after he was assassinated. I walked from my office at the University of California, Santa Barbara to a quiet place on campus and started to cry. But I stopped myself because I had been thoroughly brainwashed by the falsehood that “big boys don’t cry.” It would be 3 years until I learned about Re-evaluation Counseling and became aware of the value of crying.

I encourage you learn more about Dr. King and what he stood for. The media and schools in the U.S. promote King’s dream for brotherhood, and he spoke eloquently about that. They rarely mention that he spoke out against capitalism, militarism, and war. He said,

“We have deluded ourselves into believing the myth that capitalism grew and prospered out of the Protestant ethic of hard work and sacrifices. Capitalism was built on the exploitation of black slaves and continues to thrive on the exploitation of the poor.”  (Chicago, IL August 1967)

In addition, (against the advice of some of his colleagues in the Civil Rights movement) he spoke in opposition to the U.S. war in Vietnam. On April 4, 1967, one year before he was assassinated he gave a speech “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence”. He said,

“A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual doom.”

and further on:

“We still have a choice today: nonviolent coexistence or violent co-annihilation. We must move past indecision to action. We must find new ways to speak for peace in Vietnam and justice throughout the developing world, a world that borders on our doors. If we do not act, we shall surely be dragged down the long, dark, and shameful corridors of time reserved for those who possess power without compassion, might without morality, and strength without sight.”

I encourage you to listen to his speech.

He was attacked by many for this speech. In 1967, the Washington Post wrote that many “who have listened to him with respect will never again accord him the same confidence. He has diminished his usefulness to his cause, to his country and to his people.” In the same year, the New York Times wrote, to “divert the energies of the civil rights movement to the Vietnam issue is both wasteful and self-defeating.”  (You can see this quote republished in a 2017 article in the Post. Here is a photocopy of the Times editorial.)

I believe that if Dr. King were alive today he would be speaking out strongly against U.S. militarism and imperialism and for the elimination of nuclear weapons.  He might even use his same words “power without compassion, might without morality, and strength without sight” in regard to the existence of nuclear weapons.

Thank you Dr. King.

PS: I have searched without success for translations of the Beyond Vietnam speech into other languages. If you know of any, please let me know where I can find them. I will add links to any translations I find to  the resource page.

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