Dr. Martin Luther King’s ‘I Have A Dream’ speech is widely known. Lesser known is his ‘Beyond Vietnam’ speech delivered on April 4, 1967. Dr. King exhibited tremendous courage in this speech when he challenged U.S. violence and values during wartime.
Regarding U.S. values, Dr. King warned:
“A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.”
“We must rapidly begin the shift from a “thing-oriented” society to a “person-oriented” society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.”
Regarding U.S. violence, Dr. King declared:
“I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today — my own government.”
“Now, it should be incandescently clear that no one who has any concern for the integrity and life of America today can ignore the present war. If America’s soul becomes totally poisoned, part of the autopsy must read Vietnam. It can never be saved so long as it destroys the deepest hopes of men the world over.”
Unfortunately, we have failed to heed his prescient words. If anything, the U.S. has become even more of a thing-oriented society today at the expense of our humanity. Shamefully, the military budget essentially remains a sacred cow while programs benefiting people are targeted for cuts.
It is hard to believe that our leaders attempt to justify the use torture and the assassination by drones. These are not the acts of a law-abiding and civilized nation. Then there is the appalling term ‘collateral damage’ used to describe the unintentional but predictable killing of innocent people. These acts demonstrate a cheapening of the value of life and the spiritual death Dr. King warned us about.
Our violence against others apparently knows no end. For example, after our illegal attack devastated Iraq and its people, the U.S. is still fighting in Afghanistan, again destroying the hopes of people who are desperate for an end to fighting.
If Dr. King were alive today, I think he would still be working to transform the U.S. into a just and compassionate nation.