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April 4, 2007

Time To Break The Silence Once Again

By Kevin Zeese

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s speech in 1967 "Beyond Vietnam: Time to Break the Silence" proivides lessons for the United States today. He connects the history of U.S. repression in Vietnam to the war, demonstrates how the war undermines domestic necessities, and how a paradigm shift in values is needed. Ending the Vietnam War was not enough, just as ending the Iraq War is not enough today.


Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. 1967 Speech on Vietnam Has Lessons for the U.S. Today on Iraq

One year before his death the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave a remarkable speech on the war in Vietnam, “Beyond Vietnam: Time to Break the Silence.” (The full can be seen at It was remarkable for its brilliant and honest review of the history of Vietnam, its connection of the Vietnam War to the injustices in U.S. domestic policy, and its connection of the Vietnam War to the need for a paradigm shift in U.S. values that would lead the world away from militarism and materialism to cooperation and brotherhood. 

One of the lessons that applies today to all Americans is this is the time for action.  King said:  “A time comes when silence is betrayal. That time has come for us in relation to Vietnam.”  The same is true today.  All Americans know the devastation and destruction we have wrought on the people of Iraq and how this war is doing more harm than good.  We know that hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have been killed and every week scores more die.  We know the truth, we must act.

King’s message was to the American people as we “bear the greatest responsibility in ending a conflict that has exacted a heavy price on both continents.”  The American people have shown they want to end the Iraq War, but the president is not listening and the Congress is acting slowly.  King gave his speech in 1967. People in government knew the war was not winnable in 1965.  Yet it was not until a decade later that it finally ended. Tens of thousands of Americans and millions of Vietnamese lost their lives after we knew the wrong was war.  Let us know allow our government to make that mistake again.  We cannot allow a slow end to the Iraq War.  It will be too costly in the loss of lives, dollars and prestige.  We must end it now and insist that the Congress use all of its power to do so.

In the U.S. today we are seeing another reality that Dr. King saw, the funding of much needed programs at home to alleviate poverty, provide health care, housing, education and even to renew the basic infrastructure of the United States.  Further, we fail to deal with the need to reduce dramatically carbon fuels and their impact on the environment. None of this will be dealt with due to the massive investment in Iraq.  The same was true in Vietnam, as Dr. King noted in explaining why a civil rights leader is speaking out against war:  “America would never invest the necessary funds or energies in rehabilitation of its poor so long as adventures like Vietnam continued to draw men and skills and money like some demonic destructive suction tube. So I was increasingly compelled to see the war as an enemy of the poor and to attack it as such.”

But at the root of the issue was how the war was poisoning America, destroying U.S. values and undermining our soul.  What King said then is equally true today: “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.”

Dr. King spoke to Americans of the impact of U.S. policy on the people of Vietnam.  He provided the history of the long-term support of brutal dictators in Vietnam, just as the U.S. government supported Saddam, and how we were testing weapons in Vietnam, destroying villages and families. He said the Vietnamese “must see Americans as strange liberators.”

He spoke of a problem that continues to this day saying “we again fell victim to the deadly Western arrogance that has poisoned the international atmosphere for so long.” He urged us to look at ourselves from our enemies perspective because than we can “know his assessment of ourselves” “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.”

King quoted a Buddhist leader of Vietnam. Recently with words that continue to resonate today:

"Each day the war goes on the hatred increases in the heart of the Vietnamese and in the hearts of those of humanitarian instinct. The Americans are forcing even their friends into becoming their enemies. It is curious that the Americans, who calculate so carefully on the possibilities of military victory, do not realize that in the process they are incurring deep psychological and political defeat. The image of America will never again be the image of revolution, freedom and democracy, but the image of violence and militarism."

He urged the United States to show a level of “maturity . . . that we may not be able to achieve.”  A maturity that demands that we “admit that we have been wrong from the beginning of our adventure in Vietnam, that we have been detrimental to the life of the Vietnamese people.” Can the U.S. government, particularly President Bush, show that type of maturity today?

He urged Americans to act, to rise up and direct their government toward peace saying “We are at the moment when our lives must be placed on the line if our nation is to survive its own folly. Every man of humane convictions must decide on the protest that best suits his convictions, but we must all protest.”

And he made a point that the anti-war movement of the Vietnam era did not learn, one that we must make sure to learn this time.  The Iraq War is bigger than Iraq it is “but a symptom of a far deeper malady within the American spirit, and if we ignore this sobering reality we will find ourselves organizing clergy- and laymen-concerned committees for the next generation. They will be concerned about Guatemala and Peru. They will be concerned about Thailand and Cambodia. They will be concerned about Mozambique and South Africa. We will be marching for these and a dozen other names and attending rallies without end unless there is a significant and profound change in American life and policy.” 

Finally, he urged “a radical revolution of values. 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.

“America, the richest and most powerful nation in the world, can well lead the way in this revolution of values. There is nothing, except a tragic death wish, to prevent us from reordering our priorities, so that the pursuit of peace will take precedence over the pursuit of war. There is nothing to keep us from molding a recalcitrant status quo with bruised hands until we have fashioned it into a brotherhood.”

Dr. King was murdered one year after this speech, but the message he delivered is one we should not forget and it is one that should lead us to aggressive advocacy for not only an end to the Iraq War but toward a country that works in the pursuit of peace, one that puts the basic needs of people ahead of the desire for profit by those who currently control our government.  Let us turn the Iraq War into an opportunity to achieve Dr. King’s dream.  

Submitters Website: and http://www.ComeHomeAmerica.U

Submitters Bio:
Kevin Zeese is co-chair of Come Home America, www.ComeHomeAmerica.US which seeks to end U.S. militarism and empire. He is also co-director of Its Our Economy, www.ItsOurEconomy.US which seeks to democratize the economy and give people greater control over their economic lives and more influence over the direction of the economy.