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Martin Luther King Jr. ~ "Why I Am Opposed to the War in Vietnam" ~ Sermon Given on April 30th, 1967 at the Ebenezer Baptist Church (23 Minutes) ~ "The Greatest Purveyor of Violence in the World Today is My Own Government".

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  • Frank Dorrel
    Martin Luther King Jr. Speaking on U.S. Militarism Why I Am Opposed to the War in Vietnam Sermon at the Ebenezer Baptist Church on April 30th, 1967 (23
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 21, 2013
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      Martin Luther King Jr.

      Speaking on U.S. Militarism

      "Why I Am Opposed to the War in Vietnam"

      Sermon at the Ebenezer Baptist Church on April 30th, 1967 (23 Minutes)

      One of the Greatest Speeches Ever Given by MLK.

      "The Greatest Purveyor of Violence in the World Today is My Own Government"
      - MLK

      Video of Martin Luther King's Vietnam speech April 30, 1967

      Martin Luther King on my Film:

      "What I've Learned About U.S. Foreign Policy:

      The War Against The Third World"


      Text of MLK's Speech: "Why I Am Opposed to the War in Vietnam"

      The sermon which I am preaching this morning in a sense is not the usual
      kind of sermon, but it is a sermon and an important subject, nevertheless,
      because the issue that I will be discussing today is one of the most
      controversial issues confronting our nation. I'm using as a subject from
      which to preach, "Why I Am Opposed to the War in Vietnam."Now, let me make
      it clear in the beginning, that I see this war as an unjust, evil, and
      futile war. I preach to you today on the war in Vietnam because my
      conscience leaves me with no other choice.

      The time has come for America to hear the truth about this tragic war.

      In international conflicts, the truth is hard to come by because most
      nations are deceived about themselves. Rationalizations and the incessant
      search for scapegoats are the psychological cataracts that blind us to our
      sins. But the day has passed for superficial patriotism. He who lives with
      untruth lives in spiritual slavery. Freedom is still the bonus we receive
      for knowing the truth. "Ye shall know the truth," says Jesus, "and the truth
      shall set you free." Now, I've chosen to preach about the war in Vietnam
      because I agree with Dante, that the hottest places in hell are reserved for
      those who in a period of moral crisis maintain their neutrality. There comes
      a time when silence becomes betrayal.

      The truth of these words is beyond doubt, but the mission to which they call
      us is a most difficult one. Even when pressed by the demands of inner truth,
      men do not easily assume the task of opposing their government's policy,
      especially in time of war. Nor does the human spirit move without great
      difficulty against all the apathy of conformist thought within one's own
      bosom [and in the surrounding world. Moreover, when the issues at hand seem
      as perplexing, as they often do in the case of this dreadful conflict, we're
      always on the verge of being mesmerized by uncertainty. But we must move on.
      Some of us who have already begun to break the silence of the night have
      found that the calling to speak is often a vocation of agony. But we must
      speak. We must speak with all the humility that is appropriate to our
      limited vision, but we must speak. And we must rejoice as well, for in all
      our history there has never been such a monumental dissent during a war, by
      the American people.

      Polls reveal that almost fifteen million Americans explicitly oppose the war
      in Vietnam. Additional millions cannot bring themselves around to support
      it. And even those millions who do support the war are half-hearted,
      confused, and doubt-ridden. This reveals that millions have chosen to move
      beyond the prophesying of smooth patriotism, to the high grounds of firm
      dissent, based upon the mandates of conscience and the reading of history.
      Now, of course, one of the difficulties in speaking out today grows the fact
      that there are those who are seeking to equate dissent with disloyalty. It's
      a dark day in our nation when high-level authorities will seek to use every
      method to silence dissent. But something is happening, and people are not
      going to be silenced. The truth must be told, and I say that those who are
      seeking to make it appear that anyone who opposes the war in Vietnam is a
      fool or a traitor or an enemy of our soldiers is a person that has taken a
      stand against the best in our tradition.

      Yes, we must stand, and we must speak. I have moved to break the betrayal of
      my own silences and to speak from the burnings of my own heart, as I have
      called for radical departures from the destruction of Vietnam. Many persons
      have questioned me about the wisdom of my path. At the heart of their
      concerns, this query has often loomed large and loud: "Why are you speaking
      about the war, Dr. King? Why are you joining the voices of dissent?" Peace
      and civil rights don't mix, they say. And so this morning, I speak to you on
      this issue, because I am determined to take the Gospel seriously. And I come
      this morning to my pulpit to make a passionate plea to my beloved nation.

      This sermon is not addressed to Hanoi, or to the National Liberation Front.
      It is not addressed to China or to Russia. Nor is it an attempt to overlook
      the ambiguity of the total situation and the need for a collective solution
      to the tragedy of Vietnam. Nor is it an attempt to make North Vietnam or the
      National Liberation Front paragons of virtue, nor to overlook the role they
      must play in a successful resolution of the problem. This morning, however,
      I wish not to speak with Hanoi and the National Liberation Front, but rather
      to my fellow Americans, who bear the greatest responsibility, and entered a
      conflict that has exacted a heavy price on both continents.

      Now, since I am a preacher by calling, I suppose it is not surprising that I
      have seven major reasons for bringing Vietnam into the field of my moral
      vision. There is a very obvious and almost facile connection between the war
      in Vietnam and the struggle I and others have been waging in America. A few
      years ago there was a shining moment in that struggle. It seemed that there
      was a real promise of hope for the poor, both black and white, through the
      Poverty Program. There were experiments, hopes, and new beginnings. Then
      came the build-up in Vietnam. And I watched the program broken as if it was
      some idle political plaything of a society gone mad on war. And I knew that
      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. And you may
      not know it, my friends, but it is estimated that we spend $500,000 to kill
      each enemy soldier, 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.

      Perhaps the more tragic recognition of reality took place when it became
      clear to me that the war was doing far more than devastating the hopes of
      the poor at home. It was sending their sons, and their brothers, and their
      husbands to fight and die in extraordinarily high proportion relative to the
      rest of the population. We were taking the black young men who had been
      crippled by society and sending them eight thousand miles away to guarantee
      liberties in Southeast Asia which they had not found in Southwest Georgia
      and East Harlem. So we have been repeatedly faced with a cruel irony of
      watching Negro and white boys on TV screens as they kill and die together
      for a nation that has been unable to seat them together in the same school
      room. So we watch them in brutal solidarity, burning the huts of a poor
      village. But we realize that they would hardly live on the same block in
      Chicago or Atlanta. Now, I could not be silent in the face of such cruel
      manipulation of the poor.

      My third reason moves to an even deeper level of awareness, for it grows out
      of my experience in the ghettos of the North over the last three years
      especially the last three summers. As I have walked among the desperate,
      rejected, and angry young men, I have told them that Molotov cocktails and
      rifles would not solve their problems. I have tried to offer them my deepest
      compassion while maintaining my conviction that social change comes most
      meaningfully through non-violent action; for they ask and write me, "So what
      about Vietnam?" They ask if our nation wasn't using massive doses of
      violence to solve its problems to bring about the changes it wanted. Their
      questions hit home, and I knew that I could never again raise my voice
      against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without first having
      spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today: my
      own government.

      For the sake of those boys, for the sake of this government, for the sake of
      the hundreds of thousands trembling under our violence I cannot be silent.
      Been a lot of applauding over the last few years. They applauded our total
      movement; they've applauded me. America and most of its newspapers applauded
      me in Montgomery. And I stood before thousands of Negroes getting ready to
      riot when my home was bombed and said, we can't do it this way. They
      applauded us in the sit-in movement--we non-violently decided to sit in at
      lunch counters. The applauded us on the Freedom Rides when we accepted blows
      without retaliation. They praised us in Albany and Birmingham and Selma,
      Alabama. Oh, the press was so noble in its applause, and so noble in its
      praise when I was saying, Be non-violent toward Bull Connor; when I was
      saying, Be non-violent toward Selma, Alabama segregationist sheriff Jim
      Clark. There's something strangely inconsistent about a nation and a press
      that will praise you when you say, Be non-violent toward Jim Clark, but will
      curse and damn you when you say, "Be non-violent toward little brown
      Vietnamese children. There's something wrong with that press!

      As if the weight of such a commitment to the life and health of America were
      not enough, another burden of responsibility was placed upon me in 1964. And
      I cannot forget that the Nobel Peace Prize was not just something taking
      place, but it was a commission--a commission to work harder than I had ever
      worked before for the brotherhood of Man. This is a calling that takes me
      beyond national allegiances. But even if it were not present, I would yet
      have to live with the meaning of my commitment to the ministry of Jesus
      Christ. To me, the relationship of this ministry to the making of peace is
      so obvious that I sometimes marvel at those who ask me why I am speaking
      against the war. Could it be that they do not know that the Good News was
      meant for all men, for communists and capitalists, for their children and
      ours, for black and white, for revolutionary and conservative. Have they
      forgotten that my ministry is in obedience to the One who loved His enemies
      so fully that he died for them? What, then, can I say to the Vietcong, or to
      Castro, or to Mao, as a faithful minister to Jesus Christ? Can I threaten
      them with death, or must I not share with them my life? Finally, I must be
      true to my conviction that I share with all men the calling to be the son of
      the Living God. Beyond the calling of race or nation or creed is this
      vocation of sonship and brotherhood. And because I believe that the Father
      is deeply concerned, especially for His suffering and helpless and outcast
      children, I come today to speak for them. And as I ponder the madness of
      Vietnam and search within myself for ways to understand and respond in
      compassion, my mind goes constantly to the people of that peninsula.

      I speak not now of the soldiers of each side, not of the military government
      of Saigon, but simply of the people who have been under the curse of war for
      almost three continuous decades now.

      I think of them, too, because it is clear to me that there will be no
      meaningful solution until some attempt is made to know these people and hear
      their broken cries.

      Now, let me tell you the truth about it. They must see Americans as strange
      liberators. Do you realize that the Vietnamese people proclaimed their own
      independence in 1945 after a combined French and Japanese occupation. And
      incidentally, this was before the Communist revolution in China. They were
      led by Ho Chi Minh. And this is a little-known fact, and these people
      declared themselves independent in 1945. They quoted our Declaration of
      Independence in their document of freedom, and yet our government refused to
      recognize them. President Truman said they were not ready for independence.
      So we fell victim as a nation at that time of the same deadly arrogance that
      has poisoned the international situation for all of these years. France then
      set out to reconquer its former colony. And they fought eight long, hard,
      brutal years trying to re-conquer Vietnam. You know who helped France? It
      was the United States of America. It came to the point that we were meeting
      more than eighty percent of the war costs. And even when France started
      despairing of its reckless action, we did not. And in 1954, a conference was
      called at Geneva, and an agreement was reached, because France had been
      defeated at Dien Bien Phu. But even after that, and after the Geneva Accord,
      we did not stop. We must face the sad fact that our government sought, in a
      real sense, to sabotage the Geneva Accord. Well, after the French were
      defeated, it looked as if independence and land reform would come through
      the Geneva agreement. But instead the United States came and started
      supporting a man named Diem who turned out to be one of the most ruthless
      dictators in the history of the world. He set out to silence all opposition.
      People were brutally murdered because they raised their voices against the
      brutal policies of Diem. And the peasants watched and cringed as Diem
      ruthlessly rooted out all opposition. The peasants watched as all this was
      presided over by United States influence and by increasing numbers of United
      States troops who came to help quell the insurgency that Diem's methods had
      aroused. When Diem was overthrown, they may have been happy, but the long
      line of military dictatorships seemed to offer no real change, especially in
      terms of their need for land and peace.] And who are we supporting in
      Vietnam today? It's a man by the name of general, Ky Air Vice Marshal Nguyen
      Cao Ky who fought with the French against his own people, and who said on
      one occasion that the greatest hero of his life is Hitler. This is who we
      are supporting in Vietnam today. Oh, our government and the press generally
      won't tell us these things, but God told me to tell you this morning. The
      truth must be told.

      The only change came from America as we increased our troop commitments in
      support of governments which were singularly corrupt, inept, and without
      popular support and all the while the people read our leaflets and received
      regular promises of peace and democracy and land reform. Now they languish
      under our bombs and consider us, not their fellow Vietnamese, the real
      enemy. They move sadly and apathetically as we heard them off the land of
      their fathers into concentration camps, where minimal social needs are
      rarely met. They know they must move or be destroyed by our bombs. So they
      go, primarily women, and children and the aged. They watch as we poison
      their water, as we kill a million acres of their crops. They must weep as
      the bulldozers roar through their areas preparing to destroy the precious
      trees. They wander into the towns and see thousands of thousands of the
      children, homeless, without clothes, running in packs on the streets like

      They see the children degraded by our soldiers as they beg for food. They
      see the children selling their sisters to our soldiers, soliciting for their
      mothers. We have destroyed their two most cherished institutions: the family
      and the village. We have destroyed their land and their crops. We have
      cooperated in the crushing of the nation's only noncommunist revolutionary
      political force, the United Buddhist Church. This is a role our nation has
      taken, the role of those who make peaceful revolutions impossible but
      refusing to give up the privileges and the pleasures that comes from the
      immense profits of overseas investments. I'm convinced that if we are to get
      on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo 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, militarism and economic
      exploitation are incapable of being conquered.

      A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and
      justice of many of our present policies. On the one hand, we are called to
      play the Good Samaritan on life's roadside, but that will be only an initial
      act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho Road must be changed
      so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make
      their journey on life's highway. True compassion is more than flinging a
      coin to a beggar. A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the
      glaring contrast of poverty and wealth with righteous indignation. It will
      look across the seas and see individual capitalists of the West investing
      huge sums of money in Asia, Africa, and South America, only to take the
      profits out with no concern for the social betterment of the countries, and
      say, "This is not just." It will look at our alliance with the landed gentry
      of Latin America and say, "This is not just." The Western arrogance of
      feeling that it has everything to teach others and nothing to learn from
      them is not just. A true revolution of values will lay hands on the world
      order and say of war, "This way of settling differences is not just." This
      business of burning human beings with napalm, of filling our nation's homes
      with orphans and widows, of injecting poisonous drugs of hate into the veins
      of peoples normally humane, of sending men home from dark and bloody
      battlefields physically handicapped and psychologically deranged, cannot be
      reconciled with wisdom, justice, and love. A nation that continues year
      after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of
      social uplift is approaching spiritual death.

      Oh, my friends, if there is any one thing that we must see today is that
      these are revolutionary times. All over the globe men are revolting against
      old systems of exploitation and oppression, and out of the wounds of a frail
      world, new systems of justice and equality are being born. The shirtless and
      barefoot people of the land are rising up as never before. The people who
      sat in darkness have seen a great light. They are saying, unconsciously, as
      we say in one of our freedom songs, "Ain't gonna let nobody turn me around!"
      It is a sad fact that because of comfort, complacency, a morbid fear of
      communism, our proneness to adjust to injustice, the Western nations that
      initiated so much of the revolutionary spirit of the modern world have now
      become the arch anti-revolutionaries. This has driven many to feel that only
      Marxism has a revolutionary spirit. Therefore, communism is a judgment
      against our failure to make democracy real and follow through on the
      revolutions that we initiated. Our only hope today lies in our ability to
      recapture the revolutionary spirit and go out into a sometimes hostile world
      declaring eternal hostility to poverty, racism, and militarism. With this
      powerful commitment we shall boldly challenge the status quo, we shall
      boldly challenge unjust mores, and thereby speed up the day when "every
      valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and
      the rough places shall be made plain, and the crooked places straight. And
      the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it

      A genuine revolution of values means in the final analysis that our
      loyalties must become ecumenical rather than sectional. Every nation must
      now develop an overriding loyalty to mankind as a whole in order to preserve
      the best in their individual societies. This call for a worldwide fellowship
      that lifts neighborly concern beyond one's tribe, race, class, and nation is
      in reality a call for an all-embracing, unconditional love for all men. This
      oft misunderstood and misinterpreted concept, so readily dismissed by the
      Nietzsches of the world as a weak and cowardly force, has now become an
      absolute necessity for the survival of mankind. And when I speak of love I'm
      not speaking of some sentimental and weak response. I am speaking of that
      force which all of the great religions have seen as the supreme unifying
      principle of life. Love is somehow the key that unlocks the door which leads
      to ultimate reality. This Hindu-Muslim-Christian-Jewish-Buddhist belief
      about ultimate reality is beautifully summed up in the first epistle of
      John: "Let us love one another, for God is love. And every one that loveth
      is born of God and knoweth God. He that loveth not knoweth not God, for God
      is love. If we love one another, God dwelleth in us and his love is
      perfected in us."

      Let me say finally that I oppose the war in Vietnam because I love America.
      I speak out against this war, not in anger, but with anxiety and sorrow in
      my heart, and, above all, with a passionate desire to see our beloved
      country stand as the moral example of the world. I speak out against this
      war because I am disappointed with America. And there can be no great
      disappointment where there is not great love. I am disappointed with our
      failure to deal positively and forthrightly with the triple evils of racism,
      economic exploitation, and militarism. We are presently moving down a
      dead-end road that can lead to national disaster. America has strayed to the
      far country of racism and militarism. The home that all too many Americans
      left was solidly structured idealistically; its pillars were solidly
      grounded in the insights of our Judeo-Christian heritage. All men are made
      in the image of God. All men are bothers. All men are created equal. Every
      man is an heir to a legacy of dignity and worth. Every man has rights that
      are neither conferred by, nor derived from the State--they are God-given.
      Out of one blood, God made all men to dwell upon the face of the earth. What
      a marvelous foundation for any home! What a glorious and healthy place to
      inhabit. But America's strayed away, and this unnatural excursion has
      brought only confusion and bewilderment. It has left hearts aching with
      guilt and minds distorted with irrationality.

      It is time for all people of conscience to call upon America to come back
      home. Come home, America. I call on Washington today. I call on every man
      and woman of good will all over America today. I call on the young men of
      America who must make a choice today to take a stand on this issue. Tomorrow
      may be too late. And don't let anybody make you think that God chose America
      as his divine, messianic force to be a sort of policeman of the whole world.
      God has a way of standing before the nations with judgment, and it seems
      that I can hear God saying to America, "You're too arrogant! And if you
      don't change your ways, I will rise up and break the backbone of your power,
      and I'll place it in the hands of a nation that doesn't even know my name.
      Be still and know that I'm God."

      Now it isn't easy to stand up for truth and for justice. Sometimes it means
      being frustrated. When you tell the truth and take a stand, sometimes it
      means that you will walk the streets with a burdened heart. Sometimes it
      means losing a job...means being abused and scorned. It may mean having a
      seven, eight year old child asking a daddy, "Why do you have to go to jail
      so much?" I've long since learned that to be a follower to the Jesus Christ
      means taking up the cross. And my bible tells me that Good Friday comes
      before Easter. Before the crown we wear, there is the cross that we must
      bear. Let us bear it, bear it for truth, bear it for justice, and bear it
      for peace. Let us go out this morning with that determination. And I have
      not lost faith. I'm not in despair, because I know that there is a moral
      order. I haven't lost faith, because the arc of the moral universe is long,
      but it bends toward justice. We shall overcome because William Cullen Bryant
      was right: "Truth pressed to earth will rise again." We shall overcome
      because James Russell Lowell was right: "Truth forever on the scaffold,
      wrong forever on the throne." Yet, that scaffold sways the future. We shall
      overcome because the bible is right: "You shall reap what you sow." With
      this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of
      hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of
      our world into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will
      be able to speed up the day when justice will roll down like waters, and
      righteousness like a mighty stream. With this faith we will be able to speed
      up the day when the lion and the lamb will lie down together, and every man
      will sit under his own vine and fig tree, and none shall be afraid because
      the words of the Lord have spoken it. With this faith we will be able to
      speed up the day when all over the world we will be able to join hands and
      sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, "Free at last! Free at last!
      Thank God Almighty, we're free at last!" With this faith, we'll sing it as
      we're getting ready to sing it now. Men will beat their swords into
      plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. And nations will not rise up
      against nations, neither shall they study war anymore. And I don't know
      about you, I ain't gonna study war no more.

      [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
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