A Reflection on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence” Speech

Join us this Thursday, May 4, at Arts Riot in Burlington for this Community Reading. More details below.

One of Martin Luther King Jr.’s lesser known yet equally impactful speeches, “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence,” condemns the violence and atrocities committed by the U.S against the Vietnamese in their foolish bid to stop the spread of communism in Southeast Asia. He highlights the intricacies and parallels of the war waged in Vietnam and against the poor in the U.S as one reflected in the interactions between the three threats facing democracy — racism, classism, and militarism. The world’s strongest and largest military claiming aggression from a poor small country on the other side of the world and their continuous assault of defenseless Vietnamese villagers reads as bleak irony. He goes as far as to declare the U.S government as the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today, with such anti-American and anti-military sentiments later eroding his reputation and receiving widespread criticism, accusations of communist affiliation, and even mental instability.

He spoke to the hypocrisy of the American government; a nation defined by its commitment to freedom and independence yet contradictory in its support of France’s quest to reclaim their former colony. He emphasizes the imbalance of casualties felt by either side of the war, citing hospitals in Vietnam overcrowded with those injured from American firepower rather than the enemy Viet Cong, or National Liberation Front. Questioning the morality of sustaining an unjust war, he called for a unilateral ceasefire from all fronts and a massive upheaval of the American values praising the cause for war.

Giving a voice to the voiceless in Vietnam as well as the often ignored American poor even at the risk of losing most of his popular support struck a chord with me. In calling out the contradictory actions of his own government, he exposed flaws within what we as Americans prioritize over livable wages, universal healthcare, affordable housing, and equal opportunity transcending class, race, and gender. His condemnation of the ever-expanding military industrial complex rings true, especially in today’s political climate with President Trump’s proposed $54 billion increase to military spending at the expense of the Environmental Protection Agency, the State Department, and numerous welfare and aid programs. Beyond Vietnam and continuing today, Martin Luther King’s urgent call to action for social change through nonviolence lives on.

by Kira Nemeth, PJC Programming Intern

Stand Against Racism Community Reading of MLK Speech: “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence”

Join the Peace & Justice Center as we collaborate with the YWCA, and Vietnam Peace Commemoration Committee as part of nationwide events that each group is hosting. We will share a community reading of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s speech just after its 50th anniversary. One year before his assassination, Dr. King eloquently (and controversially) linked together the struggles for peace in Vietnam and for economic and racial justice at home. $15.00 Suggested Donation, no one turned away for lack of money.

5:30pm: Doors Open, Supper and Cash Bar
6:30pm: Opening Remarks and Reading
7:30pm: Coffee and Dessert

ArtsRiot, 400 Pine St, Burlington

More info on facebook.