A year to the day before his assassination, Martin Luther King publicly and decisively denounced not only the US war in Vietnam but the militarism that enabled the war and undermined American society.
King’s Beyond Vietnam sermon, delivered on April 4, 1967, at New York’s Riverside Church, was as predictive as it was powerful and prophetic. Its meaning and value exist today as much as they did nearly 55 years ago.
King rightfully tied together the overarching and commanding militarism of the US with the economic, societal and cultural demons plaguing America. Much as President Dwight Eisenhower had done in his farewell address six years earlier, King set about to make clear the insidious nature of the reality of that militarism through not only overseas warfare and a controlling military-industrial complex but the demeaning and diminishing effects it had on the American people.
King understood and communicated the war in Vietnam as “a far deeper malady within the American spirit.” The shameful and hideous deaths it brought overseas were the substance of America’s wreckage. He summarized his purposes in opposing the war in Vietnam as an attempt to save America’s soul.
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