Martin Luther King's sermon, “Beyond Vietnam - a Time to Break Silence” given at Riverside Church in New York, April 4, 1967
Martin Luther King’s sermon, “Beyond Vietnam – a Time to Break Silence” given at Riverside Church in New York, April 4, 1967

Written on the Forty-fifth Anniversary of the Assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.

At home, on TV, American kids watch machine gun thrillers and news videos of US soldiers and planes killing bad guys in six or seven countries at a time. ln school they learn that in 1968, beloved national hero Martin Luther King Jr. was shot dead by a man who hated black people.

Someone should check how many schoolchildren get to learn the words that Martin Luther King Jr. cried out in solemn and serious outrage, one year to the day before he was murdered; words that made headlines across the whole world. King condemned US wars and covert violence in small nations on three continents as meant to maintain unjust predatory investments!

The greatest purveyor of violence in the world today is my own government. For the sake of the hundreds of thousands trembling under our violence, I cannot be silent. 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 country. This is a role our nation has taken, … refusing to give up the privileges and the pleasures that comes from the immense profits of overseas investments … This is not just … our alliance with the landed gentry of South America, “This is not just.”

King speaking of the Vietnamese suffering during the then ongoing US undeclared war in Vietnam:

We have corrupted their women and children and killed their men. They move sadly and apathetically as we herd them off the land of their fathers into concentration camps where minimal social needs are rarely met. They know they must move on or be destroyed by our bombs … primarily women and children and the aged 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 hospitals. So far we may have killed a million of them, [in Vietnam by 1967] mostly children. They wander into the towns and see thousands of the children, homeless, without clothes, running in packs on the streets like animals. 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.

What do the peasants think as we ally ourselves with the landlords and as we refuse to put any action into our many words concerning land reform?

What do they think as we test out our latest weapons on them, just as the Germans tested out new medicine and new tortures in the concentration camps of Europe? Where are the roots of the independent Vietnam we claim to be building? Is it among these voiceless ones?

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 — in the crushing of the unified Buddhist Church. We have supported the enemies of the peasants of Saigon.

A time comes when silence is betrayal. I have moved to break the betrayal of my own silences and to speak from the burnings of my own heart … to move beyond smooth patriotism to firm dissent based conscience and the reading of history.”

Bring up these words of King’s in conversation with people who are under sixty, and likely as not, the listener will look confused or even angry that you are saying something awful about the most honored American of our time.

For forty-five years US corporate owned and operated media, promoting and justifying all US wars, has made sure that not only American children, but the rest of its world-wide audience as well, hear or read nothing of King’s blistering condemnation of US wars in small countries of the third world during his sermon on April 4th, 1967.

Would people who were children at the time not be astounded to learn that the day after King thundered about a US history of atrocities, one hundred and sixty-eight major newspapers had denounced King, some with venom, the New York Times and Washington Post among the most insulting of King for his condemnation of undeclared US wars.

(To this writers knowledge, none of these newspapers has ever printed a retraction or apology, even when King’s birthday was made a public holiday – presently the only America so honored. This attacking of Rev. King seems small compared to the crimes against humanity of US media having, in lock-step, promoted and justified the US war in Vietnam and every subsequent undeclared war.)

In the America that today dutifully supports the undeclared wars begun now by a black president no less, the blackout of King the condemner of his governments “atrocity wars” has become literally absolute.

Unions, whose members have marched against the wars in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan refuse to endorse a campaign for international awareness that King Condemned US Wars, a campaign already endorsed by progressive celebrities and virtually every sincere peace and antiwar organization in the country.

Even two large unions in New York, 1199 International Service Workers and Local 802 Musicians Union, AFL, whose auditoriums are often used by antiwar and anti-nuke events, decline. After months of contacting officials, as advised by its well known president, the final rebuff came, “… not at this time.” But if one enters the lobby of the 1199 building, one is likely see and hear a large TV set playing a tape of a Martin Luther King Jr. speech on civil rights.

So taboo is the subject of King’s heartfelt call for America to halt its homicidal violence in Vietnam, that the two men who had held the dying King in their arms, Andrew Young and Jesse Jackson during their long speeches at the unveiling of the King Monument in Washington, made no mention of King’s condemnation of his nation’s undeclared wars. (One notes that surely this was a grievous example of a betrayal by omission, a silence of betrayal, betrayal of country and of King and his dedication as a minister.)

Would it not seem strange to learn, that during all these years, the mainstream media has not found the either brave or outrageous moments of the last year of a famous personality like King, worthy of exploring as a human interest discussion? Suspicious, right? Must be an important reason behind such a complete blackout of history. Slowly, one might mull over how tightly tied media has become tied to the military and corporate governance supported undeclared wars.

One could begin to imagine that investors in war on Wall Street must have been relieved that King was stopped from carrying through his intention to stop a Vietnam war that was at the time only half-way through. The question might arise, was it fortunate for investors that King’s antiwar crusade was stopped in its tracks or was it necessary that he be stopped.

From here, it is only one step away from beginning to question the flimsy and fantastic official story of King’s murder. (Shades of the JFK assassination story that includes the stranger than strange murder of the presumed assassin.)

CNN: “A high-school dropout and small-time criminal broke out of a Missouri prison in 1967 and onto the international stage on April 4, 1968.”

King’s friend and colleague James Bevel put bluntly: “There is no way a ten-cent white boy could develop a plan to kill a million-dollar black man.”[ At Canaan’s Edge. Simon & Schuster. 2006. p.770]]

A straight forward Wikipedia article relates the simple most important facts:

The impending occupation of Washington D.C. by the Poor People’s Campaign has been suggested by some as a possible primary motive for a federal assassination.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation took responsibility for investigating King’s death. Its head. J. Edgar Hoover, had previously made efforts to undermine King’s reputation, had tapped his phone, etc., and today is known to have despised him.

Two months after King’s death, escaped convict James Earl Ray was captured at London Heathrow Airport while trying to leave the United Kingdom for Angola, Rhodesia or South Africa on a false Canadian passport. Ray charged with King’s murder, confessing to the assassination on March 10, 1969 (although he recanted this confession three days later).

On the advice of his attorney Percy Foreman, Ray took a guilty plea to avoid a trial conviction and thus the possibility of receiving the death penalty. He confessed and was sentenced, but promptly recanted and attempted to be tried on an innocent plea. Ray was sentenced to a 99-year prison term.

Ray fired Foreman as his attorney (from then on derisively calling him “Percy Fourflusher”) claiming that a man he met in Montreal, Canada with the alias “Raul” was involved, as was his brother Johnny, but not himself, further asserting through his attorney Jack Kershaw that although he did not “personally shoot King,” he may have been “partially responsible without knowing it,” hinting at a conspiracy.

Ray spent the remainder of his life attempting (unsuccessfully) to withdraw his guilty plea and secure the trial he never had. In 1997, Martin Luther King’s son Dexter King met with Ray, and publicly supported Ray’s efforts to obtain a retrial.

June 1977, Ray testified that he did not shoot King to the House Select Committee on Assassinations.

The two separate ballistic tests conducted on the Remington Gamemaster allegedly used by Ray in the assassination did not match the bullet to the gun. Moreover, witnesses surrounding King at the moment of the shooting say the shot was fired from a different location, from behind thick shrubbery near the rooming house, and not from the rooming house window.

In 1999, the King family conducted a civil case to consider the existence of an assassination conspiracy. The suit (for wrongful death) mentioned only Loyd Jowers by name, but also alleged government involvement.

The jury –six blacks and six whites—found that King had been the victim of assassination by a conspiracy involving the Memphis police as well as federal agencies. This verdict affirmed Ray’s innocence, which the King family has always maintained.

At a news conference afterward, King’s widow and children made it clear that they considered the case now closed. The ”most incredible coverup of the century” has now been exposed, said Dexter Scott King, one of Dr. King’s four children. ”We know what happened,” Mr. King said. ”This is the period at the end of the sentence. So please, after today, we don’t want questions like ‘Do you believe James Earl Ray killed your father?’ I’ve been hearing that all my life. No, I don’t, and this is the end of it.”

Many documents pertaining to this investigation remain classified, and are slated to remain secret until 2027.

The belittling attitude of US media toward the trial was indicated by the title of the New York Times article covering it: “Dr. King’s Slaying Finally Draws A Jury Verdict, but to Little Effect” The Federal Government as well, managed to dismiss it as inconclusive and unworthy of further interest.

Not to belabor the point or any implied insinuation, but it seems the violent history of the American empire is replete with stories of seemingly pointless assassinations of a peculiar nature always characterized by media as senseless acts of individuals acting on their own, assassinations that nevertheless brought investment opportunities for investors on Wall Street either by chance or plan.

Off the top of the head, the following assassinations come to mind:

•Profitable war threatening Martin Luther King

•Independent Black economic power leader Malcolm X,

•Idol of the anti-Vietnam War movement John Lennon – wrote and recorded “Give Peace a Chance“. sung by a quarter of a million demonstrators against the Vietnam War in Washington, DC,

•The very effective Chicago tenement organizer Fred Hampton,

•Teamsters Union Leader Jimmy Hoffa, scheduled to testify before US Senate Church Committee investigation illegal activities of war involved US intelligence organizations.

•Populist-socialist Governor of Louisiana and national figure contesting immoral capitalism Huey Long

•Carpet bagging profits interfering President Abraham Lincoln.

•President Kennedy and his brother Robert? (There has been some theorizing about a battle between old Wall Street money and new Texas oil money influence. We just note that something with financial conflict overtones has been batted about to round out this list of curious circumstances of a possible speculative investment banking community elite or renegade activity.

Howard Zinn, rest his soul, made a supreme effort to encourage antiwar and peace organizations to regularly quote from Martin Luther King Jr.’s Beyond Vietnam sermon. Zinn fostered the creation of the King Condemned US Wars International Awareness Campaign. Its website lists the endorsements of most every sincerely antiwar organization and a few celebrities. However, none of these organizations and celebrities have followed through, either with quoting King in sound bite, or in following King’s self-admonishment for putting the issue of Americans murdering the poor abroad second to focusing on issues of racial and economic injustice of Americans to Americans at home.

Here we are at another anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., modestly being noticed by the few, like yours truly, dedicated to stopping Americans from continuing to slaughter human beings for the international community of speculating investors in war.

Except for the bullet to his head King would have led us in stopping the unlawful, (precedentedly ‘lawful’) 2nd holocaust that was the Vietnam War, just a he had led us in stopping the worst of the unlawful (conspiracy made ‘lawful’) crimes against the African American descendants of (unlawful, made ‘lawful’) slavery.

King, a charismatic figure of proven revolutionary leadership ability, even considering a run for the presidency, with all the national debates that would have come about, was a threat to the security of the billions of dollar investments in the Vietnam War.

Today, there is no one to frighten the investors in wars of subjugation and re-colonialization of the non-white world, and King’s condemnation of US wars for profit have been successfully buried along with his body. But words of wisdom have an almost infinitely longer lifetime than the brother or sister who spoke them.

King’s non-violent example will also reemerge, and perhaps be enough to rekindle that spirit in others to lead us in King and Gandhi’s footsteps.

Readers so motivated or inclined may visit the websites of two groups of such rekindled spirits, which solicit neither contributions of money nor joining in the activities of anyone else, and are offered merely as educational tools in the manner of peoples historian Howard Zinn, upon whose suggestion and in whose name they were created – with an expected snowball effect in mind.

King Condemned US Wars International Awareness Campaign

– which contains a link to:

Prosecute US Crimes Against Humanity Now Campaign, which features the pertinent laws, exhortations America’s leading dissidents and a country by country (19 and counting) history of US crimes. Dissident Voice Newsletter supports the campaign to prosecute US crimes against humanity now.

For those interested, further excerpts continue from the Martin Luther King Jr. sermon “Beyond Vietnam – a Time to Break Silence” given at Riverside Church in New York, April 4, 1967

are gathered below:

I come to this platform tonight to make a passionate plea to my beloved nation.

Tonight I wish to speak to my fellow Americans.

I was increasingly compelled to see the war as an enemy of the poor and to attack it as such … 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.

Perhaps a 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 to die in extraordinarily high proportions relative to the rest of the population. I could not be silent in the face of such cruel manipulation of the poor.

They ask if our own 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 having first 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 … 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. So it is that those of us who are yet determined that America will be — are — are led down the path of protest and dissent, working for the health of our land.

the ministry of Jesus Christ…was meant for all men — for Communist and capitalist, for their children and ours, for black and for white, for revolutionary and conservative?

We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for the victims of our nation and for those it calls “enemy,” – these humans any less our brothers.

They must see Americans as strange liberators. The Vietnamese people proclaimed their own independence in 1945, after a combined French and Japanese occupation. They were led by Ho Chi Minh. Even though they quoted the American Declaration of Independence in their own document of freedom, we refused to recognize them. Instead, we decided to support France in its reconquest of her former colony.

For the peasants this new government meant real land reform, one of the most important needs in their lives.

For nine years following 1945 we denied the people of Vietnam the right of independence. For nine years we vigorously supported the French in their abortive effort to recolonize Vietnam. Before the end of the war we were meeting eighty percent of the French war costs… We encouraged them with our huge financial and military supplies to continue the war even after they had lost the will. Soon we would be paying almost the full costs of this tragic attempt at recolonization.

After the French were defeated, it looked as if independence and land reform would come again through the Geneva Agreement. – we supported one of the most vicious modern dictators, our chosen man, Diem.

Where are the roots of the independent Vietnam we claim to be building? Is it among these voiceless ones?

Now there is little left to build on, save bitterness. Soon, the only solid — solid physical foundations remaining will be found at our military bases and in the concrete of the concentration camps we call “fortified hamlets.” The peasants may well wonder if we plan to build our new Vietnam on such grounds as these. Could we blame them for such thoughts?

We must speak for them and raise the questions they cannot raise. These, too, are our brothers.

Perhaps a more difficult but no less necessary task is to speak for those who have been designated as our enemies. What of the National Liberation Front, that strangely anonymous group we call “VC” or “communists”? What must they think of the United States of America when they realize that we permitted the repression and cruelty of Diem, which helped to bring them into being as a resistance group in the South? What do they think of our condoning the violence which led to their own taking up of arms? How can they believe in our integrity when now we speak of “aggression from the North” as if there were nothing more essential to the war? How can they trust us when now we charge them with violence after the murderous reign of Diem and charge them with violence while we pour every new weapon of death into their land? Surely we must understand their feelings, even if we do not condone their actions.

Surely we must see that the men we supported pressed them to their violence. Surely we must see that our own computerized plans of destruction simply dwarf their greatest acts.

How do they judge us when our officials know that their membership is less than twenty-five percent communist, and yet insist on giving them the blanket name? What must they be thinking when they know that we are aware of their control of major sections of Vietnam, and yet we appear ready to allow national elections in which this highly organized political parallel government will not have a part?

They ask how we can speak of free elections when the Saigon press is censored and controlled by the military junta. And they are surely right to wonder what kind of new government we plan to help form without them, the only party in real touch with the peasants. They question our political goals and they deny the reality of a peace settlement from which they will be excluded.

Their questions are frighteningly relevant. Is our nation planning to build on political myth again, and then shore it up upon the power of new violence?

Here is the true meaning and value of compassion and nonviolence, when it helps us to see the enemy’s point of view, to hear his questions, to know his assessment of ourselves. For from his view we may indeed 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.

So, too, with Hanoi. In the North, where our bombs now pummel the land, and our mines endanger the waterways, we are met by a deep but understandable mistrust. After 1954, they watched us conspire to prevent elections which could have surely brought Ho Chi Minh to power over a united Vietnam, and they realized they had been betrayed again. Ho Chi Minh has watched as America has spoken of peace and built up its forces,he hears the most powerful nation of the world speaking of aggression as it drops thousands of bombs on a poor, weak nation more than eight hundred — rather, eight thousand miles away from its shores.

the more sophisticated surely realize that we are on the side of the wealthy, and the secure, while we create a hell for the poor.

Somehow this madness must cease. We must stop now. I speak for those whose land is being laid waste, whose homes are being destroyed, whose culture is being subverted. I speak of the — for the poor of America who are paying the double price of smashed hopes at home, I speak as a citizen of the world, for the world as it stands aghast at the path we have taken. “Americans are forcing even their friends into becoming their enemies. The image of America will never again be the image of revolution, freedom, and democracy, but the image of violence and militarism” (King quoted the message of “the great Buddhist leaders of Vietnam”).

The world now 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. In order to atone for our sins and errors in Vietnam, … we must make what reparations we can for the damage we have done. We must provide the medical aid that is badly needed, making it available in this country, if necessary. Meanwhile — Meanwhile, we in the churches and synagogues have a continuing task while we urge our government to disengage itself from a disgraceful commitment. We must continue to raise our voices and our lives if our nation persists in its perverse ways in Vietnam. We must be prepared to match actions with words by seeking out every creative method of protest possible.

As we counsel young men concerning military service, we must clarify for them our nation’s role in Vietnam and challenge them with the alternative of conscientious objection. and I recommend it to all who find the American course in Vietnam a dishonorable and unjust one.

Moreover, I would encourage all ministers of draft age to give up their ministerial exemptions and seek status as conscientious objectors. Every man of humane convictions must decide on the protest that best suits his convictions, but we must all protest.

The war in Vietnam is but a symptom of a far deeper malady within the American spirit, and if we ignore this … we will find ourselves organizing “clergy and laymen concerned” about Guatemala — 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.

During the past ten years, we have seen emerge a pattern of suppression which has now justified the presence of U.S. military advisors in Venezuela. This need to maintain social stability for our investments accounts for the counterrevolutionary action of American forces in Guatemala. It tells why American helicopters are being used against guerrillas in Cambodia and why American napalm and Green Beret forces have already been active against rebels in Peru.

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, extreme materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.

A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast

A true revolution of values will lay hand 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.

Let us not join those who shout war Every nation must now develop an overriding loyalty to mankind as a whole in order to preserve the best in their individual societies.

We must find new ways to speak for peace in Vietnam and justice throughout the developing world,Once to every man and nation comes a moment to decide,
And if we will only make the right choice, we will be able to transform this pending cosmic elegy … If we will make the right choice, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our world into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. If we will but make the right choice,

A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth.

Jay Janson is an archival research peoples historian activist, musician and writer; has lived and worked on all continents; articles on media published in China, Italy, UK, India and the US; now resides in NYC; First effort was a series of articles on deadly cultural pollution endangering seven areas of life emanating from Western corporate owned commercial media published in Hong Kong’s Window Magazine 1993; Howard Zinnlent his name to various projects of his; Global Research; Information Clearing House; Counter Currents, Kerala, India; Minority Perspective, UK; Dissident Voice, Uruknet; Ethiopian Review; Palestine Chronicle; India Times; Ta Kung Bao; China Daily; South China Morning Post; Come Home America; OpEdNews; HistoryNews Network; Vermont Citizen News have published his articles; 300 of which are available at: click ; Weekly column, South China Morning Post, 1986-87; reviews for Ta Kung Bao; article China Daily, 1989. Is coordinator and founder of the King Condemned US Wars International Awareness Campaign and originator of Prosecute US Crimes Against Humanity Now Campaign featuring a country by country history of US crimes.



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