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King and Vietnam

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"King and Vietnam"

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From “Why I Am Opposed to the War in Vietnam”, April 30 1967:

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.

It’s a searing moment because the silence in the face of moral crisis of which King speaks is no mere cowardice or opportunism. King’s life and career have been dedicated to the Civil Rights movement — to the cause of bettering the well-being of African-Americans. And from the death of Abraham Lincoln until the present day, that cause’s most crucial ally has been Lyndon Johnson who in a monumental act of political courage chose finally to decisively align the Democratic Party with the cause of Civil Rights dooming its political coalition to oblivion.

And yet here in Vietnam was Johnson’s war. A Johnson increasingly in political trouble from his left. A Johnson who could very much use the support of a Martin Luther King. Indeed, a Johnson who in many ways deserves the support of a Martin Luther King. To ask a man to publicly defend a war he deplores would be too much. But would it really be so much to ask King to simply stay quiet — to focus on his core issues, and praise Johnson on those terms — not for King’s own sake but for the sake of his movement? Who then or now would blame the great Civil RIghts leader for standing behind the great Civil Rights president? But he came to believe that it couldn’t be done. That wrong was wrong and someone had to say so.

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