Download Beyond Vietnam Study Guide

Subscribe Now

Summary

Delivered in New York at the height of the Vietnam War in 1967, “Beyond Vietnam” is Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s powerful call to America to end the Vietnam War, as well as to change the values that lead to all such morally dubious wars. King begins his argument with the statement that though opposing his government’s policy at a time of war is difficult, his conscience “leaves him with no other choice.” As a leader of the civil rights movement, his choice to denounce the Vietnam War may seem paradoxical to many—after all, King exhorts people to “fight” for their rights—but in fact, opposing the war is a natural progression of King’s beliefs. King goes on to present seven reasons why he condemns the war.

Firstly, King argues, the war came at a time when the American government had just launched a poverty program which promised to alleviating the suffering of the poor, especially minorities. However, the “buildup” in Vietnam diverted the government’s attention and funds away from this program. Thus, the war in Vietnam is actually a war against two sets of disadvantaged people: the peasants of Vietnam and the impoverished minorities of the United States.

In his second point, King highlights the irony in the false narrative of interracial brotherhood among soldiers, while segregation continues at home. Black soldiers are regularly conscripted to the Vietnamese countryside to die and kill next to their white brothers, whereas the truth is that in a city like Chicago, the two communities “would not live on the same block.” To King, the propaganda of solidarity appears a “brutal manipulation of the poor.”

King’s third objection arises from a deeper, personal conflict with his own self. As a Christian minister and a proponent of nonviolent protest, King often advises angry, embittered youth to shun violence. But King’s advice rings hollow to his own ears, considering his nation is waging a brutal war on a poorer country. Thus, to resolve the anomalies in his own ideological position, King condemns the Vietnam War.

Fourthly, King states that he must oppose the war because he considers himself a true patriot whose mandate is to “save the soul of America.” To this end, he poses a rhetorical question: how can he be a true American without protecting the integrity of American values? To those who think his views on Vietnam might distract from his work for civil rights, King says his project is not just to free an enslaved people, but also to rescue America from the very tradition of slavery.

As the fifth reason for opposing the war, King presents his commitment to his Nobel Peace Prize, which he recognizes not just as an award but a directive to work for global peace.

Further, as a Christian minister, peace and love toward mankind are his only logical action. So crystal-clear is the convergence of his political views and his Christian duty that King marvels at those who ask him why he is speaking out against the war in Vietnam.

Finally, he truly believes that God wants him to speak out for the rights of His helpless and outcast children, irrespective of nationality. Christ wants His minister to partake in universal “brotherhood and sonship” beyond borders; therefore, King is compelled to advocate for the disadvantaged.

Having laid out his reasons for protesting the war in Vietnam, King proceeds to succinctly deconstruct its realities for his audience and urges them to view the war through the eyes of the Vietnamese people. Thus, King appeals to both the intellect and the emotions of his audience. King contends that Americans—both soldiers and civilians—have been fed a cocktail of lies about the war effort in Vietnam. Were Americans to unpack the propaganda behind the war, they, too, would join King in condemning it.

King first describes the futility of the US joining the Vietnam War. Although the Vietnamese people had liberated themselves from French and Japanese rule in 1945, America decided to...

(The entire section is 1,220 words.)