In this issue of Sojourners, we have reprinted Martin Luther King Jr.'s 1967 speech "Beyond Vietnam" and Vincent Harding's reflections on its significance today. Although we rarely print a previously published article and even more rarely one that is almost 16 years old, two major considerations moved us to make an exception this month. One is, of course, that King's birthday on Jan. 15 makes this issue an appropriate one in which to recall his life and message. But more important, as Harding makes plain, King's speech carries a compelling, prophetic word for our current political and economic situation.
King's speech was a powerful moral indictment of the Vietnam War, including a summary of Vietnam's history that laid bare the falsehoods underlying U.S. involvement. That in itself is a story worth retelling at a time when our president frequently revives those falsehoods in his public statements.
King also suggested that the crisis precipitated by the Vietnam War pointed to deeper questions about both the United States' role in the world and its domestic political and economic institutions. To King in 1967, the war was the most recent evidence that the U.S. had chosen to be on the wrong side of a global revolution and that this choice had been dictated by what he called "the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism" dominating American society. In short, King urged his audience to ask some very fundamental and even radical questions about what kind of country the U.S. was going to be in the remainder of the 20th century.