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Gary Younge
Time to break silence

This Martin Luther King day it is time to break with tradition. Rather than endlessly replay his most famous speech - I have a dream - it might make more sense to concentrate on his most pertinent for our era - Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence.

King's views on racial harmony and how to achieve it remain key and his speech at the March on Washington - arguably one of the best ever delivered in the English language - remains vintage. But Americans have always found it easier to co-opt his views on racial equality - in principle although clearly not in practice - than they ever have his take on US imperialism.

After he spoke out against the war in Vietnam in 1967 his then deputy Andrew Young described the response thus:

"Nationally, the reaction was like a torrent of hate and venom. This man who had been respected worldwide as a Nobel Prize winner and as the only person in America who was advocating change without violence, suddenly applied his nonviolence ethic and practice to the realm of foreign policy. And no, people said, it's all right for black people to be nonviolent when they're dealing with white people, but white people don't need to be nonviolent when they're dealing with brown people. As a Nobel Prize winner we expected people not to agree with it, but to take it seriously. We didn't get that. We got an emotional outburst attacking his right to have an opinion."

Iraq is not Vietnam. But there are many clear parallels. Change China for Iran in this quote from King's speech delivered at the Riverside Church in New York on April 4 1967 and those parallels become clear.

"If we continue there will be no doubt in my mind and in the mind of the world that we have no honorable intentions in Vietnam. It will become clear that our minimal expectation is to occupy it as an American colony and men will not refrain from thinking that our maximum hope is to goad China into a war so that we may bomb her nuclear installations. If we do not stop our war against the people in Vietnam immediately, the world will be left with no alternative than to see this as some horribly clumsy and deadly game we have decided to play."

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The Speech: The Story Behind Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Dream
book review
“The speech is profoundly and willfully misunderstood,” says King’s longtime friend Vincent Harding.
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