The Public Square

Conrad Wetzel on Martin Luther King’s 1967 speech, “Beyond Vietnam—A Time to Break Silence.


My name is Conrad Wetzel, and I am resident of Champaign and a member of AWARE, the local Anti-War Anti-Racism Effort. My comment is about "Renewing America's Promise of Peace and Justice."

This year Martin Luther King Day is on Monday, January 19. On April 4, 1967, at Riverside Church in New York City, exactly one year before his assassination, Dr. King gave his prophetic speech, "Beyond Vietnam -- A Time to Break Silence." In this speech, King spoke strongly against the United States' role in the war in Viet Nam, contending that our country needed larger and broader moral changes. He stated, "A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth that goes hand in hand with this war."

Some of King's friends in the civil rights movement tried to persuade him that his focus on the Viet Nam war would distract too much from their efforts in the civil rights movement. But King insisted on a direct relationship between the war and the oppression and poverty of the black people, arguing that the war took money and resources that could have been spent on social welfare services like the War on Poverty. The U. S. Congress was spending more and more on the military and at the same time less and less on anti-poverty programs. King stated, "A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death". King's message continues to be highly relevant to our current engagement in wars in the Middle East.

Martin Luther King Day falls on the day before the inauguration of President-elect Barack Obama. Obama is calling on Americans across the nation to volunteer in the Martin Luther King Day of Service on January 19. Obama said, "I will ask for your service and your active citizenship when I am president of the United States."

On Sunday, January 18th, 2-4 PM at the Champaign Public Library, AWARE will be hosting an event, "Renewing America's Promise of Peace and Justice." This will include King's speech, "Beyond Vietnam -- A Time to Break Silence," followed by a panel of speakers looking at current American policy in light of what King pointed out forty two years ago. Please join us for this event on Sunday, January 18th, 2-4 PM at the Champaign Public Library.