On Rev. Martin Luther King Day I always reflect on the last year of his life. He kicked it off with his speech "Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break the Silence" at New York’s Riverside Church, April 4, 1967, ahead of a massive antiwar rally eleven days later. A college senior at the time, I engaged a bit in both civil rights and antiwar advocacy and was thrilled King was linking them together. I even made the April 15th New York rally my one antiwar foray out of Chicago.
Though he long opposed the war privately as a cruel and senseless waste of resources needed to uplift US society, King was reluctant to go public at a time mainstream US political culture still largely supported it. But as King said so well: "A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death."
Alas, King’s trepidation was realized as political leaders including President Johnson, major media outlets like the Washington Post and Life Magazine, union officials; even previously sympathetic whites distanced themselves from King’s righteous attack against America’s self-destructive war against the imaginary communist bogeyman.
A year to the day later King was gunned down; his anti-Vietnam War opposition sadly relegated to a footnote in his magnificent life’s journey. But it should not be as 56 years on America still fails to heed his warning that the perpetual wars of this century are continuing our inexorable road to spiritual death.
Walt Zlotow became involved in antiwar activities upon entering University of Chicago in 1963. He is current president of the West Suburban Peace Coalition based in the Chicago western suburbs. He blogs daily on antiwar and other issues at www.heartlandprogressive.blogspot.com.