Address by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
April 15 Mobilization to End the War in Vietnam
New York City
Saturday, April 15, 1967
See also Dr. King Opposes
Vietnam War and Vietnam War
& Civil Rights Movement for web links.
[Eleven days after
publicly declaring his opposition to the Vietnam War in
Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break
Silence, Dr. King gave this address to 125,000 protesters who
had marched from New York City's Central Park to the United Nations
building. This was the first of the many mass (100,000+) marches against
the Vietnam War that occurred between 1967 and 1975.]
I come to participate in this significant demonstration today
because my conscience leaves me no other choice. I join you in
this mobilization because I cannot be a silent onlooker while
evil rages. I am here because I agree with Dante, that: "The
hottest places in hell are reserved for those who, in a period of
moral crisis, maintain their neutrality." In these days of
emotional tension, when the problems of the world are gigantic in
extent and chaotic in detail, there is no greater need than for
sober thinking, mature judgment, and creative dissent.
In all our history there has never been such a monumental dissent
during a war by the American people. Polls reveal more than ten
million explicitly oppose the war. Additional millions cannot
bring themselves to support it, and millions who do assent to it
are half-hearted, confused and doubt-ridden.
Tens of thousands of our deepest thinkers in the academic and
intellectual community are adamantly opposed to the war;
distinguished church and theological leaders of every race and
religion are morally outraged by it; and many young people in all
walks of life believe it a corruption of every American value
they have been taught to respect. Let no one claim there is a
consensus for this war — no flag waving, no smug
satisfaction with territorial conquest, no denunciation of the
enemy can obscure the truth that many millions of patriotic
Americans repudiate this war and refuse to take moral
responsibility for it.
Nor can the fact be obscured that our nation is increasingly
becoming an object of scorn around the globe. The respect we won
when our course was right is rapidly being lost as even our
closest allies leave our side embarrassed with our pretense that
we are bearers of a moral crusade.
The physical tolls of this bloody, costly and futile war
literally stagger the imagination. We see the nightmare in our
living rooms in all their tragic dimensions on television
screens. We see the rice fields of a small Asian country trampled
at will and burned at whim, We see grief-stricken mothers with
crying babies clutched in their arms as they watch their little
huts burst into flames; we see fields and valleys of battle
painted with mankind's blood; and the ultimate horror is that we
see little children mutilated and incinerated with napalm.
Even closer to us in our own neighborhoods and in our own
families we learn of American youth destroyed and maimed in
savage combat. American mothers and fathers are given coffins and
medals, crippled sons, and pious praise. And yet, many of them
are bold enough to declare their sacrifice has no meaning. They
have suffered the ultimate loss and from it feel a sense of no
gain. There is a quiet terror in the home of every draft-eligible
boy as families contemplate possible death that waits in jungle
depths for our sons and husbands.
The American people have freely given their lives in many
struggle where genuine American interests were threatened. In its
deepest sense the immorality of this war lies in the tragic fact
that no vital American interest is in peril or in jeopardy. We
are waging war in a contest that is fully capable of resolution
by peaceful means. American and Vietnamese lives are being
snuffed out in terrifying and unspeakable combat when issues can
be settled by political methods.
I express here not merely my own opinion, but many of the
thoughts of some of our nation's foremost statesmen, leading
newspapers, outstanding historians, and political scientists.
This judgment is shared by heads of nations who have been our
allies in peace and war; by the Secretary General of the United
Nations, U Thant; by Pope Paul and countless eminent world
figures. This war cries out to be brought to an end. Yet we are
told it must be continued because in some mysterious manner if we
make a move toward peace without significant concessions from
Hanoi, a catastrophic world defeat awaits us.
There is not a shred of substance in this argument. The power we
possess is titanic. It can neither be lost nor diminished by
unilateral initiatives for peace on our part. It is hard to
believe, in the words of U Thant, "That the United States, with
power and wealth unprecedented in human history cannot afford to
take this initiative."
We took the initiative to enlarge the war on land, on the sea,
and in the air. We are strong enough to take the initiative to
end it. I am not absolving Hanoi nor the Viet Cong of their
responsibilities, nor do I condone certain rigid attitudes. I am
not naive enough, however, to think that they will come to a
conference table while clouds of bombs are driving them into bomb
shelters. As an American my duty is to speak to my government.
Even if my philosophy is not welcomed in an other country, I must
constantly strive to make it welcomed in Washington.
Recently one of the great Buddhist leaders of Vietnam wrote these
words: "Each day the war goes on the hatred increases in the
hearts of the Vietnamese and in the hearts of those of
humanitarian instincts. The Americans are forcing even their
friends into becoming their enemies. It is curious the Americans,
who calculate so carefully on the possibility of military
victory, do not realize that in the process they are incurring
deep psychological and political defeat. The image of America
will never again be the image of revolution, freedom and
democracy, but the image of violence and militarism."
Whether we realize it or not, our attitude toward a negotiated
settlement of the war in Vietnam places us in the position of
obstructing the principles of self-determination. By entering a
war that is little more than a domestic civil war, America has
ended up supporting a new form of colonialism covered up by
certain niceties of complexity.
A brief look at the background and history of this war reveals
with brutal clarity the ugliness of our policy. It is a
well-known fact that we participated in sabotaging the Geneva
agreement calling for elections in South Vietnam and providing
that the 17th parallel was but a temporary military line. We
helped install Premier Diem and watched with approval as he
engaged in ruthless and bloody persecution of all opposition
forces. After Diem's death, we actively supported another dozen
military dictatorships, all in the name of fighting for freedom.
At this very moment, we are supporting the notorious General Ky,
who was a mercenary of the French against the Algerians, who
acknowledges Hitler as his hero-figure, and who supervised the
strangulation of the nonviolent Buddhist movement.
When it became evident that those regimes could not defeat the
Viet Cong, we deliberately stepped up the war, transforming
advisors into soldiers, increased the soldiers from some ten
thousand to a half-million and launched bombing raids upon the
North on a scale as vast as that in World War II. This is no
longer a small war. It is the third largest in American history
and it dominates our lives with its evil consequences.
All of this reveals that we are in an untenable position morally
and politically. We are left standing before the world glutted
with wealth and power but morally constricted and impoverished.
We are engaged in a war that seeks to turn the clock of history
back and perpetuate white colonialism. The greatest irony and
tragedy of it all is that our nation which initiated so much of
the revolutionary spirit of this modern world, is now cast in the
mold of being an arch anti-revolutionary.
One of the greatest casualties of the war in Vietnam is the Great
context, "Great Society" refers to LBJ's "War on Poverty" and the
promises of large-scale domestic investment in education,
infrastructure, housing, medical care, job training, and so
This confused war has played havoc with our domestic destinies.
Despite feeble protests to the contrary, the promises of the
Great Society have been shot down on the battlefield of Vietnam.
The pursuit of this widened war has narrowed the promised
dimensions of the domestic welfare programs, making the poor,
white and Negro, bear the heaviest burdens both at the front and
While the anti-poverty program is cautiously initiated, zealously
supervised and required to be an instant success, billions are
liberally expended for this ill-considered war. The security we
profess to seek in foreign adventures we will lose in our
decaying cities. The bombs in Vietnam explode at home, they
destroy the hopes and possibilities for a decent America.
It is estimated that we spend $322,000 for each enemy we kill,
while we spend in the so-called War on Poverty in America only
about $53 for each person classified as "poor." And much of that
$53 goes for salaries of people who are not poor. We have
escalated the war in Vietnam and de-escalated the skirmish
against poverty. It challenges the imagination to contemplate
what lives we could transform if we were to cease killing.
I do not say as some have charged that our nation cannot support
both war and adequate anti-poverty programs. We can do both, but
I warn that it is inevitable that the men of power who never
wanted a struggle for civil rights and the elimination of poverty
will use the burden of the war to scuttle constructive social
programs. Their voices arc already loud and effective, and they
will put a false and immoral choice between the cost of progress
and what they call the cost of survival. This all too prevalent
thinking is being used to escalate the war and de-escalate the
importance of civil rights.
I do not suggest that there can be no progress toward equality
even if the war continues, but I do believe that the struggle is
made harder and more complex. I will continue my civil rights
activities not with diminished vigor but with increased energy
because I know the war has compounded our difficulties
financially, morally and psychologically.
I might also state at this point for clarification that I have
not urged a mechanical fusion of the civil rights and peace
movements. There are people who have come to see the moral
imperative of equality but who cannot yet see the moral
imperative of world brotherhood. I would like to see the fervor
of the civil rights movement imbued into the peace movement to
instill it with greater strength, but I am not urging a single
I believe everyone has a duty to be in both the civil rights and
peace movements; but for those who presently choose but one, I
would hope they will finally come to see the moral roots common
to both. I hope they will understand that brotherhood is
indivisible, that equality of races is connected with the
equality of nations in a single harmonious co-existence of all
A further casualty of the war in Vietnam is the humility of our
nation. Through rugged determination, scientific and
technological progress and freedom from wars fought on its soil,
America has become the richest and most powerful nation in the
world. This year our national gross product will reach the
astounding figure of 780 billion dollars. All of this is a
staggering picture of our great power.
But honesty impels me to admit that our power has often made us
arrogant. We feel that our money can do anything. We arrogantly
feel that we have everything to teach other nations and nothing
to learn from them. We often arrogantly feel that we have some
divine, messianic mission to police the whole world. We are
arrogant, as Senator Fullbright has said, to think ourselves
"God's avenging angels." We are arrogant in not allowing young
nations to go through the same growing pains, turbulence and
revolution that characterized our history.
We are arrogant in our contention that we have some sacred
mission to protect people from totalitarian rule while we make
little use of our power to end the evils of South Africa and
Rhodesia, and while we in fact support dictatorships with guns
and money under the guise of fighting communism.
We are arrogant in professing to be concerned about the freedom
of foreign nations while not setting our own house in order. Many
of our senators and congressmen vote joyously to appropriate
billions of dollars for war in Vietnam, and these same senators
and congressmen vote loudly against a fair housing bill to make
it possible for a Negro veteran of Vietnam to purchase a decent
home. We arm Negro soldiers to kill on foreign battlefields, but
offer little protection for their relatives from beatings and
killings in our own South.
We are willing to make the Negro 100% of a citizen in warfare,
but reduce him to 50% of a citizen on American soil. Of all the
good things in life the Negro has approximately one-half those of
whites; of the bad he has twice that of whites. Thus, half of all
Negroes live in substandard housing and he has half the income of
whites. When we turn to the negative experiences of life, the
Negro has a double share. There are twice as many Negroes
unemployed as whites, there are twice as many Negro soldiers
dying in action in Vietnam as whites in proportion to their
numbers in the population.
All of this reveals that our nation has not yet used its vast
resources of power to end the long night of poverty, racism and
man's inhumanity to man. Enlarged power means enlarged peril if
there is not concomitant growth of the soul. Constructive power
is the right use of strength. If our nation's strength is not
used responsibly and with restraint, it will be, following
Acton's dictum, using power that tends to corrupt and absolute
power that corrupts absolutely. Our arrogance can be our doom. It
can bring the curtain down on our national drama. Ultimately a
great nation is a compassionate nation. We are challenged in
these turbulent days to use our power to speed up the day when
"every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall
be made low; and the crooked shall be made straight, and the
rough places plain. "
Another reason why I vigorously oppose the war in Vietnam is that
its continuation deeply threatens the prospect of mankind's
survival. This war has created the climate for greater armament
and further expansion of destructive nuclear power. President
John F. Kennedy said on one occasion; "Mankind must put an end to
war or war will put an end to mankind."
Wisdom born of experience should tell us that war is obsolete.
There may have been a time when war served as a negative good
preventing the spread and growth of an evil force, but the
destructive power of modern weapons eliminates even the
possibility that war may serve as a negative good. If we assume
that life is worth living and that man has a right to survive,
then we must find an alternative to war.
In a day when vehicles hurtle through outer space and guided
ballistic missiles carve highways of death through the
stratosphere, no nation can claim victory in war. A so-called
limited war will leave little more than a calamitous legacy of
human suffering, political turmoil and spiritual disillusionment.
A world war — God forbid! — will
leave only smoldering ashes as a mute testimony of a human race
whose folly led inexorably to ultimate death. So if modern man
continues to flirt unhesitatingly with war, he will transform his
earthly habitat into an inferno such as even the mind of Dante
could not imagine.
Let me say finally that I oppose the war in Vietnam because I
love America. I speak out against it not in anger but with
anxiety and sorrow in my heart, and above all with a passionate
desire to see our beloved country stand as the moral example of
the world. I speak out against this war because I am disappointed
with America. There can be no great disappointment where there is
no great love. I am disappointed with our failure to deal
positively and forthrightly with the triple evils of racism,
extreme materialism and militarism. We are presently moving down
a dead-end road that can lead to national disaster.
To return to the road of peace, we should take the initiative in
bringing a halt to this tragic war , Many sincere people argue
that we should withdraw unilaterally, and I understand the logic
of their position. I understand that when France withdrew from
Algeria, she benefited not only the Algerians but herself. France
earned far more prestige from withdrawal than she might have
gained from total military victory. But France was fighting in
Algeria for many years before her people learned that this way
out was honorable. The majority of Americans have not yet learned
this lessen. Realism compels us to look for a program they can
support and which can end the fighting. I think there is such a
Distinguished statesmen the world over believe the end of
bombings to be the key to peace. A large minority of Americans
want the bombings terminated. I firmly believe that if it were
clear to all Americans that this is a practical move to peace,
90% of the nation would enthusiastically endorse it.
On December 19th, Washington officially asked U Thant to take
whatever steps were necessary for a cease fire. U Thant
responded, "Stop the bombing." Why have we not yet done it? We
asked for an answer and were given it. Let us demand insistently
that our government honor its word. If Washington0n did not hear
U Thant, let us say it loudly and often enough so that the deaf
can hear it — STOP THE BOMBING.
Let us save our national honor — STOP THE
Let us save American lives and Vietnamese
lives — STOP THE BOMBING.
Let us take a single instantaneous step to the peace
table — STOP THE BOMBING.
Let us put an honorable peace on the agenda before another day
passes — STOP THE BOMBING.
Let us be able to face the world with a concrete deed of genuine
peace — STOP THE BOMBING.
Let our voices ring out across the land to say the American
people are not vainglorious conquerors — STOP THE
During these days of human travail, we must not permit ourselves
to lapse into pessimism. We must organize for peace. We all owe a
debt to those student body presidents, Peace Corps volunteers and
others who have raised their voices to question the war. I would
like to urge students from colleges all over the nation to use
this summer and coming summers educating and organizing
communities across the nation against the war. I have already
talked with students who are organizing in this vein from such
schools as Harvard University on the banks of the Charles River
in Massachusetts and my own Morehouse College in the red hills of
Georgia. We must all speak out in a multitude of voices against
this most cruel and senseless war. The thunder of our voices will
be the only sound stronger than the blast of bombs and the clamor
of war hysteria.
I have tried to be honest today. To be honest is to confront the
truth. To be honest is to realize that the ultimate measure of
man is not where he stands in moments of convenience and moments
of comfort, but where he stands in moments of challenge and
moments of controversy. However unpleasant and inconvenient the
truth may be, I believe we must expose and face it if we are to
achieve a better quality of American life.
A few weeks ago, the distinguished American historian, Henry
Steele Commager, told a Senate committee: "Justice Holmes used to
say that the first lesson a judge had to learn was that he was
not God ... we do tend, perhaps more than other nations, to
transform. our wars into crusades ... our current involvement in
Vietnam is cast, increasingly, into a moral mold ... it is my
felling that we do not have the resources, material, intellectual
or moral, to be at once an American power, a European power and
an Asian power."
I agree with Dr. Commanger, and I would suggest that there is,
however, another kind of power that America can and should be. It
is a moral power; a power harnessed to the service of peace and
All the world knows that America is a great military power. We
need not be diligent in seeking to prove it. We must now show the
world our moral power. It is still not too late for our beloved
nation to make the proper choice. If we decide to become a moral
power, we will lead mankind in transforming the jangling discords
of this world into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. If we
make the right decision, we will be able to transfer our pending
cosmic elegy into a creative psalm of peace. This will be a
glorious day. In reaching it we can fulfill the noblest of
Copyright © Martin Luther King, 1967.
Copyright © 2012