Why Dr. King Would Break the Silence on Afghanistan

The socioeconomic parallels between the Vietnam era and today.

This week, my Get Afghanistan Right colleagues and I want you to flash back to 1967, when Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. lashed out at the US government over the Vietnam War.  We remember Dr. King's speech, "Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break the Silence," not just to raise parallels between Vietnam and Afghanistan, which are certainly growing with President Obama's mission creep calls for military escalation.  Dr. King's speech also illustrates how fighting a Long War abroad grossly depletes our government's wherewithal to handle (and our nation's ability to focus on) a more critical socioeconomic crisis at home.

Speaking at New York's Riverside Church, Dr. King made the connections between the Civil Rights movement and Vietnam for several reasons.  He couldn't advocate peaceful solutions to the rampant racial violence in America when our government stood as "the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today."  He couldn't ignore the fact that White and Black could die side-by-side on the battlefields of Southeast Asia more easily than they could sit together at a lunch table back home.  But the primary reason Dr. King turned his attention to the war was because he saw it undermining President Johnson's ability to fight the "unconditional war on poverty."  How could LBJ's poverty program help the destitute at home when our government was channeling so much national attention and so many tax dollars and lives into military escalation abroad?

ZP Heller is the editorial director of Brave New Films. He has written for The American Prospect, AlterNet, The Philadelphia Inquirer, and The Huffington Post, covering everything from politics to pop culture.
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