“A time comes when silence is betrayal.” These were the words spoken by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as he delivered his speech, “Beyond Vietnam: A Time To Break The Silence,” on April 4, 1967.
King said that his conscience left him no choice but to speak and deliver a condemnation of the Vietnam War and against the militarism being perpetrated by the United States or, what he deemed, “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world.”
In King’s speech, he warned of the Triple Evils of militarism, poverty and racism if we remained a society more focused on “profit-motives and property rights” than people. Now, almost 57 years later, has our government or elected officials heeded these words as they prepare to trot him out for their obligatory social media posts and press releases?
Today there is a major silence surrounding the actions of our government as Israel bombs Gaza following the Oct. 7 attacks by Hamas that resulted in about 1,200 people being killed and hundreds being kidnapped. President Joe Biden’s administration has aided and abetted the massacre of thousands of civilians in Palestine yet refuses to publicly demand an immediate ceasefire.
In the 100 days since Israel began bombing Gaza, more than 20,000 civilians have been killed or injured, including 10,000 children. Just this weekend, Biden put out a statement about the 100 days that have passed, but only made mention of the hostages — not the thousands of Palestinians killed. What a betrayal by silence to make no mention of the thousands killed by bombs he went over Congress to supply to another country.
Not only has Biden epitomized this silence King criticized, but he has even used violence to secure profit motives over people. Last week, the United States bombed the Houthis in Yemen in what could result in an escalation in the region. In response to the bombings, Biden said he would not “hesitate to direct further measures to protect our people and the free flow of international commerce as necessary.”
Biden is more eager to use violence to secure international commerce than in using peace to obtain a ceasefire and the end of the bombing even at the expense of America’s world standing and potentially his own campaign.
King also said in his speech that we must declare eternal hostility to militarism even when it is not popular: “Our only hope today lies in our ability to recapture the revolutionary spirit and go out into a sometimes hostile world declaring eternal hostility to poverty, racism and militarism.”
Elected officials, more specifically liberals, will trot out messages today or convene town halls to discuss King’s non-violent, peaceful legacy and pursuit of equality. Yet, in the same breath, they will remain silent about children and their families being bombed to death by U.S.-manufactured weapons. Even Biden is likely to put out a statement about King while he acts in contrast to his legacy.
One may argue that King is no longer here and we would not know how he would feel. However, his daughter Bernice King, stated on X in response to actress Amy Schumer that her father would have called for a ceasefire in Palestine and the return of Israeli hostages.
“Certainly, my father was against antisemitism, as am I. He also believed militarism (along with racism and poverty) to be among the interconnected Triple Evils,” she wrote.
Can one claim to uphold King’s legacy while maintaining silence over the death of thousands of people because of their political goals or American interests in that region?
And, to be clear, thousands of people have not been silent and have taken to the streets in protest to demand a ceasefire and an end to militarism. But those demands have been met with silence and resistance.
As we celebrate his life today, I implore all to listen to King’s “Beyond Vietnam” speech. If we are to truly honor his legacy, we must also be brave and speak out against militarism.