Two professors discussed Martin Luther King Jr.’s 1967 speech, which focused on his argument for a “true revolution of values,” against the Vietnam War on Wednesday at a lecture hosted by the Center for the Study of Race and Democracy.
In his speech, King argued that the Vietnam War was not serving American values, according to LBJ School of Public Affairs professors Peniel Joseph and Jeremi Suri.
Joseph points to King’s outrage over the amount of money the United States spent in fighting the Vietnam War compared to fighting poverty.
“We’re spending $35 billion in Vietnam and spending less than $5 billion on the war on poverty,” Joseph said. “We actually have the power to eradicate poverty in 1965.”
Joseph added that the U.S. Department of Defense’s 1966 Vietnam War program “Project 100,000” recruited soldiers below military medical and mental standards in order to fulfill the war’s growing costs and disproportionately placed African-Americans on the frontlines.
“We are not connecting our power to our values,” Joseph said. “The war in Vietnam subverts the promise of American democracy.”
Suri said King’s speech helped Americans re-examine their values about the war and determine whether or not their values aligned with the war. Some of these values include “calling out your country” as an act of patriotism, Peniel said.
“He holds a mirror up to the world we’re in and reminds people, not of the day to day headlines … but actually about structurally what is going on,” Suri said. “(The Vietnam War) is not a war over democracy, he argues, it is a war to defend a set of interests that are not aligned with our values. And he argues that we are not defending what we claim to be defending.”
Gemma M. Williams, a St. Andrews Episcopal School senior, said King provided an example of bravery during “pro-violent and pro-war” times.
President Donald Trump became a topic of discussion later when one audience member asked whether social justice movements would be diminished under the new administration. Joseph said it would not.
“The Civil Rights movement and women’s movement is one expansive vision,” Joseph said, also adding the LGBT movement. “The power of those movements transcend political leaders and institutions because they remain as these powerful ideas that inform our values generationally.”