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Beyond Vietnam

Beyond Vietnam

Dr. Martin Luther King was a firm supporter of the US President, Lyndon Johnson, and his Great Society. However, King became more concerned with time over the involvement of the US in the Vietnam War and made his concerns known on the public forum. This caused a deterioration in the relationship he had with the president. King became more convinced that the US involvement in the Vietnam War was another form of imperialism. In April of 1967, in front of a 30,000-strong audience packed outside the Riverside Church, NY, King expressed his discontent with the white house decisions known in his speech ‘Beyond Vietnam.’ In the speech, King pointed out that there was a common link between peace movements and civil rights. He went ahead and proposed that bombings by the US should cease, a truce declared that would hopefully result in peace talks, a specific timeline set when the US would withdraw from Vietnam, and finally, a negotiation role given to the National Liberation Front. King further appealed to his fellow Americans to be the voice of those hurting and to agree that violence does not offer a solution. In his speech, King educates his fellow countrymen on how the US portrays its biggest plague, greed.

King uses pathos rhetoric in his speech to persuade the audience to have a similar perception of the war as he did. He gave vivid descriptions of the horrors that went on in Vietnam during the war. By so doing, King effectively evoked his audience’s emotions. In giving detailed descriptions of the peasants living in Vietnam as observers of the horrors that were taking place, King said that the peasants “watch as we poison their water, as we kill a million acres of their crops. They must weep as the bulldozers roar through their areas, preparing to destroy the precious trees” (3). This utilization of imagery, as well as repetition, reinforces to the audience that the involvement of the US in the war does not bring any benefits to the natives, but rather, it brings with it death, degradation, and immense suffering. King believes that his fellow Americans bear the responsibility of putting an end to the conflict. The poverty program was introduced with the aim of restoring the US. However, the choice by the US to involve itself in the war in Vietnam had gradually begun to tear down the ‘new beginnings’ and ‘hopes’ of the Americans.

King also articulates how he views the problems in the US and in Vietnam. The participation of the US in the Vietnam War goes beyond imperialism. The military was forced to go to war, which cost the government a large amount of taxpayers’ money. This money could have been directed to other US programs. King went to the lengths of carefully laying out the US involvement of the nation in the Vietnam War. He began in 1945, at the time when the Japanese and French were overthrown by the prime minister of Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh. King carried the audience through the support that France got from the US in the former’s attempt at regaining its former colony and from the assassinated dictator Ngo Dinh Diem, the first president’s premier.

King noted that throughout the entire period, more troops were continuously sent by the US to Vietnam. King asserted that the only change in the Vietnam War came from the US, which continued to increase its commitment of troops to supporting governments that were singularly inept, corrupt, and lacking popular support. He said that the American troops “languish under our bombs and consider us, not their fellow Vietnamese, the real enemy” (3). King added that the military costs were at the expense of domestic programs that were meant to alleviate racism and poverty. However, as King noted, the young black men in the societies were crippled by the same society and were sent “eight thousand miles away to guarantee liberties in Southeast Asia which they have not found in southwest Georgia and East Harlem” (4).

On a similar note, King incorporates words that are emotionally charged to build a case worthy of sympathy for the Vietnamese. King paints a picture of suffering and describes the movement of the Vietnamese as sad and apathetic, who languished under the US bombs. King is effective in showing to the audience the injustices and cruelties the people in Vietnam suffer even as the US “herd them off the land of their fathers into concentration camps” (3) and treating the Vietnamese as if they were animals and not humans. King talks of the Vietnamese children as being “degraded by soldiers as they beg for food” (3), further enforcing his aim of opening the audience’s eyes to the reality of what America was doing to Vietnam. King uses this selective diction to invoke negative emotions, which allows the audience to be sympathetic to the Vietnamese people under the US affliction.

While describing the horrors faced by the Vietnamese, King elaborated on the injustices and distress of the Americans. He asserts that “so we have been repeatedly faced with the cruel irony of watching Negro and white boys on TV screens as they kill and die together for a nation that has been unable to seat them together in the same schools. So we watch them in brutal solidarity burning the huts of a poor village, but we realize that they would hardly live on the same block in Chicago” (2). This style of repetition emphasizes to the audience America’s irony in sending its young men and women to fight for liberties outside of its border, yet the same liberties are not accorded to them at home. King creates a gloomy picture of this reality by giving an example of how white men and black men fight and die together on foreign soil while back at home; the two cannot be found living in the same block. This comparison goes to strengthen King’s argument and establishes the existing unfairness in the US while appealing to the feeling of anger and frustration that the audience experiences toward the injustices.

King believes that the Vietnamese have a right to pursue Communism. When he describes the suffering that the Vietnamese go through at the US government’s hands, King clearly shows how the US has a total lack of genuine concern and respect for the Vietnamese people and its government as well. Additionally, King asserts that one of the casualties of the war is the self-determination principle. He says that the US has “rejected a revolutionary government seeking self-determination and a government that had been established not by China—for whom the Vietnamese have no great love—but by clearly indigenous forces that included some communists. For the peasants, this new government meant real land reform, one of the most important needs in their lives” (3). The US ended up supporting a new kind of colonialism covered with particular complexities and niceties. The US participation in the war was an expression of its lack of sympathy for those who were oppressed, an expression of US paranoid anti-communism, and its failure to relate with the anguish of people living in poverty. It showed the willingness of the US to continue as a participant in adventures that were neo-colonialist at the core.

In conclusion, King, in his speech, discusses how the US caused war and chaos, yet it set out to bring peace and democracy to Vietnam. King offered solutions, as mentioned earlier, that would see the US end the bombing, immediately recall its troops from Vietnam, prepare for negotiations by seeking a cease-fire, accept the negotiation role of the National Liberation Front, and honor the Geneva Agreement and remove all foreign troops. King’s argument is straight forward, clear, and simple to follow through.

Word Count: 1296

Works Cited

King Jr, Martin Luther. “Beyond Vietnam: A time to break silence.” Speech, Riverside Church, New York, NY, April 4 (1967).


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Beyond Vietnam

Essay #3 Prompt

Essay #3: Argument

Looking back half a century, it is reasonable to suggest that America’s involvement in the war in Vietnam proved unsuccessful and unnecessary and that the failures of the attempt to thwart the spread of Communism have now left a noticeable bruise on our nation’s history. However, during the 1960s, before outright involvement in

Beyond Vietnam

Beyond Vietnam

militarized support (both forced and voluntary) of South Vietnam, there grew a large split between those in favor of the war and those who opposed it. Two of the country’s most influential figures, President Lyndon Johnson and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., used their persuasive power of speech to gain support for battle (LBJ) or suggest an alternative method of peace (MLK) in Vietnam.

After reading/listening to LBJ’s “Speech on Vietnam” and MLK’s “Beyond Vietnam,” determine which speech is more persuasive in arguing FOR or AGAINST America’s involvement in the Vietnam War. Keep in mind the context of which you are writing; do not immediately determine your position based on historical knowledge alone. You are writing from the position of knowledge from 1967; therefore, your position should be the THIRD PERSON, as well as from that time period (after these speeches).

Optionally, employ David Farber’s The Age of Great Dreams in your essay to set the historical and political tone of America’s growing involvement in and shifting perspective on the Southeast Asian conflict. No other outside sources may be used.

Consider the following questions as you develop your position:

  1. What sorts of rhetorical strategies did Johnson and King use to make their argument (logos, pathos, or ethos)?
  2. How does Johnson explain the necessity of America’s involvement in Vietnam?
  3. What is Johnson’s position on Vietnam as a country and why is it necessary for America to “fix” it?
  4. How does King view the problems at home (in America) versus the problems in Vietnam?
  5. Does King believe the Vietnamese have the right to follow communism? Why?

This essay must be typed in MLA format, 1200-words MINIMUM, and turned in online to Canvas. You will submit rough drafts to Canvas by the above-listed date, then complete the peer-review workshop by the above-listed date. You will need to provide a word count at the end of your final draft, as well as a Works Cited page.


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