Today—the third Monday in January—is Martin Luther King Day, a national holiday in the United States, created to honor the Christian clergyman who played a uniquely decisive role in the long struggle to win legal and political equality for Americans of African descent. King’s work to overcome racial division in the United States made him a genuine American hero, on par with the founding fathers and Abraham Lincoln; it also won him international renown—he was, among other things, the youngest person ever to win the Nobel Peace Prize. But in the last years of his life, King’s concerns expanded beyond civil rights to encompass issues of economic justice; he also became increasingly (and critically) engaged in debates about America’s role in the world—debates that centered, to a large extent, around the war in Vietnam.
On April 4, 1967, King delivered an address, entitled “Beyond Vietnam: A Time To Break Silence”, at Riverside Church in New York City. More than 40 years later, it remains one of the most searing analyses we have ever encountered of the temptation to hegemony which, time and again over the last 60 years, has lured the United States into ill-conceived, highly destructive, and ultimately counterproductive foreign policies.
King died more than a decade before the Iranian revolution. Obviously, there is no direct evidence of what he would have thought about his country’s policies toward the Islamic Republic or the course of America’s engagement in the Middle East over the past 30 years. But we believe that his “Beyond Vietnam” address speaks powerfully to the concerns of those who think the United States has gone badly off track in its approach to the Islamic Republic and the Middle East more generally. The address is too long to post, in its entirety; for those who want to read the whole text (something we highly recommend), click here and here (for video excerpts and commentary). But we have excerpted below a number of passages that, we believe, cut to the heart of the (largely self-generated) challenges that the United States faces in the Middle East today.
Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated one year to the day after he delivered this address. He was 39 years old when he died.