VFP Members Share Their Thoughts about MLK's Work

Submission by Aaron Davis, Veteran Member

My favorite quote was in the Beyond Vietnam speech given April 4, 1967 in the Riverside Church in Harlem. "A nation that keeps spending more on defense than on programs of social uplift is nearing spiritual death!" As he spoke exactly one year before his untimely death, speaking out for social justice, his words are even more relevant today. He pointed out  that militarism, materialism and racism are connected, and at the center of our divisive capitalist driven plutocratic oligarchy today. His non-violent resistence campaign followed Gandhi's example, and changed our society with the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Dr. King is one of my heroes, as is the great abolishionist Frederick O. Douglass who said,"Power concedes nothing without a demand."

We as activists, must continue Dr. King's vision from the mountain-top working in the trenches for a world of peace and justice!

Submission by:  Arny Stieber, Veteran Member

Martin Luther King Jr. was a deep thinker and a man of action.  He began with civil rights.  This upset the establishment.   They used their resources to quash his voice.  Later he added economic rights.  This further infuriated the establishment.  His thoughts on economic rights led him to his thoughts on violence and war.  During his “Beyond Viet Nam” speech on April 4, 1967 he said the U.S. was “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world”.  He was assassinated exactly one year later.

I’m a retired businessperson with an MBA, and an Army, infantry veteran of the U.S. war against the people of Viet Nam.   My studies of the causes of war have lead me to conclude that there are immense economic incentives for war.  Those in power politically and those with power economically, use every resource to retain and expand their power, even if that includes the physical, economic, and psychological destruction of others at home and abroad.

On this Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, take 15 minutes and read “Beyond Viet Nam”.   Then, as Dr. King did, take action – within yourself and within your community - to quell “the greatest purveyor of violence”.

Submission by:  Buzz Davis, Veteran Member

He was a complex man of great courage but he was not alone.  He worked with a team that was also courageous in confronting the rabid racism of then which is still alive and well now.  His message of less war and more peace was more difficult for Blacks and whites to understand because the need for war to justify a power structure is a more hidden type of societal control that the divide and conquer that is behind racism and slavery.  The result is JFK and LBJ and the boys in the White House (appropriately named) found it most difficult to confront racism and discrimination.  But they found it even more difficult to even see and/or confront the war monster.

And today we are further from confronting the war monster among us and within us than we were in the late 1960's.  The all-volunteer military has been the medicine that drugged the anti-war effort.

VFP, as an organization, is one of the few calling for the impeachment and prosecution of Bush, Cheney and Obama for illegal wars, illegal

Submission by:  Ed Flaherty, Veteran Member

There are many sources of inspiration around us, if only we are open.  MLK's speech at Riverside Church on 4-4-67 (exactly one year before he was assassinated) to me is one of the most inspiring speeches in our history.

"We must rapidly begin the shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights, are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered...

A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death."

Sources of inspiration are all around us. MLK's speech at Riverside Church on 4-4-67(exactly one year before his assassination) is one of the most inspiring speeches ever. "We must rapidly begin the shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights, are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered...A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death."

Submission by:  James Wohlgemuth, Veteran Member

A child of the 60's, growing up in rural Pa, I knew of Dr. King, but I was not appreciate. I was unaware of the plight of African Americans in the south & the sacrifice that was going on while I was in school.

I would hear Dr.King's name and see the pictures of dogs and hoses and wonder why this was happening, but Alabama was another country to me.  I graduated in 67 never once having a discussion of the challenges African Americans faced in the south.  I wondered why this man had to plead for civil rights in my America.  That changed in 68; Dr. King was dead.  Why would someone kill this good man? That was when I started to take notice, to listen, to realize.  Decades later as a Soc Studies teacher in rural NC I committed myself to not let my students grow up ignorant of the struggles of African Americans and Dr. King. 

I taught black history to my 6th graders going beyond the words of MLK to actions & reasons for the struggle & to let them know the struggle and the dream continue.

Submission by Jay Wenk, Veteran Member

The civil rights movement, led by King and others going way back in our history, has helped white folks to cast off our burden of racism; not completely, yet.

Submission by John Amidon, Veteran Member

Several years ago I had the opportunity to  speak with Dr. Vincent Harding who penned the first draft of a speech given by Dr. King with three different titles, A Declaration of Independence From the War In Vietnam, A Time to Break Silence or Beyond Vietnam. I had been working with the speech and wondered which title was correct. Then  much to my amazement I end up meeting Dr. Harding  a few weeks later. I learned he wrote the first draft and I could ask him which was the most accurate. He said the correct title was, Beyond Vietnam. I also had the  chance to ask him about the love Martin Luther King lived or demonstrated. How was it Dr. King choose to go to Memphis and stand with the sanitation workers and their strike for a fair wage and some basic dignity. How did he have this love?  And Vincent Harding answered, Martin was a wild and crazy guy who was trying to live the love of Jesus. I was brought up Catholic but somehow was never taught about this love and yet it was very clear that Dr. King knew a great deal about love and his courage was extraordinary.  Vincent Harding was quite a  wonderful teacher too. I have included several video links, one an evening I spent with Dr. Harding and the other of a friend reading an edited version of the speech, Beyond Vietnam.  Dr. King was truly a prophet and  a beautiful man. Would we all learn that much about love!

Submission by:  John C. Reiger, Veteran Member

King’s anti-war stance cost him some support in the civil rights community, but he fully understood the connection between American militarism and American poverty. He had a large view of American society’s interconnected problems. I am proud that Veterans For Peace works to remind America of that aspect of his legacy.

Submission by:  Maynard Green, Veteran Member

I became engaged in peace and social justice work in 1966, two years into my eight years in the Air Force, when I began speaking out for civil rights. In 1967, I began protesting the Vietnam War, and by the 1980s, I was working to shut down the School of the Americas and as a grassroots organizer and a lobbyist for the Seattle Archdiocese and an NGO committed to peace. I love my veteran brothers and sisters and wanted to work with them for peace and social justice.

I worked as a Journalist, writer, and in communications during my entire work career. Words matter. I believe angry and ones that attack people can and likely will hurt our cause. Instead, speak words of peace, while condemning wrongful acts not people, and we can change hearts and minds.

“Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.”
― Martin Luther King Jr.

Submission by:  Roland Van Deusen, Veteran Member

In the sixties, I worked for Dr. King's ally, James Farmer, leader of the Freedom Rides, as a volunteer while home on leave from the Navy.  Farmer was a leading Civil Rights Figure. Prior to that, I'd been a student at Syracuse, whose Ernie Davis (first black Heissman recipient)had done for that school what Dr. King had done for the South. Later in the 1980s I was City Human Rights Commission chair for Watertown NY. These experiences taught me that, if we really want enough non-African American citizens to support equal racial justice and opportunity, we have to appeal to the lowest common denominator, answering the most recalcitrant redneck's question: "What's in it for ME?"

Please see my letter, "Justice and Peace need each other to survive" in the January 8th Watertown Daily TIMES online edition.

Submission by:  Sam Feldman, Veteran Member

Establishment society degraded and shunned Martin Luther King Jr. because of his opposition to racist abuse and because of his opposition to the war in Vietnam. History has proven him being on the right side of both issues and the establishment now recognizes and honors a great man with vision.

By the same token, peace activists are degraded and shunned. No matter that we are in the minority. Veterans For Peace has been, is and will always be on the right side by promoting peace.

Submission by:  Sheridan Peterson, Veteran Member

The summer '65  American Federation of Teachers asked  teachers @ Lake Washington High School @ Kirkland, Wash. to volunteer to set up freedom schools in Mississippi. I was the only one 2 volunteer although I wasn't a member of the AFT. They gave me a Greyhound Bus ticket 2 Jackson, Mississippi. Arriving @ the Jackson bus stop, I confronted a culture shock that I won't discuss @ this time, 4 I wish 2 focus on Stokely Carmichael which his Civil Rights companions have ignored most significantly Charlie Cobb, who was with him when we were beaten & jailed by the police  on the streets of Jackson & @ the fair pavilion. During all the speeches that Congressman John Lewis has made I have never heard him mention his compatriot. It is my opinion that he was every bit as great & eloquent as Martin Luther King or any of the other Civil Rights leaders. I saw the cops pound @ his kidney with their clubs. They in essence murdered him. I am sure he died of Kidney failure, not prostate cancer.

Submission by:  Will Thomas, Veteran Member

Personally, I believe his greatest speech was the one he delivered at the Riverside Church in NYC on April 4, 1967: "Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence."  A year later, to the day, he was murdered by elements within our country who considered him a genuine threat to the status quo, the 1% of that day.  In this speech in NYC, he spoke of the triplet of evils: Racism, Poverty, and Militarism confronting America in 1967. So, here we are some 48 years later and we still see the same evils.  This is why it is important to remember Dr. King's vision of how to overcome the injustices thatpermeate our country and the world.  The Peace at Home and Peace Abroad project provides a new opportunity to inform and educate people about the connections among those three evils Rev. King mentioned.  As I recall, he implied that the bombs that fell on Vietnam also fell on our citizens at home, robbing them of support for promoting life-affirming activities such as education, affordable housing, job training and other positive programs.  In 2015, the bombs that fall on Iraq (again), Yemen, and Somalia also fall on the Americans of today, especially the poor and middle class, thus stealing needed financial resources for helping to create "the beloved community" that King envisioned.
Finally, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote: "I am convinced that if we are to get on the right side of world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. When machines and computers, profit motive and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered."
Thus, we have a huge task in front of us, i.e., to reclaim Dr. King's vision and to share it with others to produce the changes which will create a better nation and world. "The well-off and the secure have too often become indifferent and oblivious to the poverty and deprivation in their midst.  Ultimately a great nation is a compassionate nation.  No individual or nation can be great if it does not have a concern for the least of these."  - MLK