On this Veteran’s Day, our nation expresses gratitude for all those who served our country through military service, especially those who served and died during times of war. We often hear the phrase “Support the Troops” as a call not to question our country’s involvement in war. Yet on April 4, 1967, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered an historic address at Riverside Church in New York in which he spoke out clearly against the war in Vietnam. In opposing the war, he also made it clear that he supported our troops in the process. Here is a part of that speech which goes by the title “Beyond Vietnam” or “A Time to Break Silence”:
I am as deeply concerned about our own troops there as anything else. For it occurs to me that what we are submitting them to in Vietnam is not simply the brutalizing process that goes on in any war where armies face each other and seek to destroy. We are adding cynicism to the process of death, for they must know after a short period there that none of the things we claim to be fighting for are really involved. Before long they must know that their government has sent them into a struggle among Vietnamese, and the more sophisticated surely realize that we are on the side of the wealthy, and the secure, while we create a hell for the poor.
A true revolution of values will lay hand on the world order and say of war, “This way of settling differences is not just.” This business of burning human beings with napalm, of filling our nation’s homes with orphans and widows, of injecting poisonous drugs of hate into the veins of peoples normally humane, of sending men home from dark and bloody battlefields physically handicapped and psychologically deranged, cannot be reconciled with wisdom, justice, and love. A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.
On this Veteran’s Day, we can and should express thanks to our military veterans even as we commit ourselves to working for peace and to building a nation and a world in which we study war no more.