There are many precedents in world history when religious leaders openly fought against injustice, backed by state laws, and sided with the oppressed. Martin Luther King Jr., who fought against racial inequality in America, considered social activity the only legal opportunity to counteract cynicism, indifference, and despair. The theology of nonviolent resistance formed largely under the influence of Mahatma Gandhi, in King beliefs and activity, has absolutely a Christian foundation. On this basis, as with Christianity, there is love for one’s neighbor. This love is active, it does not allow causing violence, which will lead to only more violence.
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This is love that seeks good for one’s neighbor and has no personal interest. At the same time, being resistant is not “doing nothing,” it is an alternative to cowardice and stagnation (Branch 24-25). King could not remain indifferent to the needs of the oppressed, whether it be in the United States or in Vietnam. According to King himself, there was a completely obvious and almost direct connection between the Vietnam War and the struggle that he, along with others, waged in America.
The civil rights movement was gaining momentum and not only demanded the equal rights of citizens, but also acquired an anti-war character, opposing the war in Vietnam. A lot of people supported these ideas, but there were opponents. From a government perspective, opponents of the Vietnam War were traitors, not patriots (Branch 72). According to President R. Nixon, students involved in the anti-war movement were simply afraid to keep from getting their asses shot off” (Branch 78). After the famous anti war speech by Martin Luther King on April 4, 1967, the press wrote in the press that this speech-sermon would be more suitable for broadcasting on Radio Hanoi, and politicians accused the preacher of working for the Communists. “Why are you acting to the detriment of the interests of your people?” – they asked him (Branch 79).
Non-violent resistance does not try to humiliate or crush the opponent, but rather earn his friendship and understanding, arouse shame and lead to reconciliation. It is directed against the forces of evil, but not against humans, against sin, and not against the sinner. Non-violent resistance also implies a readiness to suffer, refusing revenge for the suffering. It is a way to avoid not only physical violence, but also violent mood.
In addition, King was quite Christian in his attitude to time – both as a gift and as a responsibility. King opposed violence, so he was not a supporter of the revolution. However, he also believed that one should not sit silently and wait for the ‘weather by the sea’. It is necessary to demand from the authorities the readiness to respond to the needs of the citizens of the country, not allowing their humiliation, impoverishment and violence against them in the name of any goals. “The words of the late John F. Kennedy come back to haunt us. Five years ago he said, “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable” – King said in his sermon in the Riverside Church (King).
The preacher, as “the servant of God and the brother of all the poor suffering Vietnamese”, said that the madness of the war in Vietnam should stop (King). In addition, he rightly claimed that the United States endangered its citizens sent to the Vietnam War. However, he had in mind not only the purely physical danger of being killed or wounded during hostilities and fierce fighting for destruction. It is also the danger of losing one’s civic position, the danger of deep disappointment in the ideals of one’s country. Very soon, American soldiers in Vietnam begin to realize that the government sent them not to protect the legitimate interests of the United States or the world community, but to intervene in the war between the Vietnamese, and forces them to be “on the side of the wealthy and the secure while we create hell for the poor” (King).
The famous Monroe Doctrine enabled Washington to regularly and fairly easily resort to the use of force in international relations over the course of the 20th-21st centuries. The Vietnam War was one of the most striking examples of this, setting precedents for the subsequent war in Iraq and interference in the Syrian conflict. Terrible chain of precedents and events shaped: in 1963-1969, Lyndon Johnson, for whom the Monroe Doctrine was a kind of handbook, was almost the first to launch a preemptive strike against another state – the Vietnam War. Later, Carter’s doctrine of “massive retaliation” has also left an indelible mark on the history of American diplomacy.
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The Reagan Doctrine in the face of a new acute confrontation provided for a preventive nuclear strike, called “decapitation”. The doctrine of George W. Bush allowed delivering a ‘brilliant’ preventive strike (Desert Storm) in early 1991, and this time in accordance with the UN Security Council Resolution. Thus, the first military strike (supposedly for self-defense), including on a deliberately false basis, has become a constant practice, including using European “allies” – this was so in Iraq, Yugoslavia, Libya, Syria.
US modern politics, with its own ambitions, geopolitical claims, aplomb, aggressiveness, methods of open and secret activity cause a lot of radically opposite emotions, discussions, assessments. The Monroe Doctrine was the first official expansionary concept of the United States and it had a significant ideological impact on the construction of all subsequent American foreign policy doctrines. Initially, it was directed against Europe and against the strengthening of Russia in the Pacific Ocean.
However, this was only the beginning of American expansionism. Further development of this ideology led to the spread beyond the eastern hemisphere in order to cover the whole world. Moreover, this was not a simple continuity, but a certain evolution of content, an evolution caused by the internal laws of the spiritual and material development of American civilization, allowing understanding it as a single, logically interconnected process.
The idea of the superiority of the white race led to the existence of the shameful phenomenon of slavery in the United States, unilaterally depriving Blacks of rights and dignity. Similarly, the Monroe Doctrine is nothing more than a “manifesto of American expansion for centuries”, which began with the proclamation of “America for Americans” and logically grew into “Pax Americana” – the American world order (Modeste 22). Therefore, King’s call for non-violent resistance seems very appropriate both to eliminate segregation and to stop the destruction of the oppressed layers of the population in Vietnam.
There is one terrible analogy – a preemptive strike is exactly like an attack through a provocation and without a declaration of war, which was widely used by fascist Germany. There is also another – legal – moment: there is every reason to believe that the Nazi were untied, not least because of the Monroe Doctrine, adopted by the League of Nations. Moreover, there is every reason to reflect on the fact that there is a historical primacy of the racial theory of the Anglo-Saxons over Nazism and fascism, and the creation of the first concentration camps was carried out precisely in the United States and only later in Nazi Germany.
“America would never invest the necessary funds or energies in rehabilitation of its poor so long as adventures like Vietnam continued to draw men and skills and money like some demonic destructive suction tube” – King said in his sermon. The country’s resources were spent not for the benefit of its citizens, but to achieve ambitious geopolitical goals that benefit only the ruling elite. However, the worst thing is that not only material resources were spent: thousands of human lives during the Vietnam War were brought to the altar of the ideas of Pax Americana and the Monroe Doctrine, the artificial planting of “democracy” and the forcible construction of a “bright future” of an independent country on the bones.
During the war in Iraq, activists among American youth, condemning the actions of the American government, said with sorrow: “we did not die for honor and freedom, but for your heroin and oil” (Modeste 94). The same thing happened in Vietnam – people were dying in the name of satisfying ambitions and achieving the egoistic goals of the political elite. “When cars and computers, the desire for profit and the right to own property are more important than people, it is impossible to defeat racism, extreme materialism and militarism” (Dionisopoulos 94) – it is difficult to disagree with these words of King, said during a sermon at Riverside Church.
The constant repetition and suggestion that America has a specific mission impedes attempts to create any alternative vision. Like any paradigm, the idea of exclusivity holds its supporters captive to the main line of argument, encouraging them to ignore and underestimate all evidence that contradicts the basic concept. However, despite the fact that the idea of exclusivity prevails among American society, it is not the only doctrine. There is also a religion-based belief focused on the role of faith in society spiritually, and an idea focused on the mission of a republican state in the world. The political mission that is of most interest to the United States was justified on completely different grounds: sometimes by religious ideas, but most often by scientific, philosophical convictions or political analysis (Modeste 66-71).
Moreover, in cases where religious and non-religious beliefs about a mission are mixed, non-religious ideas are more often the driving force. At the same time, religious beliefs that influenced the mission were not always fundamental. As a rule, they followed what is called “liberal theology” in America, which seeks to bring religion into line with existing philosophical scientific doctrines. With such theology, the church, like the body of Christ, is wounded and messed up, because its ministers neglect the needs of society and are afraid to cease to be opportunists (Dionisopoulos et al. 97).
The earthly law will never be more obligatory for a Christian than the law of heaven. King understands that by calling for disobedience to unfair laws; he urges Christians to embark on a confrontation with the authorities. The great merit of Martin Luther King lies in the fact that at the cost of his life he was able to show that at the center of public life, there is a person, his needs and his dignity. “The revolution of values will force us to reconsider the justice and validity of many of our past and present political policies”, King said in his sermon (King). Indeed, only a change in values, a return to the original ideas of the founding fathers about equality and fraternity can change the country’s policy and its course, contribute to the abandonment of the role of the sole world gendarme putting human lives into nothing.
Branch, Taylor. At Canaan’s Edge: America in the King Years, 1965-1968. New York: Simon & Schuster Paperbacks, 2006.
Dionisopoulos, George N. et al. “Martin Luther King, the American dream and Vietnam: A collision of rhetorical trajectories.” Western Journal of Communication, vol. 56, no. 2, 1992, pp. 91-107.
King Martin Luther, Jr. “A Time to Break Silence.” 1967, Riverside Church, New York. Web.
Modeste, Denneth M. The Monroe Doctrine in a Contemporary Perspective. Routledge, 2020.