Paula Jo Perez
February 11, 2011
“Beyond Vietnam-A Time to Break Silence” Rhetorical Analysis
Over the years there have been many great speeches said by very good orators, but few of them had the effect that Martin Luther King, Jr. had on his audience, and none were as famous as his “I Have A Dream” speech. What made Dr. King’s speech so compelling was the fact that he was preacher and was very good at capturing the audience’s attention. The way he presented his arguments to captivate the audience and to get them to agree with whatever he was saying was a technique called the Aristoliean rhetoric, a device that helped him persuade his audience to accomplish his goals. But when he made the “Beyond Vietnam-A Time to Break Silence” speech on April 4, 1967, it was not recognized and given the full appreciation that it should have been given, because it was just as compelling as his “I Have A Dream” speech four years before. Perhaps it was the time that many people didn’t react very well to the speech, or the fact that Dr. King straight out opposed the government and the Vietnam War, whatever the reason, Dr. King did deliver an amazing speech, to which it used great rhetoric.
The purpose of the “Beyond Vietnam” speech was to speak about what was going on in Vietnam, and how America's focus was then directed toward the war and how the government was drafting poor black and white men, (especially young black men). Martin Luther King, Jr. also “addressed racial inequalities during the “Beyond Vietnam” speech when America was “taking the Black young men who had been crippled by our society and sending them 8, 000 miles away to guarantee liberties in Southeast Asia which they had not found in Southwest Georgia and East Harlem” (Allah).
Dr. King also wanted to speak for those who had no voices (the Vietnamese). He spoke for them because he understood how they felt, despite what other people said about him not having any clue what he was talking about. Dr. King “had looked deep into the American soul and knew both its goodness and its faults” ("King's call for a 'revolution of values"). He was speaking about how the war in Vietnam had intervened in the plans of America and he, as an African American, thought even though war was going on, he felt strongly that the fight for Civil Rights had to go on also, regardless of the war (King).
Two years before Dr. King made his speech, President Lyndon B. Johnson had decided to expand the American force in Vietnam was a response to a prior expansion by Hanoi in 1964. He then explained himself and his intentions again at Johns Hopkins University when he “acted on recommendations to use American air power against North Vietnam”, where he said,
Our objective is the independence of South Vietnam and its freedom from attack. We want nothing for ourselves—only that the people of South Vietnam be allowed to guide their own country in their own way. We will do everything necessary to reach that objective, and we will do only what is absolutely necessary.
So when Johnson sent more troops to Vietnam, it angered Dr. King because more young African American were being drafted to the war, when the president’s attention should have been directed to the problems in America (Young 1).
Martin Luther King, Jr. makes logical appeals in “A Time to Break Silence” speech about how in times of war "men do not easily assume the task of opposing their government’s policy" and that “antiwar activists should ‘demonstrate, teach, and preach until the country’s foundations were shaken” even when no organization was supporting him, he was achieving great results, but the changes were occurring because of “the growing number of men in American political life who began to dissent from U.S. policy” (Reed 159). Even in an interview, Dr. King was told that it wasn’t a good idea to criticize the policy on war, and Dr. King answered by saying, “Even when pressed by the demand of inner truth, (people) do not easily assume the task of opposing their government’s policy especially in time of war. Nor does the human spirit move without great difficulty against all the apathy of conformist thought within one’s own bosom and in the surrounding world” (Reaves).
Dr. King made emotional appeals to get the audience to understand him and what how he felt about the Vietnam War. The way he presented his feelings was agreeing with the audience with statements like this one: "I am in deepest agreement with the aims and work of the organization which has brought us together: Clergy and Laymen Concerned about Vietnam." and "I found myself in full accord when I read its opening lines: 'A time comes when silence is betrayal'' (King, Jr.). His tactic of agreeing with the people and expressing his own feelings worked because he is being honest and real by letting the people know what he believes in is the same thing that they, the people, believe in and that he understands “the cause of [the people’s] concern” (Reaves).
He also elicits anger from people who think he is wrong for being against the war and the government. They believe that he is wrong for publicly opposing the government’s policy and the Vietnam War. He was quoted saying that "many persons have questioned me about the wisdom of my path" and that "this query has often loomed large and loud: ‘Why are you speaking about the war, Dr. King?’ ‘Why are you joining the voices of dissent?’ ‘Peace and civil rights don't mix,’ they say. ‘Aren't you hurting the cause of your people,’ they ask?” (King, Jr.). And he answered by saying that he was “greatly saddened for such questions mean that (you) have not really known me, my commitment or my calling.”
Whether he meant to or not, he did anger many people, but that was not his intentions. He does explain himself as to why he is against Vietnam War and why he is joining in the battle against it, and how it connects to the struggle of civil rights in America. William M. King says that “King had spoken privately about the war before and was under some pressure to speak out about the effects of the growing conflict in Southeast Asia” but that “it was King’s belief—in keeping with his continuing criticisms of the capitalist system and how that system was sustained by, and in turn sustained, racism, poverty, and militarism—that either the War on Poverty or the War in Vietnam would have to be slighted to pay for the other” (King).
In ethos, he uses the character of the speaker when "consider it a great honor to share this program with Dr. Bennett, Dr. Commager, and Rabbi Heschel, and some of the distinguished leaders and personalities of our nation" and when he uses his status as a preacher like in this statement:"Since I am a preacher by calling, I suppose it is not surprising that I have seven major reasons for bringing Vietnam into the field of my moral vision." He also speaks of Langston Hughes, someone of great importance when he says, "In a way we were agreeing with Langston Hughes, that black bared of Harlem, who had written earlier: O, yes, I say it plain, America never was America to me, And yet I swear oath--America will be!” And if that didn’t convince his audience he spoke of God and what God thinks in this line: "Beyond the calling of race or nation or creed is this vocation of sonship and brotherhood, and because I believe that the Father is deeply concerned especially for his suffering and helpless and outcast children, I come tonight to speak for them” (King, Jr.).
How he uses other peoples credibility to help him present his speech effectively to his audience. Dr. King used these examples to speak “of the moral responsibility of those whose knowledge and world views had brought them to deeper understandings of the issues facing humanity” (Shujaa 181) and were able to “move beyond the prophesying of smooth patriotism to the high grounds of a firm dissent based upon the mandates of conscience and the reading of history” (King 231).
The main issues addressed in this speech were the war in Vietnam, the Civil Rights struggle, and the drafting of young black men. In the “Beyond Vietnam-A Time to Break Silence” speech, Dr. King “calls for a ‘revolution of values,” and that the “call comes after a general denunciation of the war in Vietnam” ("King's call for a 'revolution of values").
Allah, Malakiy "King Struggle Continues." New York Amsterdam News 98.4 (2007): 30. Academic Search Complete. EBSCO. Web. 26 Jan. 2011.
King, Jr., Martin Luther. "Beyond Vietnam--A Time to Break Silence." American Rhetoric: Online Speech Bank. Web. 26 Jan. 2011. .
"King's Call for a 'Revolution of Values'." National Catholic Reporter 43.11 (2007): 24. Academic Search Complete. EBSCO. Web. 26 Jan. 2011.
King, William M. “Reemerging Revolutionary Consciousness of The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.” The Journal of Negro History. 71.No. 1/4 (1986): 1-22. JSTOR. Web. 24 Jan. 2011.
Reaves, Bill. "Time to Break Silence: An Interview with Dr. King." New York Amsterdam News 88.6 (1997): 30. Academic Search Complete. EBSCO. Web. 26 Jan. 2011.
Reed, Harry A. “Martin Luther King, Jr.: History and Memory, Reflections on Dreams and Silences” The Journal of Negro History. 8.2 (1999): 150. Academic Search Complete. Web. 23 Jan. 2011.
Shujaa, Mwalimu J. "The Widening Gap between Education and Schooling in the Post 9/11 Era” The Journal of Negro Education. 72.2 (2003): 179-89. JSTOR. Web. 23 Jan. 2011.
Young, Stephen B. "President Lyndon B. Johnson's Vietnam War Disengagement Strategy." Vietnam (2006): 1. HistoryNet.com. Web. 8 Feb. 2011.