“They asked if our own nation wasn’t using massive doses of violence to solve its problems, to bring about the changes it wanted.”
“W]e again fell victim to the deadly Western arrogance that has poisoned the international atmosphere for so long.”
Taken together, these citations demonstrate the parallel King draws between violence in Vietnam and violence in the United States. The motivating force is “Western arrogance” and its dominating, destructive impact on those who are on the receiving end. Central to his argument is that these parallels are not representative of separate events. Rather, the war in Vietnam exports the destructive race relations in the United States abroad, forcing Vietnamese people to suffer and die at the hands of Black and white soldiers, while the government and white citizens in the United States continue to inflict violence on Black citizens at home.
King explains the inhumane and illogical exportation of violence and domination by highlighting the inconsistency in supporting the war and also supporting civil rights efforts. He insists that in order to pursue mutual resolution and peace, there must be trust between parties. And when the United States has shown nothing but state sanctioned murder and destruction of land, there is no reason for the Vietnamese people to trust that peace and access to resources are the intended result of the war.
“Beyond Vietnam” was specifically targeted to an American audience to convince people that silence condones the suffering of other humans. King speaks to the ignorance of Americans, and how we do not understand the international impact of the violence we perpetuate. He shows that Americans felt distant from the daily struggles of Vietnamese people during the war, failing to recognize that we were condemning innocent Vietnamese people and fighting a war we had to place in. The distance from human experience is the ultimate tool of domination, in this instance, as it facilitated the inaction of American citizens who didn’t consider the daily plight of Vietnamese people. Institutions within the United States still do this; we still rely on the distance between Americans with institutional power and the people we persecute to justify inhumane treatment. Demonizing and distancing the narratives of those who receive the violence of “Western arrogance” is how we maintain the prison industrial complex and how we remain ignorant to murder and destruction abroad. At risk of being ahistorical, King’s argument rings true 50 years later—even when considering the many differences in our current American context.