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Editor’s note: This composition leverages the digital replicas of the Ramparts Extra edition, “The Children of Vietnam,” originally published in January 1967. Excerpts from Vincent Harding, Martin Luther King: The Inconvenient Hero (NY: Orbis Books, 2008) reproduced with the permission of Orbis Books.

The Truth of The Children of Vietnam: A Way of Liberation
How Will We Challenge Militarism, Racism, and Extreme Materialism?
by David T. Ratcliffe
rat haus reality press
November 30, 2017

We here in the United States are constantly told this is the greatest country on Earth and the last, best hope of humanity. In order to live up to such lofty assertions, it is necessary for all U.S. citizens to understand what is being done in our collective name every single day. Such awareness requires a willingness to confront disturbing and frightening facts that challenge the popular slogans of the land of the free and the home of the brave.

Following reports in the 1980s of the U.S. -armed, -funded, and -trained death squads in Central America, the thought kept surfacing: ‘If only people in the U.S. could see factual footage of how our government is directly and covertly involved in on-the-ground torture-murder of innocent people south of the U.S. border, they would en masse demand it stop.’ There are many articles and books that catalog and enumerate sources concerning post-WWII United States military aggressions and intelligence agency covert operations both domestic and foreign.[1] The focus here is an especially potent photographic essay on the consequences to the people of Vietnam from the U.S. war in their country.

“A lovely 28-year-old peasant woman was lying on her back nursing a young child. The evening before, she had been sitting in her thatched hut when a piece of shrapnel tore through her back transecting the spinal cord. She was completely paralyzed below the nipple line. We could do nothing more for her than give antibiotics and find her a place to lie. A few mornings later she was dead.”   

In January 1967, an article was published in Ramparts Magazine by William Pepper titled, “The Children Of Vietnam.”[2] This searing essay presented vital historical truth of the toll the U.S. war in Vietnam was taking both physically and psychically on that country’s children. At the time Pepper was executive director of the New Rochelle Commission on Human Rights, an instructor in Political Science at Mercy College in Dobbs Ferry, New York, and director of the college’s Children’s Institute For Advanced Study and Research. On leave of absence in the spring of 1966, he spent six weeks in Vietnam as a correspondent accredited by the Military Assistance Command in that country, and by the government of Vietnam. His primary concern was the effects of the war on women and children, the role U.S. voluntary agencies performed, and the work of the military in civil action.

The time period in which “The Children of Vietnam” was written included a wide-spread and expanding anti-war movement that increased pressure on the U.S. federal government which finally ended its war in Vietnam in 1973. It might have ended it in 1968 if Presidential candidate Richard Nixon had not committed treason by secretly offering the North Vietnamese a better deal if they waited until after he won the November election.[3]

It would have ended in the mid-1960s. Tragically, the assassination of President Kennedy aborted the formal decision he had made to withdraw all U.S. military forces from Vietnam by the end of 1965. James Galbraith described this in a 2009 interview:

Vincent Browne: Your father of course was very close to John F Kennedy... Some of our viewers may not know this, John Kenneth Galbraith was a very famous American. He was an economist, and a brilliant economist at that, but he also was well known generally. He became the ambassador to India, appointed to India by John Kennedy in 1961, and was quite close to Kennedy. Though why he was sent so far away to India, what he thought, I wonder.
James K. Galbraith: The reason for that was in part that he wanted my father involved on foreign policy, in particular to be an effective independent voice on Southeast Asia, on Vietnam. That played an important role in Kennedy’s thinking on those issues.
VB: And yet Kennedy is blamed quite a bit for building up American forces in Vietnam and starting that enterprise. Do you think that’s fair?
JKG: The reality was that my father was an opponent from the very beginning of the commitment of U.S. forces to Vietnam. McNamara and Kennedy agreed with him on that point. A policy was put into place to end the U.S. involvement in Vietnam and a formal presidential decision was taken in October of 1963 that would, if implemented, have caused a full pullout of U.S. forces from Vietnam by the end of 1965. That is the historical record.
VB: So you believe that Kennedy would have withdrawn the U.S. forces from Vietnam then.
JKG: What he did was to make a formal decision to do so. So it’s not a question of belief of what he would have done. It’s a question of establishing, as a point of historical fact, what he did decide to do. And it’s clear that he did. We have all of the documents involved in the making of the decision including the decision itself and including, actually, tapes of Kennedy ordering that decision to be taken. So the record is now very firmly established and the surviving participants, including Secretary McNamara, fully agree that that was in fact the decision that President Kennedy took.[4]

The formal decision of President Kennedy to implement a full withdrawal of U.S. forces from Vietnam by 1965 was made less than two months before Dallas. In his November 2009 Keynote Address at the Coalition on Political Assassinations conference, Catholic Worker and author Jim Douglass spoke about this.

On October 11, 1963, President Kennedy issued a top-secret order to begin withdrawing the U.S. military from Vietnam. In National Security Action Memorandum 263, he ordered that 1,000 U.S. military personnel be withdrawn from Vietnam by the end of 1963, and that the bulk of U.S. personnel be taken out by the end of 1965.[5]

Kennedy decided on his withdrawal policy, against the arguments of most of his advisers, at a contentious October 2 National Security Council meeting. When Defense Secretary Robert McNamara was leaving the meeting to announce the withdrawal to the White House reporters, the President called to him, “And tell them that means all of the helicopter pilots, too.”[6] Everybody is going out.

In fact, it would not mean that at all. After JFK’s assassination, his withdrawal policy was quietly voided. In light of the future consequences of Dallas, it was not only John Kennedy who was murdered on November 22, 1963, but 58,000 other Americans and over three million Vietnamese, Laotians, and Cambodians.[7]

National Security State historian John Judge devoted his life to research, writing, and speaking.[8] In Kenn Thomas’s words, “Judge compiled data and ferreted out information about the oft covered-up facts of history.”[9] John grew up in Falls Church, Virginia where both his parents, John Joseph Judge and Marjorie Cooley Judge worked as civilian employees in the Pentagon. As he recounted in a 2002 talk:

[M]y mother was the highest-paid Pentagon employee for more than almost all of her thirty years career in the Pentagon. But for many, many years, the highest paid employee under the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Directly under the Deputy Chief of Staff for Personnel, my mother’s job was to project the draft call. She had to project for the Joint Chiefs how many do they have to draft in order to keep the force level at where the Joint Chiefs wanted it to be. They would give her statistical tables based on their experience: How many would retire? How many would die of natural causes? How many would reenlist? How many would discharge under each category? How many would enlist anew? And therefore to have whatever force level they wanted up or down, how many did you have to draft? She had to project that annually and nationally and those calls got upwards of 50,000 a year. She had to project it annually and nationally right and accurately enough to be within a hundred people either way on the call. And I remember her sweating them coming in. Those projections had to be made that accurately five years in advance. Five years in advance.

They projected it, and whatever number my mother said they needed they multiplied it by five, she told me, and sent it to the Select Service System as its quota. Why? Because fifty to fifty-five percent would flunk a physical; ten to fifteen percent would fall under a deferment or exemption; another ten to fifteen percent would no show or refuse. And then they were back to the twenty percent they needed in the first place. They planned it.

So I asked my mother after she retired, When did they tell you they would escalate the war in Vietnam? Because she had to be among the first to know. She told me that in April of 1963, for the first time in her career at the Pentagon, she was told to reverse her projections, to change her projections. She’d never been asked to do that before. She said it was on orders from the White House, which meant it was on orders from John F. Kennedy. She was told to change the projections to reflect a full withdrawal of American troops from Vietnam by the end of 1964. She put those figures into the projections.

I said, When did they tell you they would escalate? She said the last week in November. I said, Late November, last week—I said—Kennedy’s killed Friday the 22nd of November in 1963. She said, The Monday following the assassination. He’s barely in the grave and she’s given figures and my mother couldn’t believe the figures. My mother told me she took the figures back up to the Joint Chiefs and she said, These can’t be right. And they told her to use them. I used to tease her that that was the first civilian protest of the war in Vietnam.

The figures she was given on November 25th ’63 was that the United States was entering into a ten-year war in Vietnam with 57,000 American dead. Exactly on target. Till ’73: fifty seven thousand five hundred names on the wall. They know where they’re going. They plan ahead.[10]

Over three million Vietnamese, Laotians, and Cambodian as well as 58,000 U.S. American lives were lost as a direct result of the assassination of the 35th President. The war that would finally end in 1973 was being put on rails to end ten years earlier. Collectively, U.S. state actors, academicians, and media, have not yet confronted our history of this timeline.

Who benefited from the prospective eight additional years of that war? Certainly not the indigenous peoples of southeast Asia. Beyond the number of dead in Vietnam, those who survived faced a more pernicious horror as the opening of “The Children of Vietnam” explains.

    “Any visitor to a hospital, an orphanage, a refugee camp, can plainly see the evidence of reliance on amputation as a surgical shortcut.”

For countless thousands of children in Vietnam, breathing is quickened by terror and pain, and tiny bodies learn more about death every day. These solemn, rarely smiling little ones have never known what it is to live without despair.

They indeed know death, for it walks with them by day and accompanies their sleep at night. It is as omnipresent as the napalm that falls from the skies with the frequency and impartiality of the monsoon rain.

The horror or what we are doing to the children of Vietnam—“we,” because napalm and white phosphorus are the weapons of America—is staggering, whether we examine the overall figures or look at a particular case like that of Doan Minh Luan.

Luan, age eight, was one of two children brought to Britain last summer through private philanthropy, for extensive treatment at the McIndoe Burns Center. He came off the plane with a muslin bag over what had been his face. His parents had been burned alive. His chin had “melted” into his throat, so that he could not close his mouth. He had no eyelids. After the injury, he had had no treatment at all—none whatever—for four months.

It will take years for Luan to be given a new face (“We are taking special care,” a hospital official told a Canadian reporter, “to make him look Vietnamese”). He needs at least 12 operations, which surgeons will perform for nothing: the wife of a grocery-chain millionaire is paying the hospital bill. Luan has already been given eyelids, and he can close his mouth now. He and the nine-year-old girl who came to Britain with him, shy and sensitive Tran Thi Thong, are among the very few lucky ones.

There is no one to provide such care for most of the other horribly maimed children of Vietnam; and despite growing efforts by American and South Vietnamese authorities to conceal the fact, it’s clear that there are hundreds of thousands of terribly injured children, with no hope for decent treatment on even a day-to-day basis, much less for the long months and years of restorative surgery needed to repair ten searing seconds of napalm.

When we hear about these burned children at all, they’re simply called “civilians,” and there’s no real way to tell how many of them are killed and injured every day. By putting together some of the figures that are available, however, we can get some idea of the shocking story.

In February 2003 William Pepper spoke at Modern Times Bookstore in San Francisco on the release of his new book, An Act of State: The Execution of Martin Luther King. He started his talk by relaying his experience in Vietnam.

This story actually begins with Vietnam in 1966. As a very much younger person I was there as a journalist and didn’t publish anything whilst I was there, but waited until I got back to the United States. Then I wrote a number of articles. One of them appeared in a muckraking magazine called Ramparts, that had its home in this city, published by Warren Hinkle in those days. It was called “The Children of Vietnam.” That is what started me down the slippery slope of the saga of Martin Luther King; his work during the last year, and his death. And then an investigation which has gone on since 1978.[11]

In 1964 Wayne Morse (D-OR) was one of only two U.S. Senators to oppose the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution which authorized LBJ to take military action in Vietnam without a declaration of war. In remarks before the Senate on August 22, 1966, Morse spoke at length about William Pepper and his experiences in Vietnam the previous spring:

As Mr. Pepper makes clear, by far the majority of present refugees in South Vietnam have been rendered homeless by American military action, and by far the majority of hospital patients, especially children, are there due to injuries suffered from American military activities. The plight of these children and the huge burden they impose upon physical facilities has been almost totally ignored by the American people.[12]

In a 1999 essay, Jim Douglass writes how:

The final chapter of Martin Luther King’s life began on January l4, l967, the day on which King committed himself to deepening his opposition to the Vietnam War. He was at an airport restaurant on his way to a retreat in Jamaica. While looking through magazines, he came across an illustrated article in Ramparts, “The Children of Vietnam”. His coworker Bernard Lee never forgot King’s shock as he looked at photographs of young napalm victims.[13]

He froze as he looked at the pictures from Vietnam. He saw a picture of a Vietnamese mother holding her dead baby, a baby killed by our military. Then Martin just pushed the plate of food away from him. I looked up and said, “Doesn’t it taste any good,” and he answered, “Nothing will ever taste any good for me until I do everything I can to end that war.”

Bernard Lee later explained, “That’s when the decision was made. Martin had known about the war before then, of course, and had spoken out against it. But it was then that he decided to commit himself to oppose it.”[14]

Continuing in his 2003 talk, Pepper described how he began to work with Martin King:

“Torn flesh, splintered bones, screaming agony are bad enough. But perhaps most heart-rending of all are the tiny faces and bodies scorched and seared by fire.”   

Then he asked to meet with me and asked me to open my files to him that went well beyond what was published in the Ramparts piece in terms of photographs. Some of you probably saw, if you’re old enough to remember, a number of those photographs. Portions of them used to appear on lampposts and windows of burned and deformed children. That was what gave him pause. He hadn’t had a chance to read the text at that point but it was the photographs that stopped him.

The introduction of the article was by Benjamin Spock. It resulted, ultimately, in a Committee of Responsibility bringing over a hundred Vietnamese children, war-injured children to this country and our placing them in hospitals around the nation. This was so that people would have a chance to see first-hand what their tax dollars were purchasing.

On the way to Cambridge to open Vietnam Summer, an anti-war project, we rode from Brown University (where he had delivered a sermon at the chapel there) and I continued the process of showing him these photographs and anecdotes of what I had seen when I was in the country. And he wept, he openly wept. He was so visibly shaken by what was happening that it was difficult for him to retain composure. And of course that passion came out in his speech on April 4th, 1967 at Riverside Church where he said that his native land had become the greatest purveyor of violence on the face of the earth. Quoting Thoreau he said we have come to a point where we use massively improved means to accomplish unimproved ends and what we should be doing is focusing on not just the neighborhood that we have created but making that old white neighborhood into a brotherhood. And we were going entirely in the opposite direction and this was what he was pledging to fight against.

We spoke very early in the morning following that Riverside address and he said, “Now you know they’re all going to turn against me. We’re going to lose money. SCLC [Southern Christian Leadership Conference] will lose all of its corporate contributions. All the major civil rights leaders are going to turn their back on me and all the major media will start to tarnish and to taint and to attack me. I will be called everything even up to and including a traitor.” So he said, “We must persevere and build a new coalition that can be effective in this course of peace and justice.”[15]

As William Pepper recounted, when Martin King first saw “The Children of Vietnam,” “He hadn’t had a chance to read the text at that point but it was the photographs that stopped him.” The profound force of truth in the images of U.S. war consequences to the people of Vietnam moved Dr. King to begin, in Gandhi’s words, his final experiments in truth.[16]

Vincent Salandria describes how “historical truth is the polestar which guides humankind when we grope for an accurate diagnosis of a crisis.”[17] Jim Douglass relays how Gandhi’s experiments in truth take us into the most powerful force on earth and in existence: truth force or satyagraha. “Remember what Gandhi said that turned theology on its head. He said truth is God. That is the truth: Truth is God. We can discover the truth and live it out. There is nothing, nothing more powerful than the truth. The truth will set us free.”[18]

“The Children of Vietnam” provides an instance of truth force that is needed now more than ever to counter the fragmentation and doublethink being magnified by the demands of capital and its accumulation. Because, tragically and horrifically, what the United States caused to happen in Vietnam has not stopped. It continues to this day in Iraq, in Afghanistan, in Yemen.

Earlier this month a report from the Cost Of War project at Brown University details U.S. spending on post-9/11 wars to reach $5.6 trillion by 2018.[19] Among other data, this series finds that the average U.S. taxpayer has spent $23,386 on these wars since 2001. Apprehended in this way, it is clear how each of us who pays taxes in the U.S. is collaborating in the militarism that is devastating the globe and devouring our collective future.

WAR IS TERRORISM In denouncing the U.S. war in Vietnam at Riverside Church in 1967 Martin King posed the question on behalf of Vietnamese peasants: “What do they think as we test out our latest weapons on them, just as the Germans tested out new medicine and new tortures in the concentration camps of Europe?” And this was a war that ended up being broadcast on nightly news television in the United States as it became evermore hellish in its results. Said King at Riverside, “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.” His voice, love, compassion, and intelligence are as searingly relevant right now, half a century later, as in 1967.

Historian Vincent Harding was a close friend of Martin King and the author of King’s Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence,” speech at Riverside Church. In his uncompromising book, Martin Luther King: The Inconvenient Hero,[20] Harding offers a series of meditations on the final years of King’s life after his August 1963 I Have A Dream speech. In a 2010 conversation, the historian described how, for the U.S. to establish a national MLK holiday,

Martin would have to be somewhat domesticated in order for the country to deal with him because he was...calling us to give up for instance on the whole experience and teaching and living of white supremacy, calling us to move away from the great levels of materialism that have always been so much a threat to our humanity and the humanity of others.... Almost never in most of the [national holiday] celebrations is there any lifting up of his powerful statement against the war and against the machinery of war and against militarism and against our temptation to live as a new kind of imperial power in the world.[21]

Harding’s book evokes and reignites the increasingly radical King, largely forgotten, rejected, and ignored by the status quo at every level. Writing of the national holiday, he asks the question,

    “In Sancta Maria Orphanage, I frequently became involved in trying, with a small amount of soap and a jar of Noxzema, to alleviate the festering infections that seemed to grow around every minor bite and cut.” He was deformed by polio, but he stood in front of Saigon’s City Hall every day—shining shoes, staying alive.

When will he be safely dead? Listen for him in January.... Hear the voices from the black past (and future) singing, beyond the “Hosannas,” singing with Martin, for Martin, “Ain’t no grave can hold my body down.”

Perhaps the youngest children will hear best, will receive the voices and the songs through ears and hearts not yet filled with the “Top Forty,” through eyes that see beyond MTV and other diversions from getting ready. Perhaps they will sense that great men and women do not really die. Perhaps they will ask about his dream, his cause, suspecting that he lives, somewhere, nearby. Perhaps we will have the wisdom, the knowledge, and the courage to introduce them to the hero who, by the end of his life, was totally committed to the cause of the poor—in Mississippi, in Chicago, in Appalachia, in Vietnam, in Central America, in South America, in Memphis.

Perhaps we will tell them that the older dream, the famous, easier-to-handle dream, the forever-quoted dream of 1963 was no longer sufficient for him. Let them know that at the end, when the bullet finally came, he was dreaming of marching on Washington again, but this time to stay there, not just for speeches and for singing, but for audacious, challenging, divinely obedient action—to engage in a campaign of massive civil disobedience to try to stop the functioning of the national government. Tell them he planned to do this, calling on thousands and hundreds of thousands of lovers of justice until the cause of the poor became the nation’s first priority, until all people were guaranteed jobs or honest income, until our nation stopped killing Asians abroad and turned to tend to the desperate needs of its people at home.[22]

Published in 1996, Harding reminds us of the bristling vector Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was accelerating towards, unceasing in his invitation for all to likewise walk through the self-imposed walls of our own limitations and to create and establish “another way, a better way than the way of weapons and war, to be all [we] can be.”[23]

Getting ready is letting the shouts, the accusations, the condemnations cascade over us, enter deep, breaking through the walls, getting under the skin, flaming up the cool. Getting ready, for some of us, is especially hard sometimes, for some times it is being black and understanding that poetry is timeless. It is facing the possibility that now, years later, years of “progress” and “equal opportunity” and getting our piece, and swimming in the main one, and sitting paralyzed in front of television for hours at a stretch every impressionable childhood day—that now the screaming, revival-time words might be not just for white folks, but also for us, for us, to warn us of how fearful we are now, today (so many years after the Memphis balcony). How terrified, how guarded we have become against all that Martin King was called then in his last, beleaguered years: “agitator,” “trouble-maker,” “radical,” “communist-sympathizer,” “fanatic,” “unpatriotic,” “un-American,” “naive,” “dangerous” to the status quo.

Do we dare fantasize about what we would do now, if he came to our black-administered city, to challenge our leaders; if he tried to question our values, and our bank accounts, and our political machine; if he dared to undermine the morale and question the Christian faith of our soldiers, of our officers, of our chaplains—as they landed in Grenada, as they poised themselves on the borders of Nicaragua, as they enjoyed equality of opportunity to press the buttons of nuclear destruction, as they prepared for possible duty fighting “the communists” on behalf of the government of South Africa?

Are we, too, now frightened by people who organize unkempt and unrespectable folks to struggle for peace and justice here and abroad, who now take risks to do for escaping Central Americans what the Underground Railroad did for us—while we stand back, as far back as possible? Are we, too, now frightened in our respectable blackness by all the strange folks who, with King, really believe the way of love is more faithful to Jesus of Nazareth than the well-paid “defense” occupations of war-making, war-thinking, war-threatening, and death? Do we, too, mock democracy each time we back away, each time we fail to participate actively in the struggles for the transformation of our institutions and of this nation, in the defense of the poor, in the protection of the environment, in the questioning of our political leaders, in the teaching of ourselves and our children who the hero really was—and who he, and we, may yet become?[24]....

He dreamed a world where all were free to serve their sisters and brothers in compassion and hope, where fear had no dominion, where the resources of the nation were redistributed to meet the needs of the overwhelming majority of its people, where no one had to fear old age, or sickness, or being left alone.

Oh yes, he saw the rest, the other. Couldn’t you tell it in his eyes? Didn’t we feel the pain of what he saw, this brother from another planet? At all the funerals of his adopted children, sisters, brothers, mommas, and daddys, in all the jails, at every confrontation with dogs and guns and frightened, narrow, brutal men, he had seen us humans, plumbed the depths of our terror, our cruelty, and our fear, he had seen our selfishness and our blind ambition. But he never stopped looking there.

Always the dream pressed him on, inward, outward, deeper. In the depths of our eyes, roaming even then beyond the walls, he had found the fugitive hope, crouching in corners; he had seen the compassion, gnarled and unused, felt the love, unnamed, unrecognized, unclaimed; he had grasped the oneness, denied and bombed to shreds.

“... I never left the tiny victims without losing composure. The initial urge to reach out and soothe the hurt was restrained by the fear that the ash-like skin would crumble in my fingers.”   

Something in this man saw the sister, brother, momma, fearful child in all the strangest places, faces, and he sang to us of what we might become, beyond walls. He sang in the night, sang the old Negro songs, sang the strong black songs, sang the African-sun-soaked songs, and beckoned us, red, white, brown, black, toward ourselves, told us, like Langston—dear brother Langston Hughes—told us, “America is a dream.” And we of every hue and cry, we are the dreamers, creating, dreaming with him, singing with him, dancing with him, to Native American songs, Mexican songs, Scotch-Irish songs, German songs, African songs, Jewish songs, Vietnamese songs, Puerto Rican songs, Appalachian songs.

Organizing, marching, singing the songs, standing unflinching before the blows, going to jail, challenging all the killers of the dreams, he called us to sing, dream, and sing and build—and stand our ground, creating a new reality, a new nation, a new world, ready for the hero. He saw us dancing before we knew we could move. He recognized what we had not seen and was ready to live and die for it, for us.

Early in his movement toward us, back in the 1950s, he was sensing what he saw, saying, “I still believe that standing up for the truth of God is the greatest thing in the world ... come what may.” And for those of us who are getting ready, what truth of God could be greater than the truth of our rich, unexplored human possibilities, our fundamental oneness, our essential union with all life, and our responsibility to live out that truth, politically, economically, socially, spiritually, ecologically, culturally—come what may—against all the systems of separation, dehumanization, and exploitation which deny “what the living may become”?

Are we ready to be what we may become? Oh nation of greatness, do we know who we are, really are, getting ready for our hero, and ourselves?

Long before the bullet struck, Martin was getting ready, moving toward our rendezvous. In the little book of poetry, John Dixon caught a glimpse of the hero becoming, and shared his insight with us:

In an age when courage is measured by destruction, his courage was the courage of love. In an age when men are commodities with a price, he believed in the reality of persons. In an age afraid to believe, his faith was as innocent as a child’s. In an age when subtlety of intelligence serves profit or power, his mind sought the liberations of peace.

What embarrassing words: courage, faith, love, liberation, peace. Haven’t they been outlawed yet? Lock doors, put troops at the gate, guard the legislative halls against courage and faith, against liberation, love, and peace! But here comes the dead man, living, walking, still becoming. He comes piercing our walls, planting courage, planting faith, planting love and peace toward the center of our hearts, reminding us that “intelligence” was not meant to be another word for espionage, spying, and dirty tricks, that doctorates do not have to be sold to the highest bidders, that there is another way, a liberating way, to be shared, as he used to say, “by no D’s and PhD’s.” Are we ready? Is this implacable lover really our hero? Hero of a nation not yet born, but borning? God, are those the pangs we feel?[25]

Coretta Scott King recounts how, on Saturday, April 6, 1968—as Vincent Harding writes, “two days after the bullet of fear and greed, of racism and militarism, and of ignorance and blindness had finally caught up with her husband”—she spoke at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta about her spouse.

My husband often told the children that if a man had nothing that was worth dying for, then he was not fit to live. He said also that it’s not how long you live, but how well you live. He knew that at any moment his physical life could be cut short, and we faced this possibility squarely and honestly. My husband faced the possibility of death without bitterness or hatred. He knew that this was a sick society, totally infested with racism and violence that questioned his integrity, maligned his motives, and distorted his views, which would ultimately lead to his death. And he struggled with every ounce of his energy to save that society from itself.

He never hated. He never despaired of well doing. And he encouraged us to do likewise, and so he prepared us constantly for the tragedy.

I am surprised and pleased at the success of his teaching, for our children say calmly, ‘Daddy is not dead; he may be physically dead, but his spirit will never die.’

Ours has been a religious home, and this too has made this burden easier to bear. Our concern now is that his work does not die. He gave his life for the poor of the world—the garbage workers of Memphis and the peasants of Vietnam. Nothing hurt him more than that man could attempt no way to solve problems except through violence. He gave his life in search of a more excellent way, a more effective way, a creative rather than a destructive way.

We intend to go on in search of that wav, and I hope that you who loved and admired him would join us in fulfilling his dream.

The day that Negro people and others in bondage are truly free, on the day want is abolished, on the day wars are no more, on that day I know my husband will rest in a long-deserved peace.[26]

Trappist Monk Thomas Merton had a gift for seeing the truth of our world with intelligence and coherence. In a letter to a correspondent on New Year’s Eve 1961 about how we had become servants of our own weapons of war Merton wrote:

Our weapons dictate what we are to do. They force us into awful corners. They give us our living, they sustain our economy, they bolster up our politicians, they sell our mass media, in short we live by them. But if they continue to rule us we will also most surely die by them.[27]

    “About eight per cent of Vietnam’s population live in refugee shelters or camps; about three quarters of the shelter population, or over 750,000 persons, are children under 16. In shelters like Qui Nhon, pictured here, there is unimaginable squalor and close confinement...” “Despite the gradual process of animalization, in their striving to maintain a semblance of dignity, they are beautiful.”

The scourge of war that forever changed the world of the children of Vietnam, who physically survived our war in their land, casts an ever-lengthening shadow that haunts us to the present day with ever more effective killing machines including drones and remote-control-engendering-death technologies. The questions before us have not changed since 1967. How have we and how will we respond to the world of hellish death and suffering we fund throughout every year, including on blood money tax day? What are we to do with these lives we have been given to move away from the great levels of materialism that have always been so much a threat to our humanity and the humanity of others? To oppose all war and the machinery of war and come out every day against militarism and against our temptation to live as a new kind of imperial power in the world? To be totally committed to the cause of the poor—in Mississippi, in Chicago, in Appalachia, in Vietnam, in Central America, in South America, in Memphis? To work tirelessly so the cause of the poor becomes the nation’s first priority, until all people are guaranteed jobs or honest income, until our nation stops killing humanity abroad and despoiling the Earth and turns to tend to the desperate needs of its people at home? To dissolve our psychological numbing walls and allow the light of courage, faith, fellowship, love and peace to come into our hearts and thus be reminded that intelligence is not meant to be another word for espionage, spying, and dirty tricks?

The questions demanding our response abilities remain. They will not go away. To respond to them may appear to run the gamut from seemingly difficult to impossible. And yet, for our fellow human beings we share this earth with, whose lives have been forever changed by the wars that have ravaged themselves, their loved ones, and their land—and by the demands of capital and its accumulation that has stolen the raw material resources from their land to further pad the Fortunes of the Five Hundred and of the One Thousand—the challenges the poor of the world confront are countably infinite more difficult to respond to than what the majority of we here in the United States face. We have choices and power here that the majority of humanity do not enjoy. The choice and the power resides with us. And the choice to recognize that power, and take responsibility for it, and make this into a world where all of us can live together in peace and fellowship, sits right here.


While writing this composition after digitizing the Ramparts Extra edition of “The Children of Vietnam,” my mind went back to what William Pepper had recounted in 2003: “Then [MLK] asked to meet with me and asked me to open my files to him that went well beyond what was published in the Ramparts piece in terms of photographs.” I wrote Mr. Pepper asking if he would be open to my including some of the additional photographs he described sharing with Martin King in addition to those published in Ramparts. Apologizing for not being able to fulfill my request, he responded with the following:

Many years ago, when I lived on Roosevelt Island, in one of a number of break-ins to my apartment by the local FBI, my photo files were raided and stolen. The thefts included my surveillance photos of Raul as well as the Vietnam files. Strangely, they left the autopsy photos of MLK – perhaps to be a reminder.

Appendix B in William Pepper’s 2016 book, The Plot To Kill King,[28] is titled “Ramparts Magazine—The Children of Vietnam ” and, includes a black-and-white replica of his January 1967 work. The introduction to it states:

As human beings, we sometimes are confronted with experiences which render us substantively different individuals than we were prior to exposures. Vietnam had this effect upon me. It was soul shattering—first, because of what was done to those innocents, and secondly because we, the American people and our tax dollars, caused it under the self-serving lies and greed which underlay the atrocities. Virtually every war crime imaginable was committed against this ancient people and their children.

These victims are embedded in my being. Dr. King wept when he was confronted with the images, but the history and its narrative, which moved him to oppose the war in 1967, should be remembered, and is without doubt, a part of his legacy.[29]

“One tiny child provided for me their symbol. He was about three years old and he sat on the ground away front the others. He was in that position when I entered and still there several hours later when I left. When I approached he nervously fingered the sand and looked away, only to finally confront me as I knelt in front of him. Soon, I left and he remained as before—alone.”


  1. [] Good introductions to this subject include:
  2. [] William F. Pepper, “The Children of Vietnam,” Ramparts, January 1967, pp. 45-68.
  3. [] From David Swanson, “PBS’s Vietnam Acknowledges Nixon’s Treason,” Let’s Try Democracy, October 11, 2017:
    I want to call particular, and grateful, attention to one item that the PBS film does include, namely Richard Nixon’s treason. Five years ago, this story showed up in an article by Ken Hughes, and others by Robert Parry. Four years ago it made it into The Smithsonian, among other places. Three years ago it gained notice in a corporate-media-approved book by Ken Hughes. At that time, George Will mentioned Nixon’s treason in passing in the Washington Post, quite as if everyone knew all about it. In the new PBS documentary, Burns and Novick actually come out and state clearly what happened, in a manner that Will did not. As a result, a great many more people may indeed actually hear what happened.
    What happened was this. President Johnson’s staff engaged in peace negotiations with the North Vietnamese. Presidential candidate Richard Nixon secretly told the North Vietnamese that they would get a better deal if they waited. [UPDATE: He sent a similar message to the South Vietnamese that also helped sabotage the talks.] Johnson learned of this and privately called it treason but publicly said nothing. Nixon campaigned promising that he could end the war. But, unlike Reagan who later sabotaged negotiations to free hostages from Iran, Nixon didn’t actually deliver what he had secretly delayed. Instead, as a president elected on the basis of fraud, he continued and escalated the war (just as Johnson had before him). He once again campaigned on the promise to finally end the war when he sought re-election four years later—the public still having no idea that the war might have been ended at the negotiating table before Nixon had ever moved into the White House if only Nixon hadn’t illegally interfered (or might have been ended at any point since its beginning simply by ending it).
  4. [] James Galbraith: Kennedy was pulling out of Vietnam, Nightly News with Vincent Browne, TV3 Ireland, 2009
    See Also: from James K. Galbraith:
  5. [] Published in Foreign Relations of the United States, 1961-1963, Volume IV: August-December 1963 (Washington, U.S. Government Printing Office, 1991), Document 194. National Security Action Memorandum No. 263, October 11, 1963, pp. 395-396. Source: Department of State, S/S-NSC Files: Lot 72 D 316, NSAMs. Top Secret; Eyes Only. The Director of Central Intelligence and the Administrator of AID also received copies. Also printed in United States-Vietnam Relations, 1945-1967, Book 12, p. 578.
    NSAM #263 though very brief, initiated what President Kennedy had begun to implement for withdrawing U.S. military forces from Vietnam. Although short, this memorandum directly refers to and builds from the Taylor/McNamara Report (Document 167) as well as Documents 179 and 181.
    Document 167. Memorandum From the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (Taylor) and the Secretary of Defense (McNamara) to the President, October 2, 1963, pp. 336-346. Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Vietnam Country Series, Memos and Miscellaneous. Top Secret.
    Audio recording: NSC Meeting on McNamara-Taylor Report on Vietnam, 2 October 1963 (28:45), Tape 114/A49, jfklibrary.org.
    Document 179. Memorandum for the Files of a Conference With the President, October 5, 1963, pp. 368-370. Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Vietnam Country Series, Memos and Miscellaneous. Top Secret.
    Document 181. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in Vietnam, October 5, 1963, pp. 371-379. Source: Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 15 S VIET. Top Secret; Immediate Prepared by Hilsman with clearances of Harriman and Bundy. Cleared in draft with Rusk and McNamara. Regarding the drafting of this cable, see Document 179. Repeated to CINCPAC for POLAD exclusive for Felt.
  6. [] Kenneth P. O’Donnell and Dave F. Powers with Joe McCarthy, Johnny, We Hardly Knew Ye; Memories of John Fitzgerald Kennedy (Boston: Little Brown, 1970), p. 17.
  7. [] Full transcript: Jim Douglass on The Hope in Confronting the Unspeakable in the Assassination of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy, Keynote Address at The Coalition on Political Assassinations Conference, 20 November 2009, Dallas, Texas.
  8. [] See Selected Writings of John Judge, ratical.org.
  9. [] Kenn Thomas from the Foreword, Judge for Yourself: A Treasury of Writing by John Judge (Say Something Real Press, 2017), p. vi.
  10. [] Transcript of film: John Judge: September 11 Critical Analysis, Kane Hall, University of Washington, Seattle, 16 February 2002.
  11. [] Transcript: William F. Pepper: An Act of State – The Execution of Martin Luther King, Talk at Modern Times Bookstore, San Francisco, 4 February 2003.
  12. [] Wayne Morse remarks before the Senate of the United States, August 22, 1966, appears in “The Children of Vietnam.”
  13. [] Jim Douglass, A Letter to the American People (and Myself in Particular) On the Unspeakable; first published in Fair Play Magazine, 1999, extended on ratical.org, 2012.
  14. [] Bernard Lee quoted in David Garrow, Bearing the Cross: Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (New York: Vintage Books Classics, 1988), p. 543.
  15. [] Transcript 2003 Pepper Talk.
  16. [] For an account of his final year see: Ratcliffe, “50 Years Ago: Riverside Church and MLK’s Final Year of Experiments With Truth,” rat haus reality press, April 4, 2017.
  17. [] Vincent Salandria, Chapter 18. Notes on Lunch with Arlen Specter, False Mystery - Essays on the JFK Assassination (rat haus reality press: Boston, 2017).
  18. [] Jim Douglass, Conclusion, COPA 2009 Keynote Address.
  19. [] Neta C. Crawford (Boston University), US Budgetary Costs of Post-9/11 Wars Through FY2018: $5.6 Trillion, COSTS OF WAR, Watson Institute International & Public Affairs, Brown University, November 2017.
    Summary Article: Costs of War: “U.S. spending on post-9/11 wars to reach $5.6 trillion by 2018,” Brown University, RI, November 7, 2017.
  20. [] Vincent Harding, Martin Luther King: The Inconvenient Hero, (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2008)
  21. [] Film: Vincent Harding - The Inconvenient Hero, Martin Luther King (8:26), Ikeda Center, November 11, 2010.
  22. [] Harding, The Inconvenient Hero, p. 28.
  23. [] Ibid. p. 41.
  24. [] Ibid. pp. 31-32.
  25. [] Ibid. pp. 34-36.
  26. [] Coretta Scott King, My Life With Martin Luther King, Jr., Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1969, p. 327.
  27. [] Thomas Merton, Cold War Letters, (Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 2006), p. 43.
  28. [] Dr. William F. Pepper Esq, The Plot To Kill King: The Truth Behind the Assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. (NY: Skyhorse Publishing, 2016)
  29. [] Ibid. p. 344.

Copyright © 1996, 2008 by Vincent Harding.
Excerpts from Martin Luther King: The Inconvenient Hero reproduced with the permission of Orbis Books.

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