'Martin Beyond Vietnam' Glossary

Civil Rights Movement: The Civil Rights Movement is often the term used to describe the Black-led, Southern-based struggle for equal rights that coalesced during Reconstruction and came to a head in the in the 1960s. Rooted in the struggle against legally mandated structures of white supremacy, the organizing of Black communities enshrined significant legal victories that still stand today (most notably the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts of 1964). The aims of the Civil Rights Movement, however, went beyond legal reform and thus some participants and observers refer to the movement more broadly as “The Freedom Movement”. Vincent Harding, a major figure in the Movement and author of the first draft of Dr. King’s Beyond Vietnam speech, said that the ‘civil rights’ title was not adequate to describe what was going on and that the Movement was instead, “nothing less than an historic effort to expand and deepen democracy for all people.” Indeed, the tradition of Black organizing for community power and of direct action and civil disobedience has inspired the strategy of many social justice movements since, both in the United States and abroad.

Conscientious Objector (CO): An official classification by the US government that a person can apply for to abstain from military service. During a time of war, a draftee can apply to be classified as a CO and may be granted an alternative placement to combat. Throughout the Vietnam War, many draftees petitioned to be granted the status of Conscientious Objector because their political convictions and/or religious beliefs were against the war. Ultimately, the decision to grant or deny a draftee CO status is made by the federal government’s Selective Service System.¹

Draft (military): The process used by the federal government to force people to enlist in the armed forces when volunteer-filled positions are determined to be insufficient for a particular conflict. In the United States, men are required to register with the military at age 18 so that they can be drafted as needed.

Empathy: The feeling that you understand someone else’s experiences or emotions. Empathy is different than ‘sympathy’, which is more about feeling bad about someone else’s misfortune without understanding or sharing it. Can you walk a mile in someone else’s shoes or try to imagine what it would be like to experience parts of another’s life?

Land Reform: Government actions taken to distribute agricultural land more equitably, usually prompted by the organized action of poor farmers. Redistributing land is a way to redistribute wealth and power in a society, particularly when agriculture is a significant part of economic activity.

The most common political objective of land reform is to abolish feudal or colonial forms of land-ownership, often by taking land away from large landowners and redistributing it to landless peasants. Other goals include improving the social status of peasants and coordinating agricultural production with industrialization programs.

In the period surrounding the Vietnam War, many communist and socialist governments, including that of North Vietnam, had land reform as a central and popular part of their agenda.²

Materialism:  A way of thinking and acting that gives too much importance to material possessions and consumption rather than people, ideas, or justice.

In his Beyond Vietnam speech, Dr. King insists that, “[w]e must begin the shift from a ‘thing-oriented’ society to a ‘person-oriented’ society. 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.”³

Militarism:  The opinions or actions of people who believe that a country should use military force to gain power and to achieve its goals. Militarism in the United States shows up in government actions such as foreign military intervention and arming domestic police forces with military equipment, and shows up in popular culture with ideas such as ‘might makes right’.ª

Napalm: Napalm (naphthenic palmitic acid) is an incendiary weapon invented at Harvard University in secret during World War II. It is an extremely flammable, gasoline-based defoliant (plant-killing) and antipersonnel (people-killing) weapon that can generate temperatures in excess of 2,000 degrees and sticks to whatever it lands on, including human skin.

Napalm was a weapon that was widely used by the U.S. and its allies during the Vietnam War, resulting in the incineration of millions of acres of land, along with the loss of countless thousands of Vietnamese lives. Napalm was also used for its ability to strike terror in its targets as part of a campaign of psychological warfare.

Many United Nations members signed a 1981 treaty that banning the use of napalm, with the conspicuous exception of the United States.º

Racism: Racism is both the individual prejudices that a person might hold about a specific race being inferior in social, moral, or biological traits, as well as the social structures that help to create and perpetuate these myths. Racism works to ensure that those who have had power remain in charge. In the United States, racism is based on the ideology of White (European) supremacy and is used to the advantage of White people and the disadvantage of people of color.ˆ

Recognition (political/diplomatic): Each nation is said to have the same sovereign authority, meaning the power to govern itself without interference from any other nation. When one nation ‘recognizes’ another, it acknowledges the other’s sovereign will. North Vietnam was never recognized as a nation by the United States, but was recognized by other powerful nations such as China and the USSR.

Revolution (political, social): A profound change in the political and/or social structures of a society, usually brought about by a populist groundswell or uprising. Revolution can be peaceful, violent, directed at one ruler or form of government, or aimed at a broader culture.

In his Beyond Vietnam speech, Dr. King explicitly refers both to political revolution (the change of forms of government) and a “revolution of values” such as the change in cultural views on justice, militarism, poverty and wealth.

The West: Often used to describe the intellectual, religious, and social history of the area now defined by western Europe, in contrast to that of the “East” or the societies, current and past, found in Asia. In modern contexts, “the West” is often used to describe the military powers of the United States and other non-communist countries in Europe and North America where free-market capitalism is practiced.


¹adapted from http://www.sss.gov/FSconsobj.htm

²adapted from http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/land%20reform

³adapted from http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/materialism

ªadapted from: http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/militarism

ºadapted from http://www.u-s-history.com/pages/h1859.html

ˆadapted from: Enid Lee, Deborah Menkart and Margo Okazawa-Rey (eds.) Beyond Heroes and Holidays: A Practical Guide to K-12 Anti-Racist, Multicultural Education and Staff Development