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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with William W. Finlator, April 19, 1985. Interview C-0007. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Links between oppressed peoples of the world

Finlator weighs the effects of the Vietnam War, and foreign entanglements in general, on civil rights in the United States. He draws parallels between the oppression of disenfranchised peoples around the world.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with William W. Finlator, April 19, 1985. Interview C-0007. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

Now, in the 1970s we had Viet Nam. What did Viet Nam do to the civil rights movement? Did it have any effect?
Oh, yes. From the point of civil liberties, we thought that the government was breaking the law, breaking its own law, violating itself in that it was denying a country the right to have a revolution. This country had both a revolution and a Civil War, but we didn't want any other country to have either if it doesn't fit in with our economic plans. We thought that it was an immoral war and therefore, an unlawful war. War was never declared, and yet it was the longest war the country has ever engaged in. And a great, great loss of life. We thought it was in violation of the Geneva Treaties. We thought that our country was an international outlaw and that our country—that says it believes in rule of law—was itself the great law breaker.
Do you see any parallel between that and Central America and South Africa?
We see exact parallels, and we're Just afraid that the country is determined not to learn anything from history. And we see another great division for this country if this movement to push and accelerate the war down there takes place. And we are prepared—again—to hold our country responsible for violation of its own self.
Do these foreign developments and so forth affect civil rights by diverting attention from internal problems?
Well, you know, it was part of the great character of Martin Luther King, Jr., that he saw this in the Viet Nam War and was willing to express it. The people who were in the civil rights movement following him said, in effect, "Look, Martin. We got enough ourself fighting for our rights in this country and we're making enough enemies. And now, here you are accusing your country at war of doing something wrong. You're putting all of this on the line." But he said, "No. A nation that will do what it did to the blacks in Alabama, will do the same thing to the peasants in Viet Nam. And it's a part of the same picture of repression. And if you will repress and supress ignorant blacks and whites in this country—and get away with denying them their rights—then you'll do the same thing in other countries. You will install governments and support governments in foreign countries that will supress their people, like the blacks have been supressed in this country." And we see the same thing now of course in El Salvador and Nicaragua. This country is just not willing to let people throw off repressive governments— —for their own good—when those repressive governments are the ones that we support to hold those people down, to back up our economic system. So Martin Luther King saw this and he was willing to say it and civil libertarians are aware of this too.