“Beyond Vietnam”:  A Time to Break Silence

“Beyond Vietnam”:  A Time to Break Silence

By Rev. Martin Luther King

By 1967, King had become the country’s most prominent       opponent of the Vietnam War, and a staunch critic of overall U.S.       foreign policy, which he deemed militaristic. In his "Beyond       Vietnam" speech delivered at New York’s Riverside Church on April       4, 1967—a year to the day before he was murdered—King called the       United States "the greatest purveyor of violence in the world       today."

Time magazine called the speech "demagogic       slander that sounded like a script for Radio Hanoi," and the       Washington Post declared that King had "diminished his usefulness       to his cause, his country, his people."


     
Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence
      By Rev. Martin Luther King
      4 April 1967
      Speech delivered by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., on April 4, 1967, at a       meeting of Clergy and Laity Concerned at Riverside Church in New York       City
     
      I come to this magnificent house of worship tonight because my       conscience leaves me no other choice. I join with you in this meeting       because I am in deepest agreement with the aims and work of the       organization which has brought us together: Clergy and Laymen Concerned       about Vietnam. The recent statement of your executive committee are the       sentiments of my own heart and I found myself in full accord when I read       its opening lines: "A time comes when silence is betrayal."       That time has come for us in relation to Vietnam.
     
      The truth of these words is beyond doubt but the mission to which they       call us is a most difficult one. Even when pressed by the demands of       inner truth, men 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.       Moreover when the issues at hand seem as perplexed as they often do in       the case of this dreadful conflict we are always on the verge of being       mesmerized by uncertainty; but we must move on.
     
      Some of us who have already begun to break the silence of the night have       found that the calling to speak is often a vocation of agony, but we       must speak. We must speak with all the humility that is appropriate to       our limited vision, but we must speak. And we must rejoice as well, for       surely this is the first time in our nation’s history that a significant       number of its religious leaders have chosen 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.       Perhaps a new spirit is rising among us. If it is, let us trace its       movement well and pray that our own inner being may be sensitive to its       guidance, for we are deeply in need of a new way beyond the darkness       that seems so close around us.
     
      Over the past two years, as I have moved to break the betrayal of my own       silences and to speak from the burnings of my own heart, as I have       called for radical departures from the destruction of Vietnam, many       persons have questioned me about the wisdom of my path. At the heart of       their concerns this query has often loomed large and loud: Why are you       speaking about 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? And when I hear them, though I often       understand the source of their concern, I am nevertheless greatly       saddened, for such questions mean that the inquirers have not really       known me, my commitment or my calling. Indeed, their questions suggest       that they do not know the world in which they live.
     
      In the light of such tragic misunderstandings, I deem it of signal       importance to try to state clearly, and I trust concisely, why I believe       that the path from Dexter Avenue Baptist Church—the church in       Montgomery, Alabama, where I began my pastorate—leads clearly to this       sanctuary tonight.
     
      I come to this platform tonight to make a passionate plea to my beloved       nation. This speech is not addressed to Hanoi or to the National       Liberation Front. It is not addressed to China or to Russia.
     
      Nor is it an attempt to overlook the ambiguity of the total situation       and the need for a collective solution to the tragedy of Vietnam.       Neither is it an attempt to make North Vietnam or the National       Liberation Front paragons of virtue, nor to overlook the role they can       play in a successful resolution of the problem. While they both may have       justifiable reason to be suspicious of the good faith of the United       States, life and history give eloquent testimony to the fact that       conflicts are never resolved without trustful give and take on both       sides.
     
      Tonight, however, I wish not to speak with Hanoi and the NLF, but rather       to my fellow Americans, who, with me, bear the greatest responsibility       in ending a conflict that has exacted a heavy price on both continents.
     
      The Importance of Vietnam
      Since I am a preacher by trade, I suppose it is not surprising that I       have seven major reasons for bringing Vietnam into the field of my moral       vision. There is at the outset a very obvious and almost facile       connection between the war in Vietnam and the struggle I, and others,       have been waging in America. A few years ago there was a shining moment       in that struggle. It seemed as if there was a real promise of hope for       the poor—both black and white—through the poverty program. There       were experiments, hopes, new beginnings. Then came the buildup in       Vietnam and I watched the program broken and eviscerated as if it were       some idle political plaything of a society gone mad on war, and I knew       that America would never invest the necessary funds or energies in       rehabilitation of its poor so long as adventures like Vietnam continued       to draw men and skills and money like some demonic destructive suction       tube. So I was increasingly compelled to see the war as an enemy of the       poor and to attack it as such.
     
      Perhaps the more tragic recognition of reality took place when it became       clear to me that the war was doing far more than devastating the hopes       of the poor at home. It was sending their sons and their brothers and       their husbands to fight and to die in extraordinarily high proportions       relative to the rest of the population. We were taking the black young       men who had been crippled by our society and sending them eight thousand       miles away to guarantee liberties in Southeast Asia which they had not       found in southwest Georgia and East Harlem. So we have been repeatedly       faced with the cruel irony of watching Negro and white boys on TV       screens as they kill and die together for a nation that has been unable       to seat them together in the same schools. So we watch them in brutal       solidarity burning the huts of a poor village, but we realize that they       would never live on the same block in Detroit. I could not be silent in       the face of such cruel manipulation of the poor.
     
      My third reason moves to an even deeper level of awareness, for it grows       out of my experience in the ghettoes of the North over the last three       years—especially the last three summers. As I have walked among the       desperate, rejected and angry young men I have told them that Molotov       cocktails and rifles would not solve their problems. I have tried to       offer them my deepest compassion while maintaining my conviction that       social change comes most meaningfully through nonviolent action. But       they asked—and rightly so—what about Vietnam? They asked if our       own nation wasn’t using massive doses of violence to solve its problems,       to bring about the changes it wanted. Their questions hit home, and I       knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the       oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the       greatest purveyor of violence in the world today—my own government.       For the sake of those boys, for the sake of this government, for the       sake of hundreds of thousands trembling under our violence, I cannot be       silent.
     
      For those who ask the question, "Aren’t you a civil rights       leader?" and thereby mean to exclude me from the movement for       peace, I have this further answer. In 1957 when a group of us formed the       Southern Christian Leadership Conference, we chose as our motto:       "To save the soul of America." We were convinced that we could       not limit our vision to certain rights for black people, but instead       affirmed the conviction that America would never be free or saved from       itself unless the descendants of its slaves were loosed completely from       the shackles they still wear. In a way we were agreeing with Langston       Hughes, that black bard of Harlem, who had written earlier:
     
     
      O, yes,
      I say it plain,
      America never was America to me,
      And yet I swear this oath—
      America will be!
     
      Now, it should be incandescently clear that no one who has any concern       for the integrity and life of America today can ignore the present war.       If America’s soul becomes totally poisoned, part of the autopsy must       read Vietnam. It can never be saved so long as it destroys the deepest       hopes of men the world over. So it is that those of us who are yet       determined that America will be are led down the path of protest and       dissent, working for the health of our land.
     
      As if the weight of such a commitment to the life and health of America       were not enough, another burden of responsibility was placed upon me in       1964; and I cannot forget that the Nobel Prize for Peace was also a       commission—a commission to work harder than I had ever worked before       for "the brotherhood of man." This is a calling that takes me       beyond national allegiances, but even if it were not present I would yet       have to live with the meaning of my commitment to the ministry of Jesus       Christ. To me the relationship of this ministry to the making of peace       is so obvious that I sometimes marvel at those who ask me why I am       speaking against the war. Could it be that they do not know that the       good news was meant for all men—for Communist and capitalist, for       their children and ours, for black and for white, for revolutionary and       conservative? Have they forgotten that my ministry is in obedience to       the one who loved his enemies so fully that he died for them? What then       can I say to the "Vietcong" or to Castro or to Mao as a       faithful minister of this one? Can I threaten them with death or must I       not share with them my life?
     
      Finally, as I try to delineate for you and for myself the road that       leads from Montgomery to this place I would have offered all that was       most valid if I simply said that I must be true to my conviction that I       share with all men the calling to be a son of the living God. 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.
     
      This I believe to be the privilege and the burden of all of us who deem       ourselves bound by allegiances and loyalties which are broader and       deeper than nationalism and which go beyond our nation’s self-defined       goals and positions. We are called to speak for the weak, for the       voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy, for       no document from human hands can make these humans any less our       brothers.
     
      Strange Liberators
      And as I ponder the madness of Vietnam and search within myself for ways       to understand and respond to compassion my mind goes constantly to the       people of that peninsula. I speak now not of the soldiers of each side,       not of the junta in Saigon, but simply of the people who have been       living under the curse of war for almost three continuous decades now. I       think of them too because it is clear to me that there will be no       meaningful solution there until some attempt is made to know them and       hear their broken cries.
     
      They must see Americans as strange liberators. The Vietnamese people       proclaimed their own independence in 1945 after a combined French and       Japanese occupation, and before the Communist revolution in China. They       were led by Ho Chi Minh. Even though they quoted the American       Declaration of Independence in their own document of freedom, we refused       to recognize them. Instead, we decided to support France in its       reconquest of her former colony.
     
      Our government felt then that the Vietnamese people were not       "ready" for independence, and we again fell victim to the       deadly Western arrogance that has poisoned the international atmosphere       for so long. With that tragic decision we rejected a revolutionary       government seeking self-determination, and a government that had been       established not by China (for whom the Vietnamese have no great love)       but by clearly indigenous forces that included some Communists. For the       peasants this new government meant real land reform, one of the most       important needs in their lives.
     
      For nine years following 1945 we denied the people of Vietnam the right       of independence. For nine years we vigorously supported the French in       their abortive effort to recolonize Vietnam.
     
      Before the end of the war we were meeting eighty percent of the French       war costs. Even before the French were defeated at Dien Bien Phu, they       began to despair of the reckless action, but we did not. We encouraged       them with our huge financial and military supplies to continue the war       even after they had lost the will. Soon we would be paying almost the       full costs of this tragic attempt at recolonization.
     
      After the French were defeated it looked as if independence and land       reform would come again through the Geneva agreements. But instead there       came the United States, determined that Ho should not unify the       temporarily divided nation, and the peasants watched again as we       supported one of the most vicious modern dictators—our chosen man,       Premier Diem. The peasants watched and cringed as Diem ruthlessly routed       out all opposition, supported their extortionist landlords and refused       even to discuss reunification with the north. The peasants watched as       all this was presided over by U.S. influence and then by increasing       numbers of U.S. troops who came to help quell the insurgency that Diem’s       methods had aroused. When Diem was overthrown they may have been happy,       but the long line of military dictatorships seemed to offer no real       change—especially in terms of their need for land and peace.
     
      The only change came from America as we increased our troop commitments       in support of governments which were singularly corrupt, inept and       without popular support. All the while the people read our leaflets and       received regular promises of peace and democracy—and land reform. Now       they languish under our bombs and consider us—not their fellow       Vietnamese—the real enemy. They move sadly and apathetically as we       herd them off the land of their fathers into concentration camps where       minimal social needs are rarely met. They know they must move or be       destroyed by our bombs. So they go—primarily women and children and       the aged.
     
      They watch as we poison their water, as we kill a million acres of their       crops. They must weep as the bulldozers roar through their areas       preparing to destroy the precious trees. They wander into the hospitals,       with at least twenty casualties from American firepower for one       "Vietcong"-inflicted injury. So far we may have killed a       million of them—mostly children. They wander into the towns and see       thousands of the children, homeless, without clothes, running in packs       on the streets like animals. They see the children, degraded by our       soldiers as they beg for food. They see the children selling their       sisters to our soldiers, soliciting for their mothers.
     
      What do the peasants think as we ally ourselves with the landlords and       as we refuse to put any action into our many words concerning land       reform? What do they think as we test our latest weapons on them, just       as the Germans tested out new medicine and new tortures in the       concentration camps of Europe? Where are the roots of the independent       Vietnam we claim to be building? Is it among these voiceless ones?
     
      We have destroyed their two most cherished institutions: the family and       the village. We have destroyed their land and their crops. We have       cooperated in the crushing of the nation’s only non-Communist       revolutionary political force—the unified Buddhist church. We have       supported the enemies of the peasants of Saigon. We have corrupted their       women and children and killed their men. What liberators?
     
      Now there is little left to build on—save bitterness. Soon the only       solid physical foundations remaining will be found at our military bases       and in the concrete of the concentration camps we call fortified       hamlets. The peasants may well wonder if we plan to build our new       Vietnam on such grounds as these? Could we blame them for such thoughts?       We must speak for them and raise the questions they cannot raise. These       too are our brothers.
     
      Perhaps the more difficult but no less necessary task is to speak for       those who have been designated as our enemies. What of the National       Liberation Front—that strangely anonymous group we call VC or       Communists? What must they think of us in America when they realize that       we permitted the repression and cruelty of Diem which helped to bring       them into being as a resistance group in the south? What do they think       of our condoning the violence which led to their own taking up of arms?       How can they believe in our integrity when now we speak of       "aggression from the north" as if there were nothing more       essential to the war? How can they trust us when now we charge them with       violence after the murderous reign of Diem and charge them with violence       while we pour every new weapon of death into their land? Surely we must       understand their feelings even if we do not condone their actions.       Surely we must see that the men we supported pressed them to their       violence. Surely we must see that our own computerized plans of       destruction simply dwarf their greatest acts.
     
      How do they judge us when our officials know that their membership is       less than twenty-five percent Communist and yet insist on giving them       the blanket name? What must they be thinking when they know that we are       aware of their control of major sections of Vietnam and yet we appear       ready to allow national elections in which this highly organized       political parallel government will have no part? They ask how we can       speak of free elections when the Saigon press is censored and controlled       by the military junta. And they are surely right to wonder what kind of       new government we plan to help form without them—the only party in       real touch with the peasants. They question our political goals and they       deny the reality of a peace settlement from which they will be excluded.       Their questions are frighteningly relevant. Is our nation planning to       build on political myth again and then shore it up with the power of new       violence?
     
      Here is the true meaning and value of compassion and nonviolence when it       helps us to see the enemy’s point of view, to hear his questions, to       know his assessment of ourselves. For from his view we may indeed see       the basic weaknesses of our own condition, and if we are mature, we may       learn and grow and profit from the wisdom of the brothers who are called       the opposition.
     
      So, too, with Hanoi. In the north, where our bombs now pummel the land,       and our mines endanger the waterways, we are met by a deep but       understandable mistrust. To speak for them is to explain this lack of       confidence in Western words, and especially their distrust of American       intentions now. In Hanoi are the men who led the nation to independence       against the Japanese and the French, the men who sought membership in       the French commonwealth and were betrayed by the weakness of Paris and       the willfulness of the colonial armies. It was they who led a second       struggle against French domination at tremendous costs, and then were       persuaded to give up the land they controlled between the thirteenth and       seventeenth parallel as a temporary measure at Geneva. After 1954 they       watched us conspire with Diem to prevent elections which would have       surely brought Ho Chi Minh to power over a united Vietnam, and they       realized they had been betrayed again.
     
      When we ask why they do not leap to negotiate, these things must be       remembered. Also it must be clear that the leaders of Hanoi considered       the presence of American troops in support of the Diem regime to have       been the initial military breach of the Geneva agreements concerning       foreign troops, and they remind us that they did not begin to send in       any large number of supplies or men until American forces had moved into       the tens of thousands.
     
      Hanoi remembers how our leaders refused to tell us the truth about the       earlier North Vietnamese overtures for peace, how the president claimed       that none existed when they had clearly been made. Ho Chi Minh has       watched as America has spoken of peace and built up its forces, and now       he has surely heard of the increasing international rumors of American       plans for an invasion of the north. He knows the bombing and shelling       and mining we are doing are part of traditional pre-invasion strategy.       Perhaps only his sense of humor and of irony can save him when he hears       the most powerful nation of the world speaking of aggression as it drops       thousands of bombs on a poor weak nation more than eight thousand miles       away from its shores.
     
      At this point I should make it clear that while I have tried in these       last few minutes to give a voice to the voiceless on Vietnam and to       understand the arguments of those who are called enemy, I am as deeply       concerned about our troops there as anything else. For it occurs to me       that what we are submitting them to in Vietnam is not simply the       brutalizing process that goes on in any war where armies face each other       and seek to destroy. We are adding cynicism to the process of death, for       they must know after a short period there that none of the things we       claim to be fighting for are really involved. Before long they must know       that their government has sent them into a struggle among Vietnamese,       and the more sophisticated surely realize that we are on the side of the       wealthy and the secure while we create hell for the poor.
     
      This Madness Must Cease
      Somehow this madness must cease. We must stop now. I speak as a child of       God and brother to the suffering poor of Vietnam. I speak for those       whose land is being laid waste, whose homes are being destroyed, whose       culture is being subverted. I speak for the poor of America who are       paying the double price of smashed hopes at home and death and       corruption in Vietnam. I speak as a citizen of the world, for the world       as it stands aghast at the path we have taken. I speak as an American to       the leaders of my own nation. The great initiative in this war is ours.       The initiative to stop it must be ours.
     
      This is the message of the great Buddhist leaders of Vietnam. Recently       one of them wrote these words:
     
      "Each day the war goes on the hatred increases in the heart of the       Vietnamese and in the hearts of those of humanitarian instinct. The       Americans are forcing even their friends into becoming their enemies. It       is curious that the Americans, who calculate so carefully on the       possibilities of military victory, do not realize that in the process       they are incurring deep psychological and political defeat. The image of       America will never again be the image of revolution, freedom and       democracy, but the image of violence and militarism."
     
      If we continue, there will be no doubt in my mind and in the mind of the       world that we have no honorable intentions in Vietnam. It will become       clear that our minimal expectation is to occupy it as an American colony       and men will not refrain from thinking that our maximum hope is to goad       China into a war so that we may bomb her nuclear installations. If we do       not stop our war against the people of Vietnam immediately the world       will be left with no other alternative than to see this as some horribly       clumsy and deadly game we have decided to play.
     
      The world now demands a maturity of America that we may not be able to       achieve. It demands that we admit that we have been wrong from the       beginning of our adventure in Vietnam, that we have been detrimental to       the life of the Vietnamese people. The situation is one in which we must       be ready to turn sharply from our present ways.
     
      In order to atone for our sins and errors in Vietnam, we should take the       initiative in bringing a halt to this tragic war. I would like to       suggest five concrete things that our government should do immediately       to begin the long and difficult process of extricating ourselves from       this nightmarish conflict:
     
     
      End all bombing in North and South Vietnam.
      Declare a unilateral cease-fire in the hope that such action will create       the atmosphere for negotiation.
      Take immediate steps to prevent other battlegrounds in Southeast Asia by       curtailing our military buildup in Thailand and our interference in       Laos.
      Realistically accept the fact that the National Liberation Front has       substantial support in South Vietnam and must thereby play a role in any       meaningful negotiations and in any future Vietnam government.
      Set a date that we will remove all foreign troops from Vietnam in       accordance with the 1954 Geneva agreement.
     
      Part of our ongoing commitment might well express itself in an offer to       grant asylum to any Vietnamese who fears for his life under a new regime       which included the Liberation Front. Then we must make what reparations       we can for the damage we have done. We most provide the medical aid that       is badly needed, making it available in this country if necessary.
     
      Protesting The War
      Meanwhile we in the churches and synagogues have a continuing task while       we urge our government to disengage itself from a disgraceful       commitment. We must continue to raise our voices if our nation persists       in its perverse ways in Vietnam. We must be prepared to match actions       with words by seeking out every creative means of protest possible.
     
      As we counsel young men concerning military service we must clarify for       them our nation’s role in Vietnam and challenge them with the       alternative of conscientious objection. I am pleased to say that this is       the path now being chosen by more than seventy students at my own alma       mater, Morehouse College, and I recommend it to all who find the       American course in Vietnam a dishonorable and unjust one. Moreover I       would encourage all ministers of draft age to give up their ministerial       exemptions and seek status as conscientious objectors. These are the       times for real choices and not false ones. We are at the moment when our       lives must be placed on the line if our nation is to survive its own       folly. Every man of humane convictions must decide on the protest that       best suits his convictions, but we must all protest.
     
      There is something seductively tempting about stopping there and sending       us all off on what in some circles has become a popular crusade against       the war in Vietnam. I say we must enter the struggle, but I wish to go       on now to say something even more disturbing. The war in Vietnam is but       a symptom of a far deeper malady within the American spirit, and if we       ignore this sobering reality we will find ourselves organizing clergy-       and laymen-concerned committees for the next generation. They will be       concerned about Guatemala and Peru. They will be concerned about       Thailand and Cambodia. They will be concerned about Mozambique and South       Africa. We will be marching for these and a dozen other names and       attending rallies without end unless there is a significant and profound       change in American life and policy. Such thoughts take us beyond       Vietnam, but not beyond our calling as sons of the living God.
     
      In 1957 a sensitive American official overseas said that it seemed to       him that our nation was on the wrong side of a world revolution. During       the past ten years we have seen emerge a pattern of suppression which       now has justified the presence of U.S. military "advisors" in       Venezuela. This need to maintain social stability for our investments       accounts for the counter-revolutionary action of American forces in       Guatemala. It tells why American helicopters are being used against       guerrillas in Colombia and why American napalm and green beret forces       have already been active against rebels in Peru. It is with such       activity in mind that the words of the late John F. Kennedy come back to       haunt us. Five years ago he said, "Those who make peaceful       revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable."
     
      Increasingly, by choice or by accident, this is the role our nation has       taken—the role of those who make peaceful revolution impossible by       refusing to give up the privileges and the pleasures that come from the       immense profits of overseas investment.
     
      I am convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world       revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values.       We must rapidly 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, materialism, and       militarism are incapable of being conquered.
     
      A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness       and justice of many of our past and present policies. n the one hand we       are called to play the good Samaritan on life’s roadside; but that will       be only an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole       Jericho road must be transformed so that men and women will not be       constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life’s       highway. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it is       not haphazard and superficial. It comes to see that an edifice which       produces beggars needs restructuring. A true revolution of values will       soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth. With       righteous indignation, it will look across the seas and see individual       capitalists of the West investing huge sums of money in Asia, Africa and       South America, only to take the profits out with no concern for the       social betterment of the countries, and say: "This is not       just." It will look at our alliance with the landed gentry of Latin       America and say: "This is not just." The Western arrogance of       feeling that it has everything to teach others and nothing to learn from       them is not just. A true revolution of values will lay hands on the       world order and say of war: "This way of settling differences is       not just." This business of burning human beings with napalm, of       filling our nation’s homes with orphans and widows, of injecting       poisonous drugs of hate into veins of people normally humane, of sending       men home from dark and bloody battlefields physically handicapped and       psychologically deranged, cannot be reconciled with wisdom, justice and       love. A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on       military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching       spiritual death.
     
      America, the richest and most powerful nation in the world, can well       lead the way in this revolution of values. There is nothing, except a       tragic death wish, to prevent us from reordering our priorities, so that       the pursuit of peace will take precedence over the pursuit of war. There       is nothing to keep us from molding a recalcitrant status quo with       bruised hands until we have fashioned it into a brotherhood.
     
      This kind of positive revolution of values is our best defense against       communism. War is not the answer. Communism will never be defeated by       the use of atomic bombs or nuclear weapons. Let us not join those who       shout war and through their misguided passions urge the United States to       relinquish its participation in the United Nations. These are days which       demand wise restraint and calm reasonableness. We must not call everyone       a Communist or an appeaser who advocates the seating of Red China in the       United Nations and who recognizes that hate and hysteria are not the       final answers to the problem of these turbulent days. We must not engage       in a negative anti-communism, but rather in a positive thrust for       democracy, realizing that our greatest defense against communism is to       take offensive action in behalf of justice. We must with positive action       seek to remove thosse conditions of poverty, insecurity and injustice       which are the fertile soil in which the seed of communism grows and       develops.
     
      The People Are Important
      These are revolutionary times. All over the globe men are revolting       against old systems of exploitation and oppression and out of the wombs       of a frail world new systems of justice and equality are being born. The       shirtless and barefoot people of the land are rising up as never before.       "The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light." We       in the West must support these revolutions. It is a sad fact that,       because of comfort, complacency, a morbid fear of communism, and our       proneness to adjust to injustice, the Western nations that initiated so       much of the revolutionary spirit of the modern world have now become the       arch anti-revolutionaries. This has driven many to feel that only       Marxism has the revolutionary spirit. Therefore, communism is a       judgement against our failure to make democracy real and follow through       on the revolutions we initiated. Our only hope today lies in our ability       to recapture the revolutionary spirit and go out into a sometimes       hostile world declaring eternal hostility to poverty, racism, and       militarism. With this powerful commitment we shall boldly challenge the       status quo and unjust mores and thereby speed the day when "every       valley shall be exalted, and every moutain and hill shall be made low,       and the crooked shall be made straight and the rough places plain."
     
      A genuine revolution of values means in the final analysis that our       loyalties must become ecumenical rather than sectional. Every nation       must now develop an overriding loyalty to mankind as a whole in order to       preserve the best in their individual societies.
     
      This call for a world-wide fellowship that lifts neighborly concern       beyond one’s tribe, race, class and nation is in reality a call for an       all-embracing and unconditional love for all men. This oft misunderstood       and misinterpreted concept—so readily dismissed by the Nietzsches of       the world as a weak and cowardly force—has now become an absolute       necessity for the survival of man. When I speak of love I am not       speaking of some sentimental and weak response. I am speaking of that       force which all of the great religions have seen as the supreme unifying       principle of life. Love is somehow the key that unlocks the door which       leads to ultimate reality. This Hindu-Moslem-Christian-Jewish-Buddhist       belief about ultimate reality is beautifully summed up in the first       epistle of Saint John:
     
      Let us love one another; for love is God and everyone that loveth is       born of God and knoweth God. He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God       is love. If we love one another God dwelleth in us, and his love is       perfected in us.
     
      Let us hope that this spirit will become the order of the day. We can no       longer afford to worship the god of hate or bow before the altar of       retaliation. The oceans of history are made turbulent by the ever-rising       tides of hate. History is cluttered with the wreckage of nations and       individuals that pursued this self-defeating path of hate. As Arnold       Toynbee says : "Love is the ultimate force that makes for the       saving choice of life and good against the damning choice of death and       evil. Therefore the first hope in our inventory must be the hope that       love is going to have the last word."
     
      We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted       with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and       history there is such a thing as being too late. Procrastination is       still the thief of time. Life often leaves us standing bare, naked and       dejected with a lost opportunity. The "tide in the affairs of       men" does not remain at the flood; it ebbs. We may cry out       deperately for time to pause in her passage, but time is deaf to every       plea and rushes on. Over the bleached bones and jumbled residue of       numerous civilizations are written the pathetic words: "Too       late." There is an invisible book of life that faithfully records       our vigilance or our neglect. "The moving finger writes, and having       writ moves on…" We still have a choice today; nonviolent       coexistence or violent co-annihilation.
     
      We must move past indecision to action. We must find new ways to speak       for peace in Vietnam and justice throughout the developing world—a       world that borders on our doors. If we do not act we shall surely be       dragged down the long dark and shameful corridors of time reserved for       those who possess power without compassion, might without morality, and       strength without sight.
     
      Now let us begin. Now let us rededicate ourselves to the long and bitter     —but beautiful—struggle for a new world. This is the callling of       the sons of God, and our brothers wait eagerly for our response. Shall       we say the odds are too great? Shall we tell them the struggle is too       hard? Will our message be that the forces of American life militate       against their arrival as full men, and we send our deepest regrets? Or       will there be another message, of longing, of hope, of solidarity with       their yearnings, of commitment to their cause, whatever the cost? The       choice is ours, and though we might prefer it otherwise we must choose       in this crucial moment of human history.
     
      As that noble bard of yesterday, James Russell Lowell, eloquently       stated:
     
      Once to every man and nation
      Comes the moment to decide,
      In the strife of truth and falsehood,
      For the good or evil side;
      Some great cause, God’s new Messiah,
      Off’ring each the bloom or blight,
      And the choice goes by forever
      Twixt that darkness and that light.
     
      Though the cause of evil prosper,
      Yet ‘tis truth alone is strong;
      Though her portion be the scaffold,
      And upon the throne be wrong:
      Yet that scaffold sways the future,
      And behind the dim unknown,
      Standeth God within the shadow
      Keeping watch above his own.

TAM Editors note:  I am grateful that this was made available on Information Clearing House.  Dr. King’s words should be remembered and reflected on.


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