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MLK: 1967

September 17th, 2008 · No Comments

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Speaking Truth To Power
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.”
———–
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
“The role of those who make peaceful revolution impossible by refusing
to give up the priveleges and pleasures that comes from the immense
profits of overseas investments. I’m convinced that if we are to get
on the right side fo the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo
a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin to 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, militarism, and
economic exploitation are incapable of being conquered.”
*
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.
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