||Martin Luther King: Beyond Vietnam --
A Time to Break Silence
"True compassion is more than flinging a coin
to a beggar. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars
delivered 4 April 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 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 statements 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." And
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.
And 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 movements 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 the 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 misunderstanding, 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
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 must play in the successful resolution
of the problem. While they both may have justifiable reasons 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 National Liberation
Front, but rather to my fellowed [sic] 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 this 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. And 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. And so we watch them in brutal solidarity
burning the huts of a poor village, but we realize that they would hardly
live on the same block in Chicago. 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 ask -- and rightly so -- what about Vietnam? They ask 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 the hundreds of thousands trembling under our violence, I cannot
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 until 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
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 1954** [sic; King undoubtedly means 1964, when he received the Peace
Prize], 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'm 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
And finally, as I try to explain 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 the victims of our nation and for those it calls "enemy," for no
document from human hands can make these humans any less our brothers.
And as I ponder the madness of Vietnam and search within
myself for ways to understand and respond in compassion, my mind goes
constantly to the people of that peninsula. I speak now not of the soldiers
of each side, not of the ideologies of the Liberation Front, 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
They must see Americans as strange liberators. The Vietnamese people
proclaimed their own independence *in 1954* -- in 1945 *rather* -- 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
their 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 Agreement. 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 rooted 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 United States' influence and then by increasing numbers of United
States 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 dictators 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 the 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 on 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
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 out 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 noncommunist 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.
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 a 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 the United States of 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 not have a 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 upon
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 could 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 Agreement concerning foreign troops. They
remind us that they did not begin to send troops in large numbers and
even supplies into the South 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 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 hundred,
or rather,* 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 in Vietnam and to
understand the arguments of those who are called "enemy," I am as deeply
concerned about our own 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 a hell for the poor.
The 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 one who loves America, to the leaders of our 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, and I quote:
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 (unquote).
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. 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 horrible,
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
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:
Number one: End all bombing in North and South Vietnam.
Number two: Declare a unilateral cease-fire in the hope that such action
will create the atmosphere for negotiation.
Three: Take immediate steps to prevent other battlegrounds in Southeast
Asia by curtailing our military buildup in Thailand and our interference
Four: 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 any future Vietnam government.
Five: 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 must 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 and our
lives if our nation persists in its perverse ways in Vietnam. We must
be prepared to match actions with words by seeking out every creative
method 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 a path
now 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.
Now 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 that 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...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.
And so, 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 has now justified the presence of U.S. military advisors in Venezuela.
This need to maintain social stability for our investments accounts
for the counterrevolutionary action of American forces in Guatemala.
It tells why American helicopters are being used against guerrillas
in Cambodia 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 investments. 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...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,
extreme 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. On 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 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 South 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 hand 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 the veins
of peoples 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 engage
in a negative anticommunism, 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
those 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 wounds
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 antirevolutionaries. This has driven
many to feel that only Marxism has a revolutionary spirit. Therefore,
communism is a judgment against our failure to make democracy real and
follow through on the revolutions that 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 mountain and hill shall
be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places
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 worldwide 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 mankind. This oft misunderstood, this
oft 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 not speaking of that force which
is just emotional bosh. 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-Muslim-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 every one 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. And 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" (unquote).
We are now faced with the fact, my friends, 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 flood -- it ebbs. We may cry out desperately
for time to pause in her passage, but time is adamant to every plea
and rushes on. Over the bleached bones and jumbled residues 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. Omar Khayyam is right: "The moving finger writes, and having
writ moves on."
We still have a choice today: nonviolent coexistence or violent coannihilation.
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 calling 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 a moment to decide,
In the strife of Truth and Falsehood, for the good or evil side;
Some great cause, God's new Messiah offering 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 portions 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.
And if we will only make the right choice, we will
be able to transform this pending cosmic elegy into a creative psalm
If we will make the right choice, we will be able to
transform the jangling discords of our world into a beautiful symphony
If we will but make the right choice, we will be able
to speed up the day, all over America and all over the world, when justice
will roll down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream.