"I cannot support a
mission that leads to corruption, human right abuses and liars. I am
sulliedóno more. I didnít volunteer to support corrupt, money grubbing
contractors, nor work for commanders only interested in themselves. I came
to serve honorably and feel dishonored. I trust no Iraqi. I cannot live
this way..." Why serve when you cannot accomplish the mission, when
you no longer believe in the cause, when your every effort and breath to
succeed meets with lies, lack of support, and selfishness?" - Excerpted
suicide note of US Army Colonel Ted Westhusing. He is referring to the
Iraq War. March 9, 2007
A TIME TO BREAK SILENCE
Martin Luther King, Jr. Declaration of Independence from the War in
Vietnam, Riverside Church, New York City, April 4, 1967
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 though 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 edge of being mesmerized by uncertainty; but we must
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 for 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 known the world in which
In 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 [NLF] 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.
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 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 ghettos 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 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
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 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
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 use 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 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 wonder 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
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 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.
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
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 per cent 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 reconciliation.
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 US influence and then by increasing numbers of US 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 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
non-Communist revolutionary political force -- the unified Buddhist
church. We have supported the enemies and 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
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 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
How do they judge us then 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 mistrust 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
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
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 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 fro 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 secure while we create
a hell for the poor.
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 in
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 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
1. End all bombing in North and South Vietnam.
2. Declare a unilateral cease-fire in the hope that such action will
create the atmosphere for negotiation.
3. Take immediate steps to prevent other battlegrounds in Southeast Asia
by curtailing our military buildup in Thailand and our interference in
4. 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.
5. 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 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 protect that best suits his convictions, but we must
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. 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 US military "advisors"
in Venezuela. The 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. 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 is not haphazard
and superficial. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars
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 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. 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 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 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 have 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 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 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 necessary 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 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 tide 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 hops 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 desperately 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 of our neglect. "The moving finger write,
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
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 eagerly wait 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
Offering each the gloom or blight
And the choice goes by forever
Twixt that darkness and that light.
Though the cause of evil prosper
Yet tis truth along 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.
Dr. King's "I Have
a Dream" speech.