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Beyond Vietnam - Martin Luther King, April, 1967

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  • Ed Pearl
    Good morning. Here s the Sunday sermon of my generation - maybe yours. But whether you read it with a heart full of remembrance, a look into the
    Message 1 of 2 , Jan 21, 2013
      Good morning. Here's the Sunday sermon of my generation - maybe yours.
      But whether you read it with a heart full of remembrance, a look into the
      thinking-in-process of great person or just for concepts to guide in our own
      time of turmoil, you will be startled, then amazed at the breadth and depth
      of the essay. Then, really saddened. It's long, but eminently worth while.
      This is, after all, a holy day.


      Audio file:

      "Beyond Vietnam"
      by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

      Address to the Clergy and Laity Concerned about Vietnam,

      Riverside Church, New York City
      April 4, 1967

      Mr. Chairman, ladies and gentlemen, I need not pause to say how very
      delighted I am to be here tonight, and how very delighted I am to see you
      expressing your concern about the issues that will be discussed tonight by
      turning out in such large numbers. I also want to say that I consider it a
      great honor to share this program with Dr. Bennett, Dr. Commager, and Rabbi
      Heschel, some of the distinguished leaders and personalities of our nation.

      And of course it's always good to come back to Riverside Church. Over the
      last eight years, I have had the privilege of preaching here almost every
      year in that period, and it is always a rich and rewarding experience to
      come to this great church and this great pulpit.

      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." 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 perplexing 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, 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 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 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 fellow Americans.

      Since I am a preacher by calling, 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 a 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 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 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 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 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 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 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
      1954.* And I cannot forget that the Nobel Peace Prize 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

      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 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. 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, 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 broken cries.

      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

      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 of 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 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 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 a 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

      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

      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.

      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 dealt 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 hearts 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 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:

      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 in

      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. [sustained applause]
      Part of our ongoing [applause continues], 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. Meanwhile [applause], meanwhile, we in 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

      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. [sustained applause] 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. [applause] Moreover, I
      would encourage all ministers of draft age to give up their ministerial
      exemptions and seek status as conscientious objectors. [applause] 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 [applause], 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. [sustained applause] 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." [applause]
      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 [applause], 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. [applause]

      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. [sustained applause]
      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. [applause] 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 [applause], 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.

      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 [Audience:] (Yes);
      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 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'm 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 (Yes), for love is God. (Yes) 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

      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." 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 of peace. If we will make
      the right choice, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our
      world into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. 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. [sustained applause]

      * King says "1954," but most likely means 1964, the year he received the
      Nobel Peace Prize.

      The Freedom Archives
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