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