Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence


Today is Martin Luther King Day in the United States and in honour of the man I thought I’d provide you with a condensed version of one of his greatest speeches. On April 24th, 1967, King spoke at the New York City Riverside Church and voiced his opposition to America’s war in Vietnam. While the impetus for his speech was topical, most of his words are still apt today. The following are his words.

The long line of military dictators offered no real change.
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…
Now they languish under our bombs and consider us…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..mostly children…[wounded] from American firepower.
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…
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?
The more sophisticated surely realize that we are on the side of the wealthy and the secure while we create hell for the poor.

Where are the roots of…the independ[ence]…we claim to be building?
Is it among these voiceless ones?
I have tried in these last few minutes to give a voice to the voiceless…
We must speak for them and raise the questions they cannot raise.
These, too, are our brothers.

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.
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.

Somehow this madness must cease.
We must stop now.
I speak as a child of God and brother to the suffering poor.
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 [abroad].
I speak as a citizen of the world, for the world as it stands aghast at the path we have taken.
I have tried in these last few minutes to give a voice to the voiceless…

We must find new ways to speak for peace…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.
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.
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.
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.

Let us hope that this spirit will become the order of the day.
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.
We can no longer afford to worship the god of hate or bow before the altar of retaliation.
We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today.


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Filed under 1967, MLK, US, War

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