Speech delivered by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., on April 4, 1967, at a
meeting of Clergy and Laity Concerned at
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
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
I come to this platform tonight to make a passionate plea to my beloved
nation. This speech is not addressed to
Nor is it an attempt to overlook the ambiguity of the total situation and
the need for a collective solution to the tragedy of
Tonight, however, I wish not to speak with
Since I am a preacher by trade, I suppose it is not surprising that I have
seven major reasons for bringing
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
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
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
I say it plain,
Americanever was Americato me,
And yet I swear this oath--
will be! America
Now, it should be incandescently clear that no one who has any concern for
the integrity and life of
As if the weight of such a commitment to the life and health of
Finally, as I try to delineate for you and for myself the road that leads
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
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
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
For nine years following 1945 we denied the people of
Before the end of the war we were meeting eighty percent of the French war
costs. Even before the French were defeated at
After the French were defeated it looked as if independence and land reform
would come again through the
The only change came from
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
Somehow this madness must cease. We must stop now. I speak as a child of God
and brother to the suffering poor of
This is the message of the great Buddhist leaders of
"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
will never again be the image of revolution, freedom and democracy, but the image of violence and militarism." America
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
The world now demands a maturity of
In order to atone for our sins and errors in
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.
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
As we counsel young men concerning military service we must clarify for them
our nation's role in
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
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
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
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
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 judgment 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 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 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
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 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 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
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 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.