Martin Luther King
A martyr for peace
- Martin Luther King
- A Martyr For Peace
- An Act of State: the government killed King
- April 4, 1967 speech on Viet Nam War
- other speeches
- other perspectives
|"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. ....
"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 nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death. (Martin Luther King, April 4, 1967)
On March 31, 1968, five days before his assassination, Martin Luther King gave a speech called "Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution," based on the story of Rip Van Winkle, who slept for 20 years and woke up after the American Revolution had happened. King urged citizens not to sleepwalk in the midst of the great changes sweeping the world. Midway through the speech, King denounced the construction of urban bypasses, stating that they worsened economic injustices:
"These forty million [poor] people are invisible because America is so affluent, so rich; because our expressways carry us away from the ghetto, we don't see the poor."
It is therefore strange that many highways around the US are named after someone who opposed urban sprawlways, especially in communities dependent on military spending with severe racial and economic injustice problems.
Most citizens are familiar with King’s most famous speech -- "I have a dream" -- delivered at the 1963 March on Washington. King's April 4, 1967 speech "A Time to Break Silence: Declaration of Independence from the Vietnam War" was much more profound and a stark warning against endless war.
"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. ....
"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 nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death. (MLK, April 4, 1967)
King was killed exactly a year to the day after his greatest speech - against the War on Viet Nam (in case anyone missed the symbolism). It is sad that the leaders of the civil rights movement and the peace movement stay silent on this, since it suggests that the empire does not play by democratic rules.
When King was killed, the crime was blamed on James Earl Ray, who was said to be a lone gunman motivated by racism. However, the facts show that Ray was framed as a patsy, and was railroaded into pleading guilty to avoid a death sentence. Ray spent nearly three decades in prison for a crime he did not commit, and was repeatedly denied the right to have a trial to evaluate the evidence against him. It is little known that the King family publicly stated that the federal government killed Martin and that James Earl Ray was just a patsy who was framed (Dexter King even met with Ray in his prison and they sought, without success, to get Ray the trial he never had).
In 1967, a young journalist named William Pepper showed photos he had taken in Viet Nam to King, who was shocked and disgusted by the racist atrocities. This material spurred King to publicly oppose the war. After King's assassination, Pepper dropped out of politics and eventually became a lawyer. Pepper became the attorney for James Earl Ray, and spent years trying to get him a trial. Pepper wrote extensively about the truth of the assassination in two books: Orders to Kill and An Act of State: the execution of Martin Luther King, Jr.
In 1999, after Ray's death in prison, the King family won a federal lawsuit against some of the perpetrators of the assassination. This astounding jury verdict is rarely mentioned by the media, even by the liberal alternative media that opposes most federal policies.
One example of this avoidance strategy is an essay about the "Media Reform Conference" held in Memphis, Tennessee that was published on Common Dreams on January 15, 2007 by Danny Schechter, the "News Dissector" for MediaChannel.org:
Published on Monday, January 15, 2007 by MediaChannel.org
What Next for Media Reform?
by Danny Schechter
I felt the presence of Dr King this past weekend in Memphis. Of course, this is the city in which he gave his life, and as America marks his birth, it was hard not to be reminded of his death when you visit the scene of the crime, the fully restored Lorraine Motel.
It was there that he was shot down by a cowardly sniper. Was it James Earl Ray? Did he act alone? There are more conspiracy theories on that than eyewitnesses but it almost doesn’t matter because most of the people who studied the matter remain puzzled by so many contradictions and unanswered questions.
There are not "more conspiracy theories than eyewitnesses" on this scandal - the facts are fairly straight forward, confirmed by a federal jury verdict and endorsed by the King family.
Given the myopic, misleading approach in this article, it is surprising to read an expression of dissatisfaction with the "Media Reform" conference the author participated in:
How can we have 3000 people assemble in one place and leave with no clear focused plan of what we do next, how we work together, what’s the next step? I felt the same way when I left earlier conferences in Madison and St. Louis. They were cool events--and heady networking opportunities, but now what?
Perhaps these events are less than they could be because the peace movement is hesitant to "connect the dots" to explain the misbehavior of the Empire - and that understanding is needed to formulate effective strategies for positive transformation.
Many peace activists are willing to mention King's peace activism while carefully avoiding the evidence that forces in the federal government silenced his voice, dealing a crippling blow to social justice movements. A good example of this combination of courageous focus on King's words against war and blindness to the meaning of his murder:
Published on Wednesday, April 4, 2007 by CommonDreams.org
The Martin Luther King You Don’t See on TV
by Jeff Cohen and Norman Solomon
This article by Cohen and Solomon highlights the mainstream media's allergy to mentioning King's activism in the final years of his life (economic justice and peace), but is in alignment with the official consensus to ignore the evidence - endorsed by the King family - that James Earl Ray was not the assassin. OilEmpire.US's page on Norman Solomon shows how that writer was a leading liberal defender of the official "surprise attack" story in the months after 9/11 -- which helped keep the peace movement from understanding how 9/11 was allowed to happen to create the pretext for a war to seize the Middle East oil fields.
One sad lesson of the murder of Dr. King is waiting for a charismatic leader to inspire social change that challenges the status quo is a mistake. These people are easily turned into martyrs, and a movement dependent on such leaders is easily squashed. A better structure would be to emulate mycellium threads (they form mushrooms), which spread widely without a definite center. A more just society would be less hierarchical by definition, so social justice efforts need to be more decentralized than the model offered by our celebrity obsessed culture. In theory, the internet has this pattern, although the world wide web does include central computers that control allocation of DNS numbers and routing (when you type in a website address these computer translate it into a 12 digit number that is actually the location of a specified server hosting a website).
The best way to celebrate King’s legacy is not to name large swaths of concrete after him, or whitewash the crimes of Empire (at home and abroad), but to work for a world beyond militarism, for non-violence and economic justice.
An Act of State
shooting down the civil rights, peace and anti-poverty movements
"For a quarter of a century, Bill Pepper conducted an independent investigation of the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. He opened his files to our family, encouraged us to speak with the witnesses, and represented our family in the civil trial against the conspirators. The jury affirmed his findings, providing our family with a long-sought sense of closure and peace, which had been denied by official disinformation and cover-ups. Now the findings of his exhaustive investigation and additional revelations from the trial are presented in the pages of this important book. We recommend it highly to everyone who seeks the truth about Dr. King's assassination."
-- Coretta Scott King
"Dr Pepper, a trusted associate of my father in the anti-war movement and a dedicated follower of his teaching, has conducted exhaustive research and shed new light on all of the critical questions including the extent of the involvement of government intelligence agencies, military units and organized crime in the assassination, the motives behind it, and the individuals who ordered and participated in it."
– Dexter King
An Act of State:
the execution of Martin Luther King, Jr.
by William Pepper
William Pepper was a young journalist, just back from Vietnam, when he first met Martin Luther King Jr. His photographs and first-hand accounts of the war prompted King’s unflinching commitment to oppose it. On 15 April 1967 Pepper proposed an alternative to the re-election of Lyndon Johnson to a cheering New York crowd. Dr. Benjamin Spock was to be King’s running mate highlighting an anti-poverty and antiwar agenda. A year later Martin Luther King Jr. was killed. The movement for social and economic change in the US has never been substantially, successfully revived.
Doubts raised from an initial ten-year investigation and hours of interrogations of James Earl Ray prompted Pepper to take up his case. The King family, persuaded by the growing evidence, joined his struggle in 1996. At the 1999 trial seventy witnesses under oath set out the details of the conspiracy and the jury took an hour to find for the King family. It was ruled that a wide-ranging conspiracy existed and that government agents were involved. The story was effectively buried.
An Act of State lays out, in detail, the facts of the case as it evolved. These tell a tragic story of King’s powerful and significant radicalism, government plans for his execution that involved the military and the FBI, media cover-ups, and the corporate forces that were already claiming their hold on the nation’s polity.
"One juror, David Morthy, said after the trial, 'We all thought it was a cut-and-fried case with the evidence that Mr. Pepper brought to us … everyone from the CIA, military involvement, and Jowers was involved.'" - New York Times
"After the American University address, John Kennedy and Nikita Krushchev began to act like competitors in peace. They were both turning. However, Kennedy's rejection of Cold War politics was considered treasonous by forces in his own government. In that context, which Kennedy knew well, the American University address was a profile in courage with lethal consequences. President Kennedy's June 10, 1963 call for an end to the Cold War, five and one-half months before his assassination, anticipates Dr. King's courage in his April 4, 1967, Riverside Church address calling for an end to the Vietnam War, exactly one year before his assassination. Each of those transforming speeches was a prophetic statement provoking the reward a prophet traditionally receives. John Kennedy's American University address was to his death in Dallas as Martin Luther King's Riverside Church address was to his death in Memphis."
-- James Douglass, "JFK and the Unspeakable: why he died and why it matters"
An Act of State:
the execution of Martin Luther King, Jr.
by William Pepper
William Pepper was a young journalist, just back from Vietnam, when he first met Martin Luther King Jr. His photographs and first-hand accounts of the war prompted King's unflinching commitment to oppose it ....
On April 4 1968, Martin Luther King was in Memphis supporting a workers' strike. By nightfall, army snipers were in position, military officers were on a nearby roof with cameras, and Lloyd Jowers had been paid to remove the gun after the fatal shot was fired. When the dust had settled, King had been hit and a clean-up operation was set in motion-James Earl Ray was framed, the crime scene was destroyed, and witnesses were killed. William Pepper, attorney and friend of King, has conducted a thirty-year investigation into his assassination. In 1999, Loyd Jowers and other co-conspirators were brought to trial in a civil action suit on behalf of the King family. Seventy witnesses set out the details of a conspiracy that involved J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI, Richard Helms and the CIA, the military, Memphis police, and organized crime. The jury took an hour to find for the King family. In An Act of State, you finally have the truth before you-how the US government shut down a movement for social change by stopping its leader dead in his tracks.
"In 1977 the family of Martin Luther King engaged an attorney and friend, Dr. William Pepper, to investigate a suspicion they had. They no longer believed that James Earl Ray was the killer. For their peace of mind, for an accurate record of history, and out of a sense of justice they conducted a two decade long investigation. The evidence they uncovered was put before a jury in Memphis, TN, in November 1999. 70 witnesses testified under oath, 4,000 pages of transcripts described that evidence, much of it new. It took the jury 59 minutes to come back with their decision that exonerated James Earl Ray, who had already died in prison. The jury found that Lloyd Jowers, owner of Jim's Grill, had participated in a conspiracy to kill King. The evidence showed that the conspiracy included J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI, Richard Helms and the CIA, the military, the Memphis police department, and organized crime."
for further reading:
From the May-June, 1997 issue of Probe Magazine (Vol. 4 No. 4)
Martin Luther King's Son Says:
James Earl Ray Didn't Kill MLK!
By Lisa Pease
From the July-August, 1997 issue (Vol. 4 No. 5) Probe Magazine
Dexter King Continues His Long March
By Jim DiEugenio
William Pepper on MLK Conspiracy Trial
MLK's Murder: Confessions of Conspiracy
www.cointel.org (FBI persecution of Dr. King - the FBI sent King a letter urging him to commit suicide shortly before he was awarded the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize)
King son aims to get Hoover's name off the FBI building
Nobody's Perfect in their research:
From Peter Dale Scott's Road to 9/11, Page 285:
Most of what Pepper writes about army surveillance of King is documented and corroborated (cf. Steve Tompkins, "Army Feared King, Secretly Watched Him. Spying On Blacks Started 75 Years Ago," Memphis Commercial Appeal, March 21, 1993 [http://www.commercialappeal.com/news/1993/mar/21/army-feared-king-secretly-watched-him/]). Unfortunately, Pepper also transmitted the claim made to him that the 20th Special Forces Group had a sniper team in Memphis on April 4, 1968, to ensure that King was murdered. I believe from my own research that the sniper team story was disinformation from high sources in order to discredit Pepper. In particular, an alleged authorizing cable, citing Operation Garden Plot, is to a trained reader a self-revealing forgery.
Remember what happened to William Pepper? He believed some Ayers-like informants on the MLK case and made a central case against a former military man whom Pepper believed (and wrote) was then dead. So on national TV, what happened? The "dead" guy walked out onto the stage. His living didn't negate all of Pepper's work in reality. But in the popular mind? Pepper was the guy who had 'gotten it wrong' on TV. I fear strongly the same will happen to those who pursue this line of inquiry.
I think when you kill presidents--when you kill Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy and you get away with it; when you have J. Edgar Hoover in office for 50 years and he's a raging madman who prosecutes anyone who he sees as subversive to his way of American life; when you have Lyndon Johnson as president; when you have wars in Vietnam that are genocides; when you create a Cold War mentality that breeds defense-minded expenditures of the sums that we had--then there is a corruption that follows.
The fabric of society is warped. It has been increasingly warped since World War II and we've locked into it and now we're paying for it. We're paying for it morally and spiritually and economically. Cause and effect. It had to happen. We did not throw the money into the cities, into architectural or spiritual wealth. For this country these things are lacking now.
-- Oliver Stone
Monday, January 19, 2004
On this, the day of the celebration of Martin Luther King's birthday, a little on the conspiracy behind his death:
1. For a good summary of what happened, I recommend the article "The Martin Luther King Conspiracy Exposed in Memphis" by Jim Douglass. Note that the FBI and the Pentagon show up yet again as key conspirators, just as they do in the assassination of JFK and the events of September 11.
2. For an outstanding book on the subject and one of the best books ever written on a conspiracy, and an inspiring example of what one man can do to research the facts behind a conspiracy if the government refuses to, see the "Murkin Conspiracy", by Philip H. Melanson. One of the most striking aspects of the case is how two-bit hick hoodlum James Earl Ray, who had never been to Toronto, was able to use the stolen identities of three residents of Toronto who didn't know each other and whose identities were perfectly suited to his purposes. The sophisticated use of stolen identities is a calling card of all these conspiracies.
3. As far as I know, both Marrell McCollough and Ray's handler 'Raoul', whose real name may or may not be Jules Ricco Kimble (an amazing man in his own right), are still alive and could be available to testify in a court of law, if anybody cared enough to require them to do so.
It has been noted by many that the Powers That Be didn't really mind the Civil Rights Movement and Dr. King's role in it. In fact, they may have wanted to see blacks more fully integrated into the American economy, both as consumers and producers. He was assassinated only when he started to criticize the Vietnam War, the military-industrial complex parasites, and institutionalized basis of poverty. His assassination means that not much has changed in the United States.
Democracy Now!'s anniversary show gets close to the truth:
April 04, 2008
Democracy Now! Special: Martin Luther King’s Life and Legacy 40 Years After His Assassination
AMY GOODMAN: Were you ever satisfied with who was put behind bars, with James Earl Ray being the killer?
REV. JESSE JACKSON: Oh, no. James Earl Ray was a pawn in the bigger game. He perhaps pulled the trigger [note: it's more likely he was merely a patsy who didn't pull the trigger], but he didn’t have the money, the motivation nor the transportation to get from here to London on the way to Rhodesia at that time. He had great assistance. To get from downtown Memphis, an alias, out of the city, out of the country, he had lots of support. Our government had been convinced Dr. King was the enemy of the state. Edgar Hoover, the FBI, had said as much, that Dr. King, if you’re going to arrest a hundred men in emergency, that he would be one of them. He called Dr. King a damn liar, when he said that Schwerner, Goodman and Chaney, the two Jews and black who were killed, that the FBI was not working hard to find the killers. Hoover said he was a damn liar. He saw Dr. King as an enemy. He was a fierce right-winger. He tried to embarrass him. He tried to hurt him. The Johnson forces, who were all with him—it’s a march for public accommodations—they felt defense about him being against the war. So he had enemies in high places. And yet, somehow it was painful for him, but he would not retreat.
DR. VINCENT HARDING: Martin always understood that race and class were intricately involved in the life of this country. He also understood that the issues of poverty were issues that affected not only black people, but all kinds of other people, including white people. And he knew that if there were to be, as he hoped there would be, an opportunity for the building of this country into its best possible development, then somehow the issue of poverty had to be addressed, and because he was a person of both words and actions, he knew that poverty could not really be addressed unless the poor themselves took action to challenge a country that would not take action on their behalf.
And so, Martin was, towards the end of his life, you may remember, by the last years of his life, he was saying that America had to deal with three—what he called triple evils: the evil of racism, the evil of materialism and the evils of militarism. And he saw those three very much connected to each other. And by organizing the poor, he saw that—especially organizing across racial lines, he saw that as addressing those evils in a way that had to be done by somebody. And he was in a position by 1968 to probably be the only person who could have called those groups of people together and said, “Let us make a common ground to create a new America.” That was his hope. That was what he was working for when he was killed. He was among the poor and calling upon the country to look and see the condition of the poor in order that we might see the possibilities of a new America.
AMY GOODMAN: April 4th is not only the anniversary of the assassination of Dr. King in 1968, but the anniversary of the speech he gave at Riverside Church here in New York, April 4, 1967, exactly one year before he was killed. Do you think there’s a connection?
DR. VINCENT HARDING: Amy, I have long felt, and I continue to feel, that it is impossible to understand Martin’s assassination by only understanding a white segregationist man who killed Martin by himself. I am deeply convinced that Martin’s two actions—one, of trying to organize the poor to challenge this government in Washington, D.C. in the Poor People’s Campaign; and Martin’s determination not just to speak out against the Vietnam, but to speak out against the entire imperialist and militarist direction of the country—all of that has to be understood when we try to understand Martin’s assassination. So, yes, I see a connection.
AMY GOODMAN: So, talk about Dr. King’s evolution in being willing to speak out publicly around the war in Vietnam. How much risk was he taking?
DR. VINCENT HARDING: Let’s talk about a risk that he was very aware of from the outset. And he would put it in these terms: he was at great risk of damaging his own soul and spirit if he did not speak out against what he knew was terrible. King was, in the deepest part of his being, a pastor, caring for those who were beaten up, caring for those who were in need, and, in the great traditional ways of the Christian faith, caring for the most outcast and those who were considered poor and needy. King was always attuned to that. Had he not spoken on behalf of what the war was doing to those people in this country and overseas, he would not have been able to live with himself.
AMY GOODMAN: Charles Cabbage, you were driving away from the Lorraine Motel when Dr. King was killed.
CHARLES CABBAGE: Yes. That’s the understanding that I have of it. But, you know, like, nobody really thought that they would assassinate Dr. King, a man that stood for nonviolence. The man was a minister. You understand, his whole being was one of peace and harmony. So when the shot broke out, we were loading up our car. And there’s another long story that goes with that, but I am going to try to skip to the part that you probably want to deal with. And you know, when we were getting ready to pull off, I heard the shot. Well, we all, you know, like, hit the floor for cover. No other shots came. So I just jumped up and raised up and looked around, then pulled off.
By the time I left from the hotel and got to my home, you know, my mother come running out of the house, you know, I mean, crying and everything. And she said, “Dr. King got shot.” Well, see, her reaction was one of tears and sadness and sorrow. Mine was, how long is it going to get them to get here, because, you know, the way that I could see that COINTELPRO was operating here inside of Memphis itself, now that I have done a little research and looked back, was that they wanted to create as much disruption as they could. And they did a pretty good job of it.
AMY GOODMAN: Many questions still remain over who was behind Dr. Martin Luther King’s assassination. In 1969, James Earl Ray pleaded guilty but soon recanted and claimed he was innocent. Many of King’s relatives and closest friends suspect government involvement.
Last year, I spoke to Jerry Williams, a retired Memphis police detective. At the time of King’s death, Williams was one of the only African American detectives in the Memphis Police Department. I interviewed Jerry Williams outside the Metropolitan Baptist Church in Memphis.
JERRY WILLIAMS: My name is Jerry Williams. I’m a retired Memphis policeman. During the time of Dr. King’s assassination, I was working the homicide bureau in the Memphis Police Department. And on two previous occasions when Dr. King would come to Memphis, I was assigned to head his security team. But the last time he came, there were no black officers assigned for that security.
www.cointel.org - excellent reference site about the FBI's Counter Intelligence Program (COINTELPRO), including declassified and liberated documents. Includes the FBI's letter to Martin Luther King, Jr. urging him to commit suicide, sent just before he accepted the Nobel Peace Prize
your tax dollars at work
the FBI's psychological warfare effort against Martin Luther King (1964)
TIME TO BREAK SILENCE:
Declaration of Independence from the War in Vietnam
Riverside Church, New York City
April 4, 1967 (exactly one year before his murder)
I come to this magnificent house of worship tonight because my conscience leaves me no other choice. I join with you in this meeting because I am in deepest agreement with the aims and work of the organization which has brought us together: Clergy and Laymen Concerned about Vietnam. The recent statement of your executive committee are the sentiments of my own heart and I found myself in full accord when I read its opening lines: "A time comes when silence is betrayal." That time has come for us in relation to Vietnam.
The truth of these words is beyond doubt, but the mission to which they call us is a most difficult one. Even when pressed by the demands of inner truth, men do not easily assume the task of opposing their government's policy, especially in time of war. Nor does the human spirit move without great difficulty against all the apathy of conformist though within one's own bosom and in the surrounding world. Moreover when the issues at hand seem as perplexed as they often do in the case of this dreadful conflict we are always on the edge of being mesmerized by uncertainty; but we must 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 for our limited vision, but we must speak. And we must rejoice as well, for surely this is the first time in our nation's history that a significant number of its religious leaders have chosen to move beyond the prophesying of smooth patriotism to the high grounds of a firm dissent based upon the mandates of conscience and the reading of history. Perhaps a new spirit is rising among us. If it is, let us trace its movement well and pray that our own inner being may be sensitive to its guidance, for we are deeply in need of a new way beyond the darkness that seems so close around us.
Over the past two years, as I have moved to break the betrayal of my own silences and to speak from the burnings of my own heart, as I have called for radical departures from the destruction of Vietnam, many persons have questioned me about the wisdom of my path. At the heart of their concerns this query has often loomed large and loud: Why are YOU speaking about war, Dr. King? Why are YOU joining the voices of dissent? Peace and civil rights don't mix, they say. Aren't you hurting the cause of your people, they ask? And when I hear them, though I often understand the source of their concern, I am nevertheless greatly saddened, for such questions mean that the inquirers have not really known me, my commitment or my calling. Indeed, their questions suggest that they do not known the world in which they live.
In light of such tragic misunderstandings, I deem it of signal importance to try to state clearly, and I trust concisely, why I believe that the path from Dexter Avenue Baptist Church--the church in Montgomery, Alabama, where I began my pastorate--leads clearly to this sanctuary tonight.
I come to this platform tonight to make a passionate plea to my beloved nation. This speech is not addressed to Hanoi or to the National Liberation Front. It is not addressed to China or to Russia.
Nor is it an attempt to overlook the ambiguity of the total situation and the need for a collective solution to the tragedy of Vietnam. Neither is it an attempt to make North Vietnam or the [NLF] paragons of virtue, nor to overlook the role they can play in a successful resolution of the problem. While they both may have justifiable reason to be suspicious of the good faith of the United States, life and history give eloquent testimony to the fact that conflicts are never resolved without trustful give and take on both sides.
Tonight, however, I wish not to speak with Hanoi and the NLF, but rather to my fellow Americans who, with me, bear the greatest responsibility in ending a conflict that has exacted a heavy price on both continents.
IMPORTANCE OF VIETNAM
Since I am a preacher by trade, I suppose it is not surprising that I have seven major reasons for bringing Vietnam into the field of my moral vision. There is at the outset a very obvious and almost facile connection between the war in Vietnam and the struggle I, and others, have been waging in America. A few years ago there was a shining moment in that struggle. It seemed as if there was a real promise of hope for the poor--both black and white-- through the poverty program. There were experiments, hopes, new beginnings. Then came the buildup in Vietnam and I watched the program broken and eviscerated as if it were some idle political plaything of a society gone mad on war, and I knew that America would never invest the necessary funds or energies in rehabilitation of its poor so long as adventures like Vietnam continued to draw men and skills and money like some demonic destructive suction tube. So I was increasingly compelled to see the war as an enemy of the poor and attack it as such.
Perhaps the more tragic recognition of reality took place when it became clear to me that the war was doing far more than devastating the hopes of the poor at home. It was sending their sons and their brothers and their husbands to fight and to die in extraordinarily high proportions relative to the rest of the population. We were taking the black young men who had been crippled by our society and sending them eight thousand miles away to guarantee liberties in Southeast Asia which they had not found in southwest Georgia and East Harlem. So we have been repeatedly faced with the cruel irony of watching Negro and white boys on TV screens as they kill and die together for a nation that has been unable to seat them together in the same schools. So we watch them in brutal solidarity burning the huts of a poor village, but we realize that they would never live on the same block in Detroit. I could not be silent in the face of such cruel manipulation of the poor.
My third reason moves to an even deeper level of awareness, for it grows out of my experience in the ghettos of the North over the last three years --especially the last three summers. As I have walked among the desperate, rejected and angry young men I have told them that Molotov cocktails and rifles would not solve their problems. I have tried to offer them my deepest compassion while maintaining my conviction that social change comes most meaningfully through nonviolent action. But they asked -- and rightly so -- what about Vietnam? They asked if our nation wasn't using massive doses of violence to solve its problems, to bring about the changes it wanted. Their questions hit home, and I knew that I could never raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today -- my own government. For the sake of those boys, for the sake of this government, for the sake of the hundreds of thousands trembling under our violence, I cannot be silent.
For those who ask the question, "Aren't you a civil rights leader?" and thereby mean to exclude me from the movement for peace, I have this further answer. In 1957 when a group of us formed the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, we chose as our motto: "To save the soul of America." We were convinced that we could not limit our vision to certain rights for black people, but instead affirmed the conviction that America would never be free or saved from itself unless the descendants of its slaves were loosed completely from the shackles they still wear. In a way we were agreeing with Langston Hughes, that black bard of Harlem, who had 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 use who are yet determined that America WILL be are led down the path of protest and dissent, working for the health of our land.
As if the weight of such a commitment to the life and health of America were not enough, another burden of responsibility was placed upon me in 1964; and I cannot forget that the Nobel Prize for Peace was also a commission--a commission to work harder than I had ever worked before Athe brotherhood of man." This is a calling that takes me beyond national allegiances, but even if it were not present I would yet have to live with the meaning of my commitment to the ministry of Jesus Christ. To me the relationship of this ministry to the making of peace is so obvious that I sometimes wonder at those who ask me why I am speaking against the war. Could it be that they do not know that the good news was meant for all men --for Communist and capitalist, for their children and ours, for revolutionary and conservative? Have they forgotten that my ministry is in obedience to the one who loved his enemies so fully that he died for them? What then can I say to the "Vietcong" or to Castro or to Mao as a faithful minister of this one? Can I threaten them with death or must I not share with them my life?
Finally, as I try to delineate for you and for myself the road that leads from Montgomery to this place I would have offered all that was most valid if I simply said that I must be true to my conviction that I share with all men the calling to be a son of the living God. Beyond the calling of race or nation or creed is this vocation of sonship and brotherhood, and because I believe that the Father is deeply concerned for his suffering and helpless and outcast children, I come tonight to speak for them.
This I believe to be the privilege and the burden of all of us who deem ourselves bound by allegiances and loyalties which are broader and deeper than nationalism and which go beyond our nation's self-defined goals and positions. We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy, for no document from human hands can make these humans any less our brothers.
And as I ponder the madness of Vietnam and search within myself for ways to understand and respond to compassion my mind goes constantly to the people of that peninsula. I speak now not of the soldiers of each side, not of the junta in Saigon, but simply of the people who have been living under the curse of war for almost three continuous decades now. I think of them too because it is clear to me that there will be no meaningful solution there until some attempt is made to know them and hear their broken cries.
They must see Americans as strange liberators. The Vietnamese people proclaimed their own independence in 1945 after a combined French and Japanese occupation, and before the Communist revolution in China. They were led by Ho Chi Minh. Even though they quoted the American Declaration of Independence in their own document of freedom, we refused to recognize them. Instead, we decided to support France in its reconquest of her former colony.
Our government felt then that the Vietnamese people were not "ready" for independence, and we again fell victim to the deadly Western arrogance that has poisoned the international atmosphere for so long. With that tragic decision we rejected a revolutionary government seeking self- determination, and a government that had been established not by China (for whom the Vietnamese have no great love) but by clearly indigenous forces that included some Communists. For the peasants this new government meant real land reform, one of the most important needs in 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 per cent of the French war costs. Even before the French were defeated at Dien Bien Phu, they began to despair of the reckless action, but we did not. We encouraged them with our huge financial and military supplies to continue the war even after they had lost the will. Soon we would be paying almost the full costs of this tragic attempt at reconciliation.
After the French were defeated it looked as if independence and land reform would come again through the Geneva agreements. But instead there came the United States, determined that Ho should not unify the temporarily divided nation, and the peasants watched again as we supported one of the most vicious modern dictators -- our chosen man, Premier Diem. The peasants watched and cringed as Diem ruthlessly routed out all opposition, supported their extortionist landlords and refused even to discuss reunification with the north. The peasants watched as all this was presided over by US influence and then by increasing numbers of US troops who came to help quell the insurgency that Diem's methods had aroused. When Diem was overthrown they may have been happy, but the long line of military dictatorships seemed to offer no real change -- especially in terms of their need for land and peace.
The only change came from America as we increased our troop commitments in support of governments which were singularly corrupt, inept and without popular support. All the while the people read our leaflets and received regular promises of peace and democracy -- and land reform. Now they languish under our bombs and consider us -- not their fellow Vietnamese -- the real enemy. They move sadly and apathetically as we herd them off the land of their fathers into concentration camps where minimal social needs are rarely met. They know they must move or be destroyed by our bombs. So they go -- primarily women and children and the aged.
They watch as we poison their water, as we kill a million acres of their crops. They must weep as the bulldozers roar through their areas preparing to destroy the precious trees. They wander into the hospitals, with at least twenty casualties from American firepower for one "Vietcong" - inflicted injury. So far we may have killed a million of them -- mostly children. They wander into the towns and see thousands of the children, homeless, without clothes, running in packs on the streets like animals. They see the children degraded by our soldiers as they beg for food. They see the children selling their sisters to our soldiers, soliciting for their mothers.
What do the peasants think as we ally ourselves with the landlords and as we refuse to put any action into our many words concerning land reform? What do they think as we test out our latest weapons on them, just as the Germans tested out new medicine and new tortures in the concentration camps of Europe? Where are the roots of the independent Vietnam we claim to be building? Is it among these voiceless ones?
We have destroyed their two most cherished institutions: the family and the village. We have destroyed their land and their crops. We have cooperated in the crushing of the nation's only non-Communist revolutionary political force -- the unified Buddhist church. We have supported the enemies and peasants of Saigon. We have corrupted their women and children and killed their men. What liberators!
Now there is little left to build on -- save bitterness. Soon the only solid physical foundations remaining will be found at our military bases and in the concrete of the concentration camps we call fortified hamlets. The peasants may well wonder if we plan to build our new Vietnam on such grounds as these? Could we blame them for such thoughts? We must speak for them and raise the questions they cannot raise. These too are our 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 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 then our officials know that their membership is less than twenty-five percent Communist and yet insist on giving them the blanket name? What must they be thinking when they know that we are aware of their control of major sections of Vietnam and yet we appear ready to allow national elections in which this highly organized political parallel government will have no part? They ask how we can speak of free elections when the Saigon press is censored and controlled by the military junta. And they are surely right to wonder what kind of new government we plan to help form without them--the only party in real touch with the peasants. They question our political goals and they deny the reality of a peace settlement from which they will be excluded. Their questions are frighteningly relevant. Is our nation planning to build on political myth again and then shore it up with the power of new violence?
Here is the true meaning and value of compassion and nonviolence when it helps us to see the enemy's point of view, to hear his questions, to know his assessment of ourselves. For from his view we may indeed see the basic weaknesses of our own condition, and if we are mature, we may learn and grow and profit from the wisdom of the brothers who are called the opposition.
So, too, with Hanoi. In the north, where our bombs now pummel the land, and our mines endanger the waterways, we are met by a deep but understandable mistrust. To speak for them is to explain this lack of confidence in Western words, and especially their mistrust of American intentions now. In Hanoi are the men who led the nation to independence against the Japanese and the French, the men who sought membership in the French commonwealth and were betrayed by the weakness of Paris and the willfulness of the colonial armies. It was they who led a second struggle against French domination at tremendous costs, and then were persuaded to give up the land they controlled between the thirteenth and seventeenth parallel as a temporary measure at Geneva. After 1954 they watched us conspire with Diem to prevent elections which would have surely brought Ho Chi Minh to power over a united Vietnam, and they realized they had been 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 irony can save him when he hears the most powerful nation of the world speaking of aggression as it drops thousands of bombs on a poor weak nation more than eight thousand miles away from its shores.
At this point I should make it clear that while I have tried in these last few minutes to give a voice to the voiceless on Vietnam and to understand the arguments of those who are called enemy, I am as deeply concerned about our troops there as anything else. For it occurs to me that what we are submitting them to in Vietnam is not simply the brutalizing process that goes on in any war where armies face each other and seek to destroy. We are adding cynicism to the process of death, for they must know after a short period there that none of the things we claim to be fighting fro are really involved. Before long they must know that their government has sent them into a struggle among Vietnamese, and the more sophisticated surely realize that we are on the side of the wealthy and secure while we create a hell for the poor.
Somehow this madness must cease. We must stop now. I speak as a child of God and brother to the suffering poor of Vietnam. I speak for those whose land is being laid waste, whose homes are being destroyed, whose culture is being subverted. I speak for the poor in America who are paying the double price of smashed hopes at home and death and corruption in Vietnam. I speak as a citizen of the world, for the world as it stands aghast at the path we have taken. I speak as an American to the leaders of my own nation. The great initiative in this war is ours. The initiative to stop it must be ours.
This is the message of the great Buddhist leaders of Vietnam. Recently one of them wrote these words:
"Each day the war goes on the hatred increases in the heart of the Vietnamese and in the hearts of those of humanitarian instinct. The Americans are forcing even their friends into becoming their enemies. It is curious that the Americans, who calculate so carefully on the possibilities of military victory, do not realize that in the process they are incurring deep psychological and political defeat. The image of America will never again be the image of revolution, freedom and democracy, but the image of violence and militarism."
If we continue there will be no doubt in my mind and in the mind of the world that we have no honorable intentions in Vietnam. It will become clear that our minimal expectation is to occupy it as an American colony and men will not refrain from thinking that our maximum hope is to goad China into a war so that we may bomb her nuclear installations. If we do not stop our war against the people of Vietnam immediately the world will be left with no other alternative than to see this as some horribly clumsy and deadly game we have decided to play.
The world now demands a maturity of America that we may not be able to achieve. It demands that we admit that we have been wrong from the beginning of our adventure in Vietnam, that we have been detrimental to the life of Vietnamese people. The situation is one in which we must be ready to turn sharply from our present ways.
In order to atone for our sins and errors in Vietnam, we should take the initiative in bringing a halt to this tragic war. I would like to suggest five concrete things that our government should do immediately to begin the long and difficult process of extricating ourselves from this 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 Laos.
- 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 must provide the medical aid that is badly needed, making it available in this country if necessary.
PROTESTING THE WAR
Meanwhile we in the churches and synagogues have a continuing task while we urge our government to disengage itself from a disgraceful commitment. We must continue to raise our voices if our nation persists in its perverse ways in Vietnam. We must be prepared to match actions with words by seeking out every creative means of protest possible.
As we counsel young men concerning military service we must clarify for them our nation's role in Vietnam and challenge them with the alternative of conscientious objection. I am pleased to say that this is the path now being chosen by more than seventy students at my own alma mater, Morehouse College, and I recommend it to all who find the American course in Vietnam a dishonorable and unjust one. Moreover I would encourage all ministers of draft age to give up their ministerial exemptions and seek status as conscientious objectors. These are the times for real choices and not false ones. We are at the moment when our lives must be placed on the line if our nation is to survive its own folly. Every man of humane convictions must decide on the protect that best suits his convictions, but we must 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. I say we must enter the struggle, but I wish to go on now to say something even more disturbing. The war in Vietnam is but a symptom of a far deeper malady within the American spirit, and if we ignore this sobering reality we will find ourselves organizing clergy and laymen-concerned committees for the next generation. They will be concerned about Guatemala and Peru. They will be concerned about Thailand and Cambodia. They will be concerned about Mozambique and South Africa. We will be marching for these and a dozen other names and attending rallies without end unless there is a significant and profound change in American life and policy. Such thoughts take us beyond Vietnam, but not beyond our calling as sons of the living God.
In 1957 a sensitive American official overseas said that it seemed to him that our nation was on the wrong side of a world revolution. During the past ten years we have seen emerge a pattern of suppression which now has justified the presence of US military "advisors" in Venezuela. The need to maintain social stability for our investments accounts for the counter-revolutionary action of American forces in Guatemala. It tells why American helicopters are being used against guerrillas in Colombia and why American napalm and green beret forces have already been active against rebels in Peru. It is with such activity in mind that the words of the late John F. Kennedy come back to haunt us. Five years ago he said, "Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable."
Increasingly, by choice or by accident, this is the role our nation has taken--the role of those who make peaceful revolution impossible by refusing to give up the privileges and the pleasures that come from the immense profits of overseas investment.
I am convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin the shift from a "thing-oriented" society to a "person-oriented" society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism and militarism are incapable of being conquered.
A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies. On the one hand we are called to play the good Samaritan on life's roadside, but that will be only an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life's highway. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it is not haphazard and superficial. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars 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 peoples normally humane, of sending men home from dark and bloody battlefields physically handicapped and psychologically deranged, cannot be reconciled with wisdom, justice and love. A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.
America, the richest and most powerful nation in the world, can well lead the way in this revolution of values. There is nothing, except a tragic death wish, to prevent us from reordering our priorities, so that the pursuit of peace will take precedence over the pursuit of war. There is nothing to keep us from molding a recalcitrant status quo with bruised hands until we have fashioned it into a brotherhood.
This kind of positive revolution of values is our best defense against communism. War is not the answer. Communism will never be defeated by the use of atomic bombs. Let us not join those who shout war and through their misguided passions urge the United States to relinquish its participation in the United Nations. These are days which demand wise restraint and calm reasonableness. We must not call everyone a Communist or an appeaser who advocates the seating of Red China in the United Nations and who recognizes that hate and hysteria are not the final answers to the problem of these turbulent days. We must not engage in a negative anti-communism, but rather in a positive thrust for democracy, realizing that our greatest defense against communism is to take offensive action in behalf of justice. We must with positive action seek to remove those conditions of poverty, insecurity and injustice which are the fertile soil in which the seed of communism grows and develops.
THE PEOPLE ARE IMPORTANT
These are revolutionary times. All over the globe men are revolting against old systems of exploitation and oppression and out of the wombs of a frail world new systems of justice and equality are being born. The shirtless and barefoot people of the land are rising up as never before. "The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light." We in the West must support these revolutions. It is a sad fact that, because of comfort, complacency, a morbid fear of communism, and our proneness to adjust to injustice, the Western nations that have initiated so much of the revolutionary spirit of the modern world have now become the arch anti-revolutionaries. This has driven many to feel that only Marxism has the revolutionary spirit. Therefore, communism is a judgment against our failure to make democracy real and follow through on the revolutions that we initiated. Our only hope today lies in our ability to recapture the revolutionary spirit and go out into a sometimes hostile world declaring eternal hostility to poverty, racism, and militarism. With this powerful commitment we shall boldly challenge the status quo and unjust mores and thereby speed the day when "every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight and the rough places plain."
A genuine revolution of values means in the final analysis that our loyalties must become ecumenical rather than sectional. Every nation must now develop an overriding loyalty to mankind as a whole in order to preserve the best in their individual societies.
This call for a world-wide fellowship that lifts neighborly concern beyond one's tribe, race, class and nation is in reality a call for an all-embracing and unconditional love for all men. This oft misunderstood and misinterpreted concept--so readily dismissed by the Nietzsches of the world as a weak and cowardly force--has now become an absolute necessary for the survival of man. When I speak of love I am not speaking of some sentimental and weak response. I am speaking of that force which all the great religions have seen as the supreme unifying principle of life. Love is somehow the key that unlocks the door which leads to ultimate reality. This Hindu-Moslem-Christian-Jewish-Buddhist belief about ultimate reality is beautifully summed up in the first epistle of Saint John:
Let us love one another; for love is God and everyone that loveth is born of God and knoweth God. He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love. If we love one another God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us.
Let us hope that this spirit will become the order of the day. We can no longer afford to worship the god of hate or bow before the altar of retaliation. The oceans of history are made turbulent by the ever-rising tide of hate. History is cluttered with the wreckage of nations and individuals that pursued this self-defeating path of hate. As Arnold Toynbee says: "Love is the ultimate force that makes for the saving choice of life and good against the damning choice of death and evil. Therefore the first hope in our inventory must be the hops that love is going to have the last word."
We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history there is such a thing as being too late. Procrastination is still the thief of time. Life often leaves us standing bare, naked and dejected with a lost opportunity. The "tide in the affairs of men" does not remain at the flood; it ebbs. We may cry out desperately for time to pause in her passage, but time is deaf to every plea and rushes on. Over the bleached bones and jumbled residue of numerous civilizations are written the pathetic words: "Too late." There is an invisible book of life that faithfully records our vigilance of our neglect. "The moving finger write, and having writ moves on ..." We still have a choice today; nonviolent coexistence or violent co-annihilation.
We must move past indecision to action. We must find new ways to speak for peace in Vietnam and justice throughout the developing world--a world that borders on our doors. If we do not act we shall surely be dragged down the long dark and shameful corridors of time reserved for those who possess power without compassion, might without morality, and strength without 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 eagerly wait for our response. Shall we say the odds are too great? Shall we tell them the struggle is too hard? Will our message be that the forces of American life militate against their arrival as full men, and we send our deepest regrets? Or will there be another message, of longing, of hope, of solidarity with their yearnings, of commitment to their cause, whatever the cost? The choice is ours, and though we might prefer it otherwise we MUST choose in this crucial moment of human history.
As that noble bard of yesterday, James Russell Lowell, eloquently stated:
Once to every man and nation,
Comes the moment to decide
In the strife of truth and falsehood.
For the good or evil side;
Some great cause God's new Messiah
Offering each the gloom or blight
And the choice goes by forever
Twixt that darkness and that light.
Though the cause of evil prosper
Yet tis truth along is strong
Though her portion be the scaffold
AND upon the throne be wrong
Yet that scaffold sways the future
And behind the dim unknown
Standeth God within the shadow
Keeping watch above his own.
"For years I labored with the idea of reforming the existing institutions ... Now I feel quite differently. I think you've got to have a reconstruction of the entire society, a revolution of values."
"There are millions of poor people in this country who have very
little, or even nothing, to lose. If they can be helped to take action
together, they will do so with a freedom and a power that will be a new
and unsettling force in our complacent national life."
-- Martin Luther King
In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence
of our friends.
-- Martin Luther King, Jr.
"We have committed more war crimes almost than any nation
in the world, and I'm going to continue to say it. And we won't stop it
because of our pride, and our arrogance as a nation."
-- Martin Luther King, Jr., 1968
Every Black soldier ought to say, "I am not going to fight.
This is not my war."
-- Martin Luther King, III (his son), January 18, 1991 (on the occasion of the 1991 US attack on Iraq)
|"Pilgrimage to Nonviolence," Christian Century, April 13, 1960|
If we assume that mankind has a right to survive then we must find an alternative to war and destruction. In a day when sputniks dash through outer space and guided ballistic missiles are carving highways of death through the stratosphere, nobody can win a war. The choice today is no longer between violence and nonviolence. It is either nonviolence or nonexistence.
Drum Major Instinct"
February 4, 1968, Ebenezer Baptist Church
Because through prejudice and blindness, you [white people] fail to see that the same forces that oppress Negroes in American society oppress poor white people. And all you are living on is the satisfaction of your skin being white, and the drum major instinct of thinking that you are somebody big because you are white. And you're so poor you can't send your children to school. You ought to be out here marching with every one of us every time we have a march.
Now that's a fact. That the poor white has been put into this position--where through blindness and prejudice, he is forced to support his oppressors, and the only thing he has going for him is the false feeling that he is superior because his skin is white. And can't hardly eat and make his ends meet week in and week out.
And not only does this thing go into the racial struggle, it goes into the struggle between nations. And I would submit to you this morning that what's wrong in the world today is that the nations of the world are engaged in a bitter, colossal contest for supremacy. And if something doesn't happen to stop this trend I'm sorely afraid that we won't be here to talk about Jesus Christ and about God and about brotherhood too many more years. If somebody doesn't bring an end to this suicidal thrust that we see in the world today, none of us are going to be around, because somebody's going to make the mistake through our senseless blundering of dropping a nuclear bomb somewhere ...
But this is where we are drifting, and we are drifting here, because nations are caught up with the drum major instinct. I must be first. I must be supreme. Our nation must rule the world. And I am sad to say that the nation in which we live is the supreme culprit. And I'm going to continue to say it to America, because I love this country too much to see the drift that it has taken.
God didn't call America to do what she's doing in the world now. God didn't call America to engage in a senseless, unjust war, [such] as the war in Vietnam. And we are criminals in that war. We have committed more war crimes almost than any nation in the world, and I'm going to continue to say it. And we won't stop it because of our pride, and our arrogance as a nation.
quoted in "A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr.," James. M. Washington, ed., New York: HarpersCollins, 1986. Contains virtually everything he wrote and all major speeches, including "I Have a Dream" (1963 March on Washington), Letter from a Birmingham Jail (1963) and "I've Been to the Mountain Top," the speech he gave the night before he was assassinated.
do we go from here?"
King's last, and most radical, Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) presidential address
I want to say to you as I move to my conclusion, as we talk about "Where do we go from here," that we honestly face the fact that the movement must address itself to the question of restructuring the whole of American society. There are forty million poor people here. And one day we must ask the question, "Why are there forty million poor people in America?" And when you begin to ask that question, you are raising questions about the economic system, about a broader distribution of wealth. When you ask that question, you begin to question the capitalistic economy. And I'm simply saying that more and more, we've got to begin to ask questions about the whole society. We are called upon to help the discouraged beggars in life's marketplace. But one day we must come to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring. It means that questions must be raised. You see, my friends, when you deal with this, you begin to ask the question, "Who owns the iron ore?" You begin to ask the question, "Why is it that people have to pay water bills in a world that is two-thirds water?" These are questions that must be asked.
Now, don't think that you have me in a "bind" today. I'm not talking about communism.
What I'm saying to you this morning is that communism forgets that life is individual. Capitalism forgets that life is social, and the kingdom of brotherhood is found neither in the thesis of communism nor the antithesis of capitalism but in a higher synthesis. It is found in a higher synthesis that combines the truths of both. Now, when I say question the whole society, it means ultimately coming to see that the problems of racism, the problem of economic exploitation, and the problem of war are all tied together.
|from "A Christmas Sermon on Peace," 1967|
It really boils down to this: that all life is interrelated. We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied into a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. We are made to live together because of the interrelated structure of reality. Did you ever stop to think that you can't leave for your job in the morning without being dependent on most of the world? You get up in the morning and go to the bathroom and reach over for the sponge, and that's handed to you by a Pacific islander. You reach for a bar of soap, and that's given to you at the hands of a Frenchman. And then you go into the kitchen to drink your coffee for the morning, and that's poured into your cup by a South American. And maybe you want tea: that's poured into your cup by a Chinese. Or maybe you're desirous of having cocoa for breakfast, and that's poured into your cup by a West African. And then you reach over for your toast, and that's given to you at the hands of an English-speaking farmer, not to mention the baker. And before you finish eating breakfast in the morning, you've depended on more than half the world. This is the way our universe is structured, this is its interrelated quality. We aren't going to have peace on Earth until we recognize this basic fact of the interrelated structure of all reality.
It's one of the strangest things that all the great military geniuses of the world have talked about peace. The conquerors of old who came killing in pursuit of peace, Alexander, Julius Caesar, Charlemagne, and Napoleon, were akin in seeking a peaceful world order. If you will read Mein Kampf closely enough, you will discover that Hitler contended that everything he did in Germany was for peace. And the leaders of the world today talk eloquently about peace. Every time we drop our bombs in North Vietnam, President Johnson talks eloquently about peace. What is the problem? They are talking about peace as a distant goal, as an end we seek, but one day we must come to see that peace is not merely a distant goal we seek, but that it is a means by which we arrive at that goal. We must pursue peaceful ends through peaceful means. All of this is saying that, in the final analysis, means and ends must cohere because the end is preexistent in the means, and ultimately destructive means cannot bring about constructive ends.
"ENLARGING ON MARTIN LUTHER KING'S PROFOUND TRUTH THAT MILITARIZED AMERICA IS APPROACHING SPIRITUAL DEATH"
by Dr. Gary G. Kohls, an American physician, writer and peace activist.
Of King and the war
A Register-Guard Editorial
Published: Monday, January 15, 2007
As President Bush prepares to send another 21,500 U.S. troops into the strife-torn neighborhoods and bomb-lined roadsides of Iraq, it's worth remembering on this Martin Luther King Day what the civil rights leader had to say four decades ago about another controversial and tragic war.
King spoke out publicly against the Vietnam War for the first time at the Riverside Church in New York City on April 4, 1967, exactly one year before his death. By the time the war ended in 1975, nearly 60,000 U.S. troops had been killed and 153,000 wounded. As many as 2 million Vietnamese lost their lives.
King's words still speak to us across the years, as if eerily gauged for our times and another U.S. conflict, this one in the Middle East. His moral clarity still resonates with Americans deeply troubled by an Iraq war that appears increasingly senseless and unwinnable - and that claims the lives of more young men and women every day.
He opposed the Vietnam War for many reasons, starting with its debilitating impact on the unfinished domestic fight against poverty and discrimination.
"A few years ago, there was a shining moment in that struggle," he said. "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 destructive suction tube."
So it is today that the Iraq war devours billions of dollars every month that could be used to help Americans at home. So it is that federal funding for programs ranging from public education to post-Katrina reconstruction is languishing, while the Bush administration prepares to ask Congress for billions more to fund an escalation that it euphemistically calls a "surge."
King noted that low-income and minority Americans were fighting and dying in disproportionate numbers in Vietnam - an imbalance ameliorated, but not eliminated, by the change to all-volunteer armed forces.
"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," King said. "It was sending their sons and their brothers and their husbands to fight and 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 8,000 miles away to guarantee liberties in Southeast Asia, which they had not found in southwest Georgia and East Harlem."
King also understood that war invariably takes the heaviest toll on civilians, whose fates are reported as nameless statistics in generic daily news roundups - when they're reported at all.
"And as I ponder the madness of Vietnam and search within myself for ways to understand and respond with compassion, my mind goes constantly to the people of that peninsula," he said. "I speak not of the soldiers of each side ... 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."
Many other observations by King about Vietnam still have relevance. At a time when Haliburton and other well-connected contractors are reaping billions of dollars in reconstruction contracts in Iraq and wealthy Americans are enjoying generous tax breaks, King's remark that "we are on the side of the wealthy and the secure, while we create a hell for the poor" still rings piercingly true.
King's admonition against "the Western arrogance of feeling that it has everything to teach others" brings to mind the Bush administration's efforts to impose Western democracy, values and institutions on Iraq at gunpoint. But his most haunting words were those calling for a swift end to a war that dragged on for another five years after his death, needlessly claiming 30,000 more American lives.
One cannot read King's plea for an end to the Vietnam War without wondering how long it will take for the United States to end its war in Iraq - a war that already has cost more than 3,000 U.S. lives and that will claim many more if it is not soon brought to an end.
"We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today," King reminded his audience in 1967. "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.' "
Finally, there was King's clarion call to action and individual responsibility. He understood that unwise and unjust wars end only when average citizens heed the call. When they arise from their moral slumber and cry out with a single voice that shatters all resistance.
"Somehow this madness must cease," he said. "We must stop now. I speak as a child of God and brother to the suffering poor of Vietnam. I speak for those whose land is being laid waste, whose homes are being destroyed, whose culture is being subverted. I speak for the poor in America who are paying the double price of smashed hopes at home and death and corruption in Vietnam.
"I speak as a citizen of the world, for the world as it stands aghast at the path we have taken. I speak as an American to the leaders of my own nation. The great initiative in this war is ours. The initiative to stop it must be ours."
King was unequivocal on the consequences, for the nation and for its citizens, of failure to seize this initiative:
"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.' "