“Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence” by Rev. Martin Luther King

Beyond Viet­nam: A Time to Break Silence, by Rev. Mar­tin Luther King, deliv­ered 4 April 1967

(The full text of the pre­scient speech deliv­ered by Dr. Mar­tin Luther King, Jr., on April 4, 1967, at River­side Church in New York City, in which he con­demned not only the war in Viet­nam but Unit­ed States mil­i­ta­riza­tion and ongo­ing quest for world dom­i­na­tion. He cor­rect­ly pre­dict­ed that the U.S. would engage in numer­ous oth­er Viet­nam-like con­flicts in the future, and he fore­saw the role of “com­put­er­i­za­tion” in U.S. glob­al hege­mo­ny. King says, “A nation that con­tin­ues year after year to spend more mon­ey on mil­i­tary defense than on pro­grams of social uplift is approach­ing spir­i­tu­al death.”)

I come to this mag­nif­i­cent house of wor­ship tonight because my con­science leaves me no oth­er choice. I join with you in this meet­ing because I am in deep­est agree­ment with the aims and work of the orga­ni­za­tion which has brought us togeth­er: Cler­gy and Lay­men Con­cerned about Viet­nam. The recent state­ment of your exec­u­tive com­mit­tee are the sen­ti­ments of my own heart and I found myself in full accord when I read its open­ing lines: “A time comes when silence is betray­al.” That time has come for us in rela­tion to Viet­nam.

The truth of these words is beyond doubt but the mis­sion to which they call us is a most dif­fi­cult one. Even when pressed by the demands of inner truth, men do not eas­i­ly assume the task of oppos­ing their government’s pol­i­cy, espe­cial­ly in time of war. Nor does the human spir­it move with­out great dif­fi­cul­ty against all the apa­thy of con­formist thought with­in one’s own bosom and in the sur­round­ing world. More­over when the issues at hand seem as per­plexed as they often do in the case of this dread­ful con­flict we are always on the verge of being mes­mer­ized by uncer­tain­ty; but we must move on.

Some of us who have already begun to break the silence of the night have found that the call­ing to speak is often a voca­tion of agony, but we must speak. We must speak with all the humil­i­ty that is appro­pri­ate to our lim­it­ed vision, but we must speak. And we must rejoice as well, for sure­ly this is the first time in our nation’s his­to­ry that a sig­nif­i­cant num­ber of its reli­gious lead­ers have cho­sen to move beyond the proph­esy­ing of smooth patri­o­tism to the high grounds of a firm dis­sent based upon the man­dates of con­science and the read­ing of his­to­ry. Per­haps a new spir­it is ris­ing among us. If it is, let us trace its move­ment well and pray that our own inner being may be sen­si­tive to its guid­ance, for we are deeply in need of a new way beyond the dark­ness that seems so close around us.

Over the past two years, as I have moved to break the betray­al of my own silences and to speak from the burn­ings of my own heart, as I have called for rad­i­cal depar­tures from the destruc­tion of Viet­nam, many per­sons have ques­tioned me about the wis­dom of my path. At the heart of their con­cerns this query has often loomed large and loud: Why are you speak­ing about war, Dr. King? Why are you join­ing the voic­es of dis­sent? Peace and civ­il rights don’t mix, they say. Aren’t you hurt­ing the cause of your peo­ple, they ask? And when I hear them, though I often under­stand the source of their con­cern, I am nev­er­the­less great­ly sad­dened, for such ques­tions mean that the inquir­ers have not real­ly known me, my com­mit­ment or my call­ing. Indeed, their ques­tions sug­gest that they do not know the world in which they live.

In the light of such trag­ic mis­un­der­stand­ings, I deem it of sig­nal impor­tance to try to state clear­ly, and I trust con­cise­ly, why I believe that the path from Dex­ter Avenue Bap­tist Church — the church in Mont­gomery, Alaba­ma, where I began my pas­torate — leads clear­ly to this sanc­tu­ary tonight.

I come to this plat­form tonight to make a pas­sion­ate plea to my beloved nation. This speech is not addressed to Hanoi or to the Nation­al Lib­er­a­tion Front. It is not addressed to Chi­na or to Rus­sia.

Nor is it an attempt to over­look the ambi­gu­i­ty of the total sit­u­a­tion and the need for a col­lec­tive solu­tion to the tragedy of Viet­nam. Nei­ther is it an attempt to make North Viet­nam or the Nation­al Lib­er­a­tion Front paragons of virtue, nor to over­look the role they 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.

The Importance of Vietnam

Since I am a preach­er by trade, I sup­pose it is not sur­pris­ing that I have sev­en major rea­sons for bring­ing Viet­nam into the field of my moral vision. There is at the out­set a very obvi­ous and almost facile con­nec­tion between the war in Viet­nam and the strug­gle I, and oth­ers, have been wag­ing in Amer­i­ca. A few years ago there was a shin­ing moment in that strug­gle. It seemed as if there was a real promise of hope for the poor — both black and white — through the pover­ty pro­gram. There were exper­i­ments, hopes, new begin­nings. Then came the buildup in Viet­nam and I watched the pro­gram bro­ken and evis­cer­at­ed as if it were some idle polit­i­cal play­thing of a soci­ety gone mad on war, and I knew that Amer­i­ca would nev­er invest the nec­es­sary funds or ener­gies in reha­bil­i­ta­tion of its poor so long as adven­tures like Viet­nam con­tin­ued to draw men and skills and mon­ey like some demon­ic destruc­tive suc­tion tube. So I was increas­ing­ly com­pelled to see the war as an ene­my of the poor and to attack it as such.

Per­haps the more trag­ic recog­ni­tion of real­i­ty took place when it became clear to me that the war was doing far more than dev­as­tat­ing the hopes of the poor at home. It was send­ing their sons and their broth­ers and their hus­bands to fight and to die in extra­or­di­nar­i­ly high pro­por­tions rel­a­tive to the rest of the pop­u­la­tion. We were tak­ing the black young men who had been crip­pled by our soci­ety and send­ing them eight thou­sand miles away to guar­an­tee lib­er­ties in South­east Asia which they had not found in south­west Geor­gia and East Harlem. So we have been repeat­ed­ly faced with the cru­el irony of watch­ing Negro and white boys on TV screens as they kill and die togeth­er for a nation that has been unable to seat them togeth­er in the same schools. So we watch them in bru­tal sol­i­dar­i­ty burn­ing the huts of a poor vil­lage, but we real­ize that they would nev­er live on the same block in Detroit. I could not be silent in the face of such cru­el manip­u­la­tion of the poor.

My third rea­son moves to an even deep­er lev­el of aware­ness, for it grows out of my expe­ri­ence in the ghet­toes of the North over the last three years — espe­cial­ly the last three sum­mers. As I have walked among the des­per­ate, reject­ed and angry young men I have told them that Molo­tov cock­tails and rifles would not solve their prob­lems. I have tried to offer them my deep­est com­pas­sion while main­tain­ing my con­vic­tion that social change comes most mean­ing­ful­ly through non­vi­o­lent action. But they asked — and right­ly so — what about Viet­nam? They asked if our own nation wasn’t using mas­sive dos­es of vio­lence to solve its prob­lems, to bring about the changes it want­ed. Their ques­tions hit home, and I knew that I could nev­er again raise my voice against the vio­lence of the oppressed in the ghet­tos with­out hav­ing first spo­ken clear­ly to the great­est pur­vey­or of vio­lence in the world today — my own gov­ern­ment. For the sake of those boys, for the sake of this gov­ern­ment, for the sake of hun­dreds of thou­sands trem­bling under our vio­lence, I can­not be 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:

O, yes,
I say it plain,
Amer­i­ca nev­er was Amer­i­ca to me,
And yet I swear this oath–
Amer­i­ca will be!

Now, it should be incan­des­cent­ly clear that no one who has any con­cern for the integri­ty and life of Amer­i­ca today can ignore the present war. If America’s soul becomes total­ly poi­soned, part of the autop­sy must read Viet­nam. It can nev­er be saved so long as it destroys the deep­est hopes of men the world over. So it is that those of us who are yet deter­mined that Amer­i­ca will be are led down the path of protest and dis­sent, work­ing for the health of our land.

As if the weight of such a com­mit­ment to the life and health of Amer­i­ca were not enough, anoth­er bur­den of respon­si­bil­i­ty was placed upon me in 1964; and I can­not for­get that the Nobel Prize for Peace was also a com­mis­sion — a com­mis­sion to work hard­er than I had ever worked before for “the broth­er­hood of man.” This is a call­ing that takes me beyond nation­al alle­giances, but even if it were not present I would yet have to live with the mean­ing of my com­mit­ment to the min­istry of Jesus Christ. To me the rela­tion­ship of this min­istry to the mak­ing of peace is so obvi­ous that I some­times mar­vel at those who ask me why I am speak­ing against the war. Could it be that they do not know that the good news was meant for all men — for Com­mu­nist and cap­i­tal­ist, for their chil­dren and ours, for black and for white, for rev­o­lu­tion­ary and con­ser­v­a­tive? Have they for­got­ten that my min­istry is in obe­di­ence to the one who loved his ene­mies so ful­ly that he died for them? What then can I say to the “Viet­cong” or to Cas­tro or to Mao as a faith­ful min­is­ter of this one? Can I threat­en them with death or must I not share with them my life?

Final­ly, as I try to delin­eate for you and for myself the road that leads from Mont­gomery to this place I would have offered all that was most valid if I sim­ply said that I must be true to my con­vic­tion that I share with all men the call­ing to be a son of the liv­ing God. Beyond the call­ing of race or nation or creed is this voca­tion of son­ship and broth­er­hood, and because I believe that the Father is deeply con­cerned espe­cial­ly for his suf­fer­ing and help­less and out­cast chil­dren, I come tonight to speak for them.

This I believe to be the priv­i­lege and the bur­den of all of us who deem our­selves bound by alle­giances and loy­al­ties which are broad­er and deep­er than nation­al­ism and which go beyond our nation’s self-defined goals and posi­tions. We are called to speak for the weak, for the voice­less, for vic­tims of our nation and for those it calls ene­my, for no doc­u­ment from human hands can make these humans any less our broth­ers.

Strange Liberators

And as I pon­der the mad­ness of Viet­nam and search with­in myself for ways to under­stand and respond to com­pas­sion my mind goes con­stant­ly to the peo­ple of that penin­su­la. I speak now not of the sol­diers of each side, not of the jun­ta in Saigon, but sim­ply of the peo­ple who have been liv­ing under the curse of war for almost three con­tin­u­ous decades now. I think of them too because it is clear to me that there will be no mean­ing­ful solu­tion there until some attempt is made to know them and hear their bro­ken cries.

They must see Amer­i­cans as strange lib­er­a­tors. The Viet­namese peo­ple pro­claimed their own inde­pen­dence in 1945 after a com­bined French and Japan­ese occu­pa­tion, and before the Com­mu­nist rev­o­lu­tion in Chi­na. They were led by Ho Chi Minh. Even though they quot­ed the Amer­i­can Dec­la­ra­tion of Inde­pen­dence in their own doc­u­ment of free­dom, we refused to rec­og­nize them. Instead, we decid­ed to sup­port France in its recon­quest of her for­mer colony.

Our gov­ern­ment felt then that the Viet­namese peo­ple were not “ready” for inde­pen­dence, and we again fell vic­tim to the dead­ly West­ern arro­gance that has poi­soned the inter­na­tion­al atmos­phere for so long. With that trag­ic deci­sion we reject­ed a rev­o­lu­tion­ary gov­ern­ment seek­ing self-deter­mi­na­tion, and a gov­ern­ment that had been estab­lished not by Chi­na (for whom the Viet­namese have no great love) but by clear­ly indige­nous forces that includ­ed some Com­mu­nists. For the peas­ants this new gov­ern­ment meant real land reform, one of the most impor­tant needs in their lives.

For nine years fol­low­ing 1945 we denied the peo­ple of Viet­nam the right of inde­pen­dence. For nine years we vig­or­ous­ly sup­port­ed the French in their abortive effort to recol­o­nize Viet­nam.

Before the end of the war we were meet­ing eighty per­cent of the French war costs. Even before the French were defeat­ed at Dien Bien Phu, they began to despair of the reck­less action, but we did not. We encour­aged them with our huge finan­cial and mil­i­tary sup­plies to con­tin­ue the war even after they had lost the will. Soon we would be pay­ing almost the full costs of this trag­ic attempt at recol­o­niza­tion.

After the French were defeat­ed it looked as if inde­pen­dence and land reform would come again through the Gene­va agree­ments. But instead there came the Unit­ed States, deter­mined that Ho should not uni­fy the tem­porar­i­ly divid­ed nation, and the peas­ants watched again as we sup­port­ed one of the most vicious mod­ern dic­ta­tors — our cho­sen man, Pre­mier Diem. The peas­ants watched and cringed as Diem ruth­less­ly rout­ed out all oppo­si­tion, sup­port­ed their extor­tion­ist land­lords and refused even to dis­cuss reuni­fi­ca­tion with the north. The peas­ants watched as all this was presided over by U.S. influ­ence and then by increas­ing num­bers of U.S. troops who came to help quell the insur­gency that Diem’s meth­ods had aroused. When Diem was over­thrown they may have been hap­py, but the long line of mil­i­tary dic­ta­tor­ships seemed to offer no real change — espe­cial­ly in terms of their need for land and peace.

The only change came from Amer­i­ca as we increased our troop com­mit­ments in sup­port of gov­ern­ments which were sin­gu­lar­ly cor­rupt, inept and with­out pop­u­lar sup­port. All the while the peo­ple read our leaflets and received reg­u­lar promis­es of peace and democ­ra­cy — and land reform. Now they lan­guish under our bombs and con­sid­er us — not their fel­low Viet­namese –the real ene­my. They move sad­ly and apa­thet­i­cal­ly as we herd them off the land of their fathers into con­cen­tra­tion camps where min­i­mal social needs are rarely met. They know they must move or be destroyed by our bombs. So they go — pri­mar­i­ly women and chil­dren and 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 our lat­est weapons on them, just as the Ger­mans test­ed out new med­i­cine and new tor­tures in the con­cen­tra­tion camps of Europe? Where are the roots of the inde­pen­dent Viet­nam we claim to be build­ing? Is it among these voice­less ones?

We have destroyed their two most cher­ished insti­tu­tions: the fam­i­ly and the vil­lage. We have destroyed their land and their crops. We have coop­er­at­ed in the crush­ing of the nation’s only non-Com­mu­nist rev­o­lu­tion­ary polit­i­cal force — the uni­fied Bud­dhist church. We have sup­port­ed the ene­mies of the peas­ants of Saigon. We have cor­rupt­ed their women and chil­dren and killed their men. What lib­er­a­tors?

Now there is lit­tle left to build on — save bit­ter­ness. Soon the only sol­id phys­i­cal foun­da­tions remain­ing will be found at our mil­i­tary bases and in the con­crete of the con­cen­tra­tion camps we call for­ti­fied ham­lets. The peas­ants may well won­der if we plan to build our new Viet­nam on such grounds as these? Could we blame them for such thoughts? We must speak for them and raise the ques­tions they can­not raise. These too are our broth­ers.

Per­haps the more dif­fi­cult but no less nec­es­sary task is to speak for those who have been des­ig­nat­ed as our ene­mies. What of the Nation­al Lib­er­a­tion Front — that strange­ly anony­mous group we call VC or Com­mu­nists? What must they think of us in Amer­i­ca when they real­ize that we per­mit­ted the repres­sion and cru­el­ty of Diem which helped to bring them into being as a resis­tance group in the south? What do they think of our con­don­ing the vio­lence which led to their own tak­ing up of arms? How can they believe in our integri­ty when now we speak of “aggres­sion from the north” as if there were noth­ing more essen­tial to the war? How can they trust us when now we charge them with vio­lence after the mur­der­ous reign of Diem and charge them with vio­lence while we pour every new weapon of death into their land? Sure­ly we must under­stand their feel­ings even if we do not con­done their actions. Sure­ly we must see that the men we sup­port­ed pressed them to their vio­lence. Sure­ly we must see that our own com­put­er­ized plans of destruc­tion sim­ply dwarf their great­est acts.

How do they judge us when our offi­cials know that their mem­ber­ship is less than twen­ty-five per­cent Com­mu­nist and yet insist on giv­ing them the blan­ket name? What must they be think­ing when they know that we are aware of their con­trol of major sec­tions of Viet­nam and yet we appear ready to allow nation­al elec­tions in which this high­ly orga­nized polit­i­cal par­al­lel gov­ern­ment will have no part? They ask how we can speak of free elec­tions when the Saigon press is cen­sored and con­trolled by the mil­i­tary jun­ta. And they are sure­ly right to won­der what kind of new gov­ern­ment we plan to help form with­out them — the only par­ty in real touch with the peas­ants. They ques­tion our polit­i­cal goals and they deny the real­i­ty of a peace set­tle­ment from which they will be exclud­ed. Their ques­tions are fright­en­ing­ly rel­e­vant. Is our nation plan­ning to build on polit­i­cal myth again and then shore it up with the pow­er of new 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 dis­trust of Amer­i­can inten­tions now. In Hanoi are the men who led the nation to inde­pen­dence against the Japan­ese and the French, the men who sought mem­ber­ship in the French com­mon­wealth and were betrayed by the weak­ness of Paris and the will­ful­ness of the colo­nial armies. It was they who led a sec­ond strug­gle against French dom­i­na­tion at tremen­dous costs, and then were per­suad­ed to give up the land they con­trolled between the thir­teenth and sev­en­teenth par­al­lel as a tem­po­rary mea­sure at Gene­va. After 1954 they watched us con­spire with Diem to pre­vent elec­tions which would have sure­ly brought Ho Chi Minh to pow­er over a unit­ed Viet­nam, and they real­ized they had been betrayed again.

When we ask why they do not leap to nego­ti­ate, these things must be remem­bered. Also it must be clear that the lead­ers of Hanoi con­sid­ered the pres­ence of Amer­i­can troops in sup­port of the Diem régime to have been the ini­tial mil­i­tary breach of the Gene­va agree­ments con­cern­ing for­eign troops, and they remind us that they did not begin to send in any large num­ber of sup­plies or men until Amer­i­can forces had moved into the tens of thou­sands.

Hanoi remem­bers how our lead­ers refused to tell us the truth about the ear­li­er North Viet­namese over­tures for peace, how the pres­i­dent claimed that none exist­ed when they had clear­ly been made. Ho Chi Minh has watched as Amer­i­ca has spo­ken of peace and built up its forces, and now he has sure­ly heard of the increas­ing inter­na­tion­al rumors of Amer­i­can plans for an inva­sion of the north. He knows the bomb­ing and shelling and min­ing we are doing are part of tra­di­tion­al pre-inva­sion strat­e­gy. Per­haps only his sense of humor and of irony can save him when he hears the most pow­er­ful nation of the world speak­ing of aggres­sion as it drops thou­sands of bombs on a poor weak nation more than eight thou­sand miles away from its shores.

At this point I should make it clear that while I have tried in these last few min­utes to give a voice to the voice­less on Viet­nam and to under­stand the argu­ments of those who are called ene­my, I am as deeply con­cerned about our troops there as any­thing else. For it occurs to me that what we are sub­mit­ting them to in Viet­nam is not sim­ply the bru­tal­iz­ing process that goes on in any war where armies face each oth­er and seek to destroy. We are adding cyn­i­cism to the process of death, for they must know after a short peri­od there that none of the things we claim to be fight­ing for are real­ly involved. Before long they must know that their gov­ern­ment has sent them into a strug­gle among Viet­namese, and the more sophis­ti­cat­ed sure­ly real­ize that we are on the side of the wealthy and the secure while we cre­ate hell for the poor.

This Madness Must Cease

Some­how this mad­ness must cease. We must stop now. I speak as a child of God and broth­er to the suf­fer­ing poor of Viet­nam. I speak for those whose land is being laid waste, whose homes are being destroyed, whose cul­ture is being sub­vert­ed. I speak for the poor of Amer­i­ca who are pay­ing the dou­ble price of smashed hopes at home and death and cor­rup­tion in Viet­nam. I speak as a cit­i­zen of the world, for the world as it stands aghast at the path we have tak­en. I speak as an Amer­i­can to the lead­ers of my own nation. The great ini­tia­tive in this war is ours. The ini­tia­tive to stop it must be ours. This is the mes­sage of the great Bud­dhist lead­ers of Viet­nam. Recent­ly one of them wrote these words:
Each day the war goes on the hatred increas­es in the heart of the Viet­namese and in the hearts of those of human­i­tar­i­an instinct. The Amer­i­cans are forc­ing even their friends into becom­ing their ene­mies. It is curi­ous that the Amer­i­cans, who cal­cu­late so care­ful­ly on the pos­si­bil­i­ties of mil­i­tary vic­to­ry, do not real­ize that in the process they are incur­ring deep psy­cho­log­i­cal and polit­i­cal defeat. The image of Amer­i­ca will nev­er again be the image of rev­o­lu­tion, free­dom and democ­ra­cy, but the image of vio­lence and mil­i­tarism.”
If we con­tin­ue, there will be no doubt in my mind and in the mind of the world that we have no hon­or­able inten­tions in Viet­nam. It will become clear that our min­i­mal expec­ta­tion is to occu­py it as an Amer­i­can colony and men will not refrain from think­ing that our max­i­mum hope is to goad Chi­na into a war so that we may bomb her nuclear instal­la­tions. If we do not stop our war against the peo­ple of Viet­nam imme­di­ate­ly the world will be left with no oth­er alter­na­tive than to see this as some hor­ri­bly clum­sy and dead­ly game we have decid­ed to play.

The world now demands a matu­ri­ty of Amer­i­ca that we may not be able to achieve. It demands that we admit that we have been wrong from the begin­ning of our adven­ture in Viet­nam, that we have been detri­men­tal to the life of the Viet­namese peo­ple. The sit­u­a­tion is one in which we must be ready to turn sharply from our present ways.

In order to atone for our sins and errors in Viet­nam, we should take the ini­tia­tive in bring­ing a halt to this trag­ic war. I would like to sug­gest five con­crete things that our gov­ern­ment should do imme­di­ate­ly to begin the long and dif­fi­cult process of extri­cat­ing our­selves from this night­mar­ish con­flict:
  1. End all bomb­ing in North and South Viet­nam.
  2. Declare a uni­lat­er­al cease-fire in the hope that such action will cre­ate the atmos­phere for nego­ti­a­tion.
  3. Take imme­di­ate steps to pre­vent oth­er bat­tle­grounds in South­east Asia by cur­tail­ing our mil­i­tary buildup in Thai­land and our inter­fer­ence in Laos.
  4. 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.
  5. 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 régime which includ­ed the Lib­er­a­tion Front. Then we must make what repa­ra­tions we can for the dam­age we have done. We most pro­vide the med­ical aid that is bad­ly need­ed, mak­ing it avail­able in this coun­try if nec­es­sary.

Protesting The War

Mean­while we in the church­es and syn­a­gogues have a con­tin­u­ing task while we urge our gov­ern­ment to dis­en­gage itself from a dis­grace­ful com­mit­ment. We must con­tin­ue to raise our voic­es if our nation per­sists in its per­verse ways in Viet­nam. We must be pre­pared to match actions with words by seek­ing out every cre­ative means of protest pos­si­ble.

As we coun­sel young men con­cern­ing mil­i­tary ser­vice we must clar­i­fy for them our nation’s role in Viet­nam and chal­lenge them with the alter­na­tive of con­sci­en­tious objec­tion. I am pleased to say that this is the path now being cho­sen by more than sev­en­ty stu­dents at my own alma mater, More­house Col­lege, and I rec­om­mend it to all who find the Amer­i­can course in Viet­nam a dis­hon­or­able and unjust one. More­over I would encour­age all min­is­ters of draft age to give up their min­is­te­r­i­al exemp­tions and seek sta­tus as con­sci­en­tious objec­tors. These are the times for real choic­es and not false ones. We are at the moment when our lives must be placed on the line if our nation is to sur­vive its own fol­ly. Every man of humane con­vic­tions must decide on the protest that best suits his con­vic­tions, but we must all protest.

There is some­thing seduc­tive­ly tempt­ing about stop­ping there and send­ing us all off on what in some cir­cles has become a pop­u­lar cru­sade against the war in Viet­nam. I say we must enter the strug­gle, but I wish to go on now to say some­thing even more dis­turb­ing. The war in Viet­nam is but a symp­tom of a far deep­er mal­a­dy with­in the Amer­i­can spir­it, and if we ignore this sober­ing real­i­ty we will find our­selves orga­niz­ing cler­gy- and lay­men-con­cerned com­mit­tees for the next gen­er­a­tion. They will be con­cerned about Guatemala and Peru. They will be con­cerned about Thai­land and Cam­bo­dia. They will be con­cerned about Mozam­bique and South Africa. We will be march­ing for these and a dozen oth­er names and attend­ing ral­lies with­out end unless there is a sig­nif­i­cant and pro­found change in Amer­i­can life and pol­i­cy. Such thoughts take us beyond Viet­nam, but not beyond our call­ing as sons of the liv­ing God.

In 1957 a sen­si­tive Amer­i­can offi­cial over­seas said that it seemed to him that our nation was on the wrong side of a world rev­o­lu­tion. Dur­ing the past ten years we have seen emerge a pat­tern of sup­pres­sion which now has jus­ti­fied the pres­ence of U.S. mil­i­tary “advi­sors” in Venezuela. This need to main­tain social sta­bil­i­ty for our invest­ments accounts for the counter-rev­o­lu­tion­ary action of Amer­i­can forces in Guatemala. It tells why Amer­i­can heli­copters are being used against guer­ril­las in Colom­bia and why Amer­i­can napalm and green beret forces have already been active against rebels in Peru. It is with such activ­i­ty in mind that the words of the late John F. Kennedy come back to haunt us. Five years ago he said, “Those who make peace­ful rev­o­lu­tion impos­si­ble will make vio­lent rev­o­lu­tion inevitable.”

Increas­ing­ly, by choice or by acci­dent, this is the role our nation has tak­en — the role of those who make peace­ful rev­o­lu­tion impos­si­ble by refus­ing to give up the priv­i­leges and the plea­sures that come from the immense prof­its of over­seas invest­ment.

I am con­vinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world rev­o­lu­tion, we as a nation must under­go a rad­i­cal rev­o­lu­tion of val­ues. We must rapid­ly begin the shift from a “thing-ori­ent­ed” soci­ety to a “per­son-ori­ent­ed” soci­ety. When machines and com­put­ers, prof­it motives and prop­er­ty rights are con­sid­ered more impor­tant than peo­ple, the giant triplets of racism, mate­ri­al­ism, and mil­i­tarism are inca­pable of being con­quered.

A true rev­o­lu­tion of val­ues will soon cause us to ques­tion the fair­ness and jus­tice of many of our past and present poli­cies. n the one hand we are called to play the good Samar­i­tan on life’s road­side; but that will be only an ini­tial act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jeri­cho road must be trans­formed so that men and women will not be con­stant­ly beat­en and robbed as they make their jour­ney on life’s high­way. True com­pas­sion is more than fling­ing a coin to a beg­gar; it is not hap­haz­ard and super­fi­cial. It comes to see that an edi­fice which pro­duces beg­gars needs restruc­tur­ing. A true rev­o­lu­tion of val­ues will soon look uneasi­ly on the glar­ing con­trast of pover­ty and wealth. With right­eous indig­na­tion, it will look across the seas and see indi­vid­ual cap­i­tal­ists of the West invest­ing huge sums of mon­ey in Asia, Africa and South Amer­i­ca, only to take the prof­its out with no con­cern for the social bet­ter­ment of the coun­tries, and say: “This is not just.” It will look at our alliance with the land­ed gen­try of Latin Amer­i­ca and say: “This is not just.” The West­ern arro­gance of feel­ing that it has every­thing to teach oth­ers and noth­ing to learn from them is not just. A true rev­o­lu­tion of val­ues will lay hands on the world order and say of war: “This way of set­tling dif­fer­ences is not just.” This busi­ness of burn­ing human beings with napalm, of fill­ing our nation’s homes with orphans and wid­ows, of inject­ing poi­so­nous drugs of hate into veins of peo­ple nor­mal­ly humane, of send­ing men home from dark and bloody bat­tle­fields phys­i­cal­ly hand­i­capped and psy­cho­log­i­cal­ly deranged, can­not be rec­on­ciled with wis­dom, jus­tice and love. A nation that con­tin­ues year after year to spend more mon­ey on mil­i­tary defense than on pro­grams of social uplift is approach­ing 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 or nuclear weapons. Let us not join those who shout war and through their mis­guid­ed pas­sions urge the Unit­ed States to relin­quish its par­tic­i­pa­tion in the Unit­ed Nations. These are days which demand wise restraint and calm rea­son­able­ness. We must not call every­one a Com­mu­nist or an appeas­er who advo­cates the seat­ing of Red Chi­na in the Unit­ed Nations and who rec­og­nizes that hate and hys­te­ria are not the final answers to the prob­lem of these tur­bu­lent days. We must not engage in a neg­a­tive anti-com­mu­nism, but rather in a pos­i­tive thrust for democ­ra­cy, real­iz­ing that our great­est defense against com­mu­nism is to take offen­sive action in behalf of jus­tice. We must with pos­i­tive action seek to remove thosse con­di­tions of pover­ty, inse­cu­ri­ty and injus­tice which are the fer­tile soil in which the seed of com­mu­nism grows and 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 ini­ti­at­ed so much of the rev­o­lu­tion­ary spir­it of the mod­ern world have now become the arch anti-rev­o­lu­tion­ar­ies. This has dri­ven many to feel that only Marx­ism has the rev­o­lu­tion­ary spir­it. There­fore, com­mu­nism is a judge­ment against our fail­ure to make democ­ra­cy real and fol­low through on the rev­o­lu­tions we ini­ti­at­ed. Our only hope today lies in our abil­i­ty to recap­ture the rev­o­lu­tion­ary spir­it and go out into a some­times hos­tile world declar­ing eter­nal hos­til­i­ty to pover­ty, racism, and mil­i­tarism. With this pow­er­ful com­mit­ment we shall bold­ly chal­lenge the sta­tus quo and unjust mores and there­by speed the day when “every val­ley shall be exalt­ed, and every moutain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight and the rough places plain.”

A gen­uine rev­o­lu­tion of val­ues means in the final analy­sis that our loy­al­ties must become ecu­meni­cal rather than sec­tion­al. Every nation must now devel­op an over­rid­ing loy­al­ty to mankind as a whole in order to pre­serve the best in their indi­vid­ual soci­eties.

This call for a world-wide fel­low­ship that lifts neigh­bor­ly con­cern beyond one’s tribe, race, class and nation is in real­i­ty a call for an all-embrac­ing and uncon­di­tion­al love for all men. This oft mis­un­der­stood and mis­in­ter­pret­ed con­cept — so read­i­ly dis­missed by the Niet­zsches of the world as a weak and cow­ard­ly force — has now become an absolute neces­si­ty for the sur­vival of man. When I speak of love I am not speak­ing of some sen­ti­men­tal and weak response. I am speak­ing of that force which all of the great reli­gions have seen as the supreme uni­fy­ing prin­ci­ple of life. Love is some­how the key that unlocks the door which leads to ulti­mate real­i­ty. This Hin­du-Moslem-Chris­t­ian-Jew­ish-Bud­dhist belief about ulti­mate real­i­ty is beau­ti­ful­ly summed up in the first epis­tle of Saint John:
Let us love one anoth­er; for love is God and every­one that loveth is born of God and knoweth God. He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love. If we love one anoth­er God dwelleth in us, and his love is per­fect­ed in us.
Let us hope that this spir­it will become the order of the day. We can no longer afford to wor­ship the god of hate or bow before the altar of retal­i­a­tion. The oceans of his­to­ry are made tur­bu­lent by the ever-ris­ing tides of hate. His­to­ry is clut­tered with the wreck­age of nations and indi­vid­u­als that pur­sued this self-defeat­ing path of hate. As Arnold Toyn­bee says : “Love is the ulti­mate force that makes for the sav­ing choice of life and good against the damn­ing choice of death and evil. There­fore the first hope in our inven­to­ry must be the hope that love is going to have the last word.”

We are now faced with the fact that tomor­row is today. We are con­front­ed with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfold­ing conun­drum of life and his­to­ry there is such a thing as being too late. Pro­cras­ti­na­tion is still the thief of time. Life often leaves us stand­ing bare, naked and deject­ed with a lost oppor­tu­ni­ty. The “tide in the affairs of men” does not remain at the flood; it ebbs. We may cry out deper­ate­ly for time to pause in her pas­sage, but time is deaf to every plea and rush­es on. Over the bleached bones and jum­bled residue of numer­ous civ­i­liza­tions are writ­ten the pathet­ic words: “Too late.” There is an invis­i­ble book of life that faith­ful­ly records our vig­i­lance or our neglect. “The mov­ing fin­ger writes, and hav­ing writ moves on…” We still have a choice today; non­vi­o­lent coex­is­tence or vio­lent co-anni­hi­la­tion.

We must move past inde­ci­sion to action. We must find new ways to speak for peace in Viet­nam and jus­tice through­out the devel­op­ing world — a world that bor­ders on our doors. If we do not act we shall sure­ly be dragged down the long dark and shame­ful cor­ri­dors of time reserved for those who pos­sess pow­er with­out com­pas­sion, might with­out moral­i­ty, and strength with­out sight.

Now let us begin. Now let us reded­i­cate our­selves to the long and bit­ter — but beau­ti­ful — strug­gle for a new world. This is the cal­lling of the sons of God, and our broth­ers wait eager­ly for our response. Shall we say the odds are too great? Shall we tell them the strug­gle is too hard? Will our mes­sage be that the forces of Amer­i­can life mil­i­tate against their arrival as full men, and we send our deep­est regrets? Or will there be anoth­er mes­sage, of long­ing, of hope, of sol­i­dar­i­ty with their yearn­ings, of com­mit­ment to their cause, what­ev­er the cost? The choice is ours, and though we might pre­fer it oth­er­wise we must choose in this cru­cial moment of human his­to­ry.

As that noble bard of yes­ter­day, James Rus­sell Low­ell, elo­quent­ly 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.

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