For Martin Luther King Day: Excerpts from the "Beyond Vietnam" Speech

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

~Langston Hughes


Many are familiar with the "I Have a Dream" speech, lesser known but still often studied is "Letter from a Birmingham Jail." Both are important speeches in history and have earned their right as popular touchstones for the compass of social justice. But today, as I did last year, I would like to bring attention to a lesser known but no less remarkable speech of Martin Luther King's, "Beyond Vietnam - A Time to Break Silence". This speech was delivered at a conference with other religious leaders who were beginning to publicly denounce the war in Vietnam. I think one could easily apply this to the context of today by replacing the word "communism" with "terrorism" and thinking of geographical locations of the Muslim world rather than of the Communistic societies. The lessons laid forth are as relevant today as ever.

You can read the whole speech at the link below. It's a very good one.

http://www.americanrhetoric.com/speeches/mlkatimetobreaksilence.htm

Here are some excerpts:

...Perhaps a new spirit is rising among us. If it is, let us trace its movements 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.

...I watched [the poverty] 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.

...[a] burden of responsibility was placed upon me in 1954; and I cannot forget that the Nobel Peace Prize 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...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? 

...We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for the victims of our nation and for those it calls "enemy," for no document from human hands can make these humans any less our brothers.

...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...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, extreme materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.

...True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.

...The Western arrogance of feeling that it has everything to teach others and nothing to learn from them is not just

...A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.

...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. 

...Every nation must now develop an overriding loyalty to mankind as a whole in order to preserve the best in their individual societies.

...When I speak of love I am not speaking of some sentimental and weak response. I am not speaking of that force which is just emotional bosh. 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-Muslim-Christian-Jewish-Buddhist belief about ultimate -- ultimate reality is beautifully summed up in the first epistle of Saint John: "Let us love one another..."

...if we will only make the right choice, we will be able to transform this pending cosmic elegy into a creative psalm of peace. If we will make the right choice, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our world into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. If we will but make the right choice, we will be able to speed up the day, all over America and all over the world, when "justice will roll down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream."





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