[News] Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. - Beyond Vietnam

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Fri Jan 14 11:55:54 EST 2005

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Beyond Vietnam
Address delivered to the Clergy and Laymen Concerned about Vietnam,
at Riverside Church on 4 April 1967 in New York City


Mr. Chairman, ladies and gentlemen, I need not pause to say how very 
delighted I am to be here tonight, and how very delighted I am to see you 
expressing your concern about the issues that will be discussed tonight by 
turning out in such large numbers. I also want to say that I consider it a 
great honor to share this program with Dr. Bennett, Dr. Commager, and Rabbi 
Heschel, some of the distinguished leaders and personalities of our nation. 
And of course it's always good to come back to Riverside Church. Over the 
last eight years, I have had the privilege of preaching here almost every 
year in that period, and it is always a rich and rewarding experience to 
come to this great church and this great pulpit.

I come to this magnificent house of worship tonight because my conscience 
leaves me no other choice. I join 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 
statements 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 

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 perplexing 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, 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 the 
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 misunderstanding, 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 must play in the successful resolution of the 
problem. While they both may have justifiable reasons 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 National Liberation Front, but rather to my fellow Americans.

Since I am a preacher by calling, 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 this 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 a 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 hardly live on the same block 
in Chicago. 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 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 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 until 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 
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 

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 explain 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. 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 the 
victims of our nation, 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 in compassion, my mind goes constantly to the people 
of that peninsula. I speak now not of the soldiers of each side, not of the 
ideologies of the Liberation Front, 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 1954-in 1945 rather-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 their 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 

After the French were defeated, it looked as if independence and land 
reform would come again through the Geneva Agreement. 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 rooted out all opposition, supported 
their extortionist landlords, and refused even to discuss reunification 
with the North. The peasants watched as all of this was presided over by 
United States influence and then by increasing numbers of United States 
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 dictators 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 
the 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 on or be destroyed by our bombs.

So they go, primarily women and children and the aged. They watch as we 
poison their water, as we kill a million acres of their crops. They must 
weep as the bulldozers roar through their areas preparing to destroy the 
precious trees. They wander into the hospitals 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 noncommunist 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.

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 a 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 the United States of 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 not have a 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 upon the power of a 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 could 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 Agreement concerning foreign troops. They 
remind us that they did not begin to send troops in large numbers and even 
supplies into the South until American forces had moved into the tens of 

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 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 hundred, or rather, 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 in Vietnam and to understand 
the arguments of those who are called "enemy," I am as deeply concerned 
about our own 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 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 of America who are paying the double 
price of smashed hopes at home, and dealt 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 one who loves America, to the leaders of our 
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, and I quote: Each day the war goes on the hatred 
increases in the hearts 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. 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 horrible, 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:
Number one: End all bombing in North and South Vietnam.

Number two: Declare a unilateral cease-fire in the hope that such action
will create the atmosphere for negotiation.

Three: Take immediate steps to prevent other battlegrounds in Southeast Asia
by curtailing our military buildup in Thailand and our interference in Laos.

Four: 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 any future Vietnam government.

Five: Set a date that we will remove all foreign troops from Vietnam in
accordance with the 1954 Geneva Agreement. [sustained applause]

Part of our ongoing [applause continues], 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. Meanwhile [applause], 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 and our lives if our nation persists in its perverse ways 
in Vietnam. We must be prepared to match actions with words by seeking out 
every creative method 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. [sustained applause] I am pleased to say that 
this is a path now 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. [applause] Moreover, I 
would encourage all ministers of draft age to give up their ministerial 
exemptions and seek status as conscientious objectors. [applause] 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.

Now 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 that 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 [applause], 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. [sustained applause] So 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 has now 
justified the presence of U.S. military advisors in Venezuela. This need to 
maintain social stability for our investments accounts for the 
counterrevolutionary action of American forces in Guatemala. It tells why 
American helicopters are being used against guerrillas in Cambodia 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." [applause] 
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 investments. 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 [applause], 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.

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 comes to see that an edifice 
which produces beggars needs restructuring. [applause]

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 South 
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 hand 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 the 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. [sustained applause]

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. [applause] 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 
engage in a negative anticommunism, but rather in a positive thrust for 
democracy [applause], 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.

These are revolutionary times. All over the globe men are revolting against 
old systems of exploitation and oppression, and out of the wounds 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 antirevolutionaries. This has driven many to feel that 
only Marxism has a 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 [Audience:] (Yes); 
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 worldwide 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 mankind. This oft 
misunderstood, this oft 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'm 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 
reality is beautifully summed up in the first epistle of Saint John: "Let 
us love one another (Yes), for love is God. (Yes) And every one 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 

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." Unquote.

We are now faced with the fact, my friends, 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 flood-it ebbs. We may cry out desperately for time to pause in 
her passage, but time is adamant to every plea and rushes on. Over the 
bleached bones and jumbled residues 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. Omar Khayyam is right: 
"The moving finger writes, and having writ moves on."

We still have a choice today: nonviolent coexistence or violent 
coannihilation. 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 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 a 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 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 portions 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.

And 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. [sustained applause]

* King says "1954," but most likely means 1964, the year he received the 
Nobel Peace Prize.

The Freedom Archives
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