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
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:
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
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
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 re-conquest 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
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 re-colonize 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
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
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 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 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:
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
Part of our ongoing commitment might well
express itself in an offer to grant asylum to any Vietnamese
who fears for his life under a new regime which included
the Liberation Front. Then we must make what reparations
we can for the damage we have done. We most provide the
medical aid that is badly needed, making it available in
this country if necessary.
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
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. 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 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
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 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 initiated so much of the revolutionary
spirit of the modern world have now become the arch anti-revolutionaries.
This has driven many to feel that only Marxism has the revolutionary
spirit. Therefore, communism is a judgment against our failure
to make democracy real and follow through on the revolutions
we initiated. Our only hope today lies in our ability to
recapture the revolutionary spirit and go out into a sometimes
hostile world declaring eternal hostility to poverty, racism,
and militarism. With this powerful commitment we shall boldly
challenge the status quo and unjust mores and thereby speed
the day when "every valley shall be exalted, and every
mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall
be made straight and the rough places plain."
A genuine revolution of values means in the
final analysis that our loyalties must become ecumenical
rather than sectional. Every nation must now develop an
overriding loyalty to mankind as a whole in order to preserve
the best in their individual societies.
This call for a world-wide fellowship that
lifts neighborly concern beyond one's tribe, race, class
and nation is in reality a call for an all-embracing and
unconditional love for all men. This oft misunderstood and
misinterpreted concept - so readily dismissed by the Nietzsches
of the world as a weak and cowardly force - has now become
an absolute necessity for the survival of man. When I speak
of love I am not speaking of some sentimental and weak response.
I am speaking of that force which all of the great religions
have seen as the supreme unifying principle of life. Love
is somehow the key that unlocks the door which leads to
ultimate reality. This Hindu-Moslem-Christian-Jewish-Buddhist
belief about ultimate reality is beautifully summed up in
the first epistle of 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
We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow
is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now.
In this unfolding conundrum of life and history there is
such a thing as being too late. Procrastination is still
the thief of time. Life often leaves us standing bare, naked
and dejected with a lost opportunity. The "tide in
the affairs of men" does not remain at the flood; it
ebbs. We may cry out desperately for time to pause in her
passage, but time is deaf to every plea and rushes on. Over
the bleached bones and jumbled residue of numerous civilizations
are written the pathetic words: "Too late." There
is an invisible book of life that faithfully records our
vigilance or our neglect. "The moving finger writes,
and having writ moves on..." We still have a choice
today; nonviolent coexistence or violent co-annihilation.
We must move past indecision to action. We
must find new ways to speak for 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 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.