On April 4, 1967, one year to the day before he was killed in Memphis, Dr. King has one his most important speeches of his career to the congregation at Riverside Church in New York. Some of you may not know, but the Riverside Church was lead by another hero in the anti-war movement of the 1960’s. That person was the Reverend William Sloane Coffin. Dr. King’s speech was titled: “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break the Silence”. An excerpt follows. Ironically, simply substituting he word Iraq for Vietnam brings this speech into startlingly relevance to today’s situation.
“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."
Dr King continues: "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. “
Martin Luther King, like Gandhi and like Jesus, espoused a philosophy of non-violence. Each was eventually assassinated for their beliefs. Dr. King’s life has the most impact to me because he was a contemporary of mine. Dr. King was very human. He had faults, he recognized his flawed nature, but looked beyond his faults and the faults of pretty much everyone else to see a better future. Dr. King’s leadership set forth an example to everyone who sees injustice and desires to do something about it. He never committed acts of violence in response to those done to him. He was continually threatened and eventually believed he would not live long. His vehicle for the delivery of his message was religion. Using the pulpit, Dr. King energized thousands of young black Americans to step up and defy conventional wisdom and authority. Hundreds went to jail. Hundreds were killed. Thousands were most likely the victim of some type of assault, physical or otherwise. Dr. King’s example set in motion a power that could not be stopped. Even in his death, Dr. King’s message continued to ring true. When the country was about to devolve into riots and chaos, soul singer James Brown pleaded with the black youth of the community to pay heed to Dr. King’s message of non-violence. Dr. King is a hero the true sense of the word. He gave his life in order for others’ lives to improve. What more can one ask?