The piece is well worth the read. Especially the last couple paragraphs. And I really have to stop and wonder what the world would be like today if King, Kennedy and Merton had survived 1968.
It is many months now since I found myself obliged by conscience to end my silence and to take a public stand against my country’s war in
The considerations that led me to that painful decision have not disappeared:
indeed they have been magnified by the course of events since then.
I cannot speak about the great themes of violence and nonviolence, of social change and of hope for the future without reflecting on the tremendous violence of
Since the spring of 1967, when I first when I first made public my opposition to my government’s policy, many people have questioned me about the wisdom of my decision. “Why you?” they have said. “Peace and civil rights don’t mix. Aren’t you hurting the cause of your people?” And when I hear such questions, I am greatly saddened, for they mean that the inquirers have never really known me, my commitment or my calling. Indeed, that question suggests that they do know the world in which they live.
In explaining my position, I have tried to make it clear that I remain perplexed – as I think everyone must be perplexed – by the complexities and ambiguities of
I would not wish to underrate the need for a collective solution to this tragic
war. I would wish neither to present North Vietnam or the National
Liberation Front as paragons of virtue, not to overlook the role they can play
in the 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.
Since I am a preacher by calling, I suppose it is not surprising that I had several reasons for bringing
Vietnam into the field of my moral
vision. There are 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 where 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 there came the build-up 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 demonical destructive suction tube. And so I was increasingly
compelled to see the war not only as a moral outrage but also 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 and in extraordinarily higher proportions relative to the rest of the population. We were taking the black you 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.
And so we have 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. 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, but 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 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
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 answer by saying that I have worked too long and hard now against segregated public accommodations to end up segregating my moral concern. Justice is indivisible. It must also be said that it would be rather absurd to work passionately and unrelentingly for integrated schools and not be concerned about the survival of a world in which to be integrated. I must say further that something in the very nature of our organizational structure in the Southern Leadership Conference led me to this decision. In 1957, when a group of us formed that organization, we chose as our motto: “To save the soul of
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.
/As if the weight of such a commitment were not enough, another burden of responsibility was place upon me in 1964” 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 which 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. 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.
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 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 until some attempt is made to know them and to hear
their broken cries.
They must see the 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
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.
Our government felt then that the Vietnamese people weren’t ready for
independence, and we gain fell victim to the deadly Western arrogance that has
poisoned the international atmosphere for so long.
For nine years following 1945 we vigorously supported the French in their abortive effort to recolonize
Vietnam. After the French were
defeated, it looked as if independence and land reform would come 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 rooted 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 can 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, and 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 and they wander into the hospitals
with at least twenty casualties from American fire power to one Vietcong –
inflicted injury. They wander into the town and see thousands of children
homeless, without clothes, running in packs on the streets like animals. They
see the children 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 reforms? 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 crushing one of the nation’s only non-communist revolutionary political forces, the United Buddhist church. We have corrupted their women and children and killed their men. What liberators!
Now there is little left to build on – save bitterness. And 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 the,
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? 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 charge them with violence after the murderous reign of Diem? And charge them with violence when we pour every new weapon of death into their land? Surely we must understand their feelings, even if we do not condone their actions. How do they judge us when our officials know that their member ship is less than 25 percent Communist and yet insist on giving them the blanket name? They ask how we can speak of free elections when the
Saigon press is censored and controlled by the military
junta. 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
Here is the true meaning and value of compassion and nonviolence, when they help 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 opposition.
So, too, with
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. In Hanoi are the men who led the nation to
independence against the Japanese and the French. It was they who led a second
struggle against French domination, and then were persuaded to give up the land
they controlled between the 13th and 17th parallels as a
temporary measure at Geneva.
After 1954 they watched us conspire with Diem to prevent elections which would
surely have 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 consider 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. They remind us that they
did not begin to send in any large number of supplies or men until American
forces had moved in to the tens of thousands. Hanoi remembers how our leaders refused to
tell us the truth about the earlier North Vietnamese overtures for peace; how
we 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.
At this point, I should make it clear that while I have tried in these last few minutes to give a voice to voiceless in Vietnam and to understand the arguments of those we 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, 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.
If we continue, there will be no doubt in my mind and n the mind of the world that we have no honorable intentions in
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.
Somehow this madness must cease. We must stop now. I speak as a child of God and brother to the suffering poor of
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 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.
In the spring of 1967 I made public the steps I consider necessary for this to happen. I should add now only that while many Americans have supported the proposals, the government has so far not recognized one of them. 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 going off on what in some circles has become a popular crusade against the war in
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.
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. 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. A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies. A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast between 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
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 on our alliance with the
landed gentry of Latin American and say: “This is not just.” The Western
arrogance of feeling that is 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: “This way of settling differences is not just.” The
business of burning human beings with napalm, of filling our nation’s homes
with orphans and widows, of injecting poisonous drugs of hate into he 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
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.
These are revolutionary times; all over the globe men are revolting against old systems of exploitation and oppression. The shirtless and barefoot people of the land are rising up as never before. “The people that walked in darkness have seen a greet 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 are-antirevolutionaries. 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 that we initiated. We must move past indecision to action. We must find new ways to speak for peace in
Vietnam and for 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 posses power without compassion, might without morality,
and strength without sight.
That last sentence is a real eye opener.