War in Vietnam (Iraq), peace on earth, revolution of values

“Some of us who have already begun to break the silence of the night,” King continued, “have found that the calling to speak is often a vocation of agony. But we must speak.” He spoke not only to break the betrayal of his own silence, but to break the ghastly silence of the Vietnam War’s victims. In a larger sense he sought to give voice to voiceless humanity, forever the prophet’s duty.

He felt compelled to condemn the war for multiple reasons that bled into each other. First was the war’s destruction of the war on poverty at home that had appeared as a beacon of hope for America’s poor. “I watched this program broken and eviscerated as if it were some idle political plaything of a society gone mad on war. 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.”

He urged Americans to protest. He told his audience that they must understand the war as “but a symptom of a far deeper malady within the American spirit. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people,” the triple evils of racism, materialism, and militarism “are incapable of being conquered.” He warned of future Vietnams in other Third World countries where U.S. foreign policy served the needs of corporate investment, rather than support the striving of the world’s poor for freedom from economic bondage.

“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. A nation that continues year after year to spend more on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.
“These are revolutionary times. 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.”

He did not stop there. “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 mankind. I am speaking of that force which all of the great religions have seen as the supreme unifying principle of life.”

In his softly incendiary address, he gave air to “the burnings of my own heart.” He not only put forth, in the most public way, in the world’s media capital, a wrenching critique of U.S. policy in Vietnam; not only called for the obligation of protest and refusing to fight the war; not only condemned what leftists called imperialism. Sounding for all their differences like Malcolm X in his climactic year, he urged Americans to stop resisting the revolutionary tide in the world, rather to help lead a world revolution against poverty, injustice, and exploitation. At the moment when “revolution” was starting to be fashionable, even faddish, among young radicals and the media, he exhorted Americans to make a true revolution driven by the power of love. He faced an uphill battle to make revolution, once again, a patriotic call, resonating with the American creed. (Riverside Church, New York, April 4, 1967) [298-300]

Nine months later, January 1968, King spoke to a support vigil for antiwar protesters outside California’s Santa Rita jail. He had visited his imprisoned friends, he said, to show his appreciation for their work for peace and justice, and because “I see these two struggles as one struggle. There can be no justice without peace, and there can be no peace without justice.” Justice was indivisible. This was his clearest statement yet that he wanted to build One Big Movement to transform the nation.
“I’m going to continue with all of my might, with all of my energy, and with all of my action, to oppose that abominable, evil, unjust war in Vietnam.” He expressed alarm about the growing repression of antiwar protest, which was bedeviling him personally. He saw a definite move by the government “to go all out now to silence dissenters.” [378]

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