Sunday, January 15, 2006

April, 1967

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.

Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
"Beyond Vietnam," Address delivered to the Clergy and Laymen Concerned about Vietnam, at Riverside Church , April 4. 1967

In recent speeches and statements the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. has linked his personal opposition to the war in Vietnam with the cause of Negro equality in the United States. The war, he argues, should be stopped not only because it is a futile war waged for the wrong ends but also because it is a barriers to social progress in this country and therefore prevents Negroes from achieving their place in American life.

This is a fusing of two public problems that are distinct and separate. By drawing them together, Dr. King has done a disservice to both. The moral issues in Vietnam are less clear-cut than he suggests; the political strategy of uniting the peace movement and the civil rights movement could very well be disastrous for both causes.

"Dr. King’s Error" NY Times Editorial, April 7, 1967

Gen. William C. Westmoreland roused Congress today to enthusiastic cheers today with a pledge that the American forces he commands would “prevail in Vietnam over the Communist aggressor.”

Trim, starched and four-starred, the general told a joint session that the only strategy that could defeat the enemy was “one of unrelenting but discriminating military, poltical and psychological pressure on his whole structure and at all levels.”
The enthusiasm with which Congress applauded the general indicated the difficulty that any Presidential candidate might face is he ran on a platform opposing a war in which American troops were engaged.

Tom Wicker, “Westmoreland Tells Congress U.S. Will Prevail” NY Times, April 28, 1967.

Dr. King’s words still ring true. The NY Times – not so much.


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