After 40 years, Martin Luther King Jr.'s words take on added meaning.

On the occasion of Martin Luther King Jr. day, I think it would be fitting to recall some of his words. I was listening to one of his speeches being re-played on the radio and I was struck by the force of his conviction.

It was a speech from 1967, in which he outlined why, in his view, America should not be involved in Vietnam, why it was wrong for America to try to take on the role of the world’s policeman, why America should instead work positively to “remove…conditions of poverty, insecurity and injustice” that he said were the “fertile soil” feeding communism at the time.

When you hear the speech today, it’s impossible not to perceive, forty years later, an uncanny and almost spooky resemblance to the present situation in Iraq.

I’ll post the links to the full speech at the bottom, but first I wanted to post an excerpt and say how his words on the radio hit home with me. Hearing him refer to the concerns of the time, which were related to the Cold War and the United States' fear of a global wave pushing communism into many parts of the world, it’s impossible not to see a new reading in it for us today, at a time when Europe and the United States are trying to understand the rise in militancy in many parts of the world. Martin Luther King seems to issue a new call to find a dignified way to help people. I wonder whether things would be better if we had chosen this path in the struggle with militancy in the Middle East.

Martin Luther King:

"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 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 all mankind. This oft misunderstood, this oft 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 not speaking of that force which is just emotional bosh. 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-Muslim-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 every one 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. And history is cluttered with the wreckage of nations and individuals that pursued this self-defeating path of hate. (…)

We are now faced with the fact, my friends, 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 flood -- it ebbs. We may cry out desperately for time to pause in her passage, but time is adamant to every plea and rushes on. Over the bleached bones and jumbled residues 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. Omar Khayyam is right: 'The moving finger writes, and having writ moves on.'

We still have a choice today: nonviolent coexistence or violent coannihilation. 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.”


If you'd like to hear the entire speech, the audio is on YouTube at this link

The talk, delivered as a sermon to the congregation at the Ebenezer Baptist Church on April 30, 1967, was entitled, "Why I am opposed to the war in Vietnam." You can read it here. This site also has an audio link.

Martin Luther King Jr. was the youngest person to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. For more information about his legacy, see here.

The illustration above is public domain, courtesy of

No comments:

Post a Comment