Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. – Our Conscience Then & Now
January 17, 2016
January 17, 2016
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered a speech almost exactly a year before his death which may be unfamiliar to many of us. It has been somewhat eclipsed in the collective memory of America by his glorious and unforgettable “I Have A Dream speech.” But it is no less important as a cornerstone of his legacy. The speech, Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence, Declaration of Independence from the War in Vietnam, was delivered in April 1967. In it, Dr. King raised the call to end the war in Vietnam and spoke of the pivotal choice our society had before it:
“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.”
He outlined the terrible consequences of the path we had chosen, as resources were moved away from building the Great Society to prosecuting the Vietnam War.
“A few years ago there 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. Then came the build-up in Vietnam, and I watched the program broken and eviscerated as if it were some idle political play thing 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 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 and to attack it as such.”
His words are as relevant today as they were in 1967. Our spending on war has soared into the hundreds of billions of dollars. Economic inequality and social stratification have risen to alarming levels. Nearly 50 years later after the Beyond Vietnam speech, we desperately need leaders of the caliber and greatness of Martin Luther King, Jr. who can inspire us to become ethical citizens of the world, and replace inequality with inclusiveness, war-making with peace-building.
The issues he brought to our attention in America and later to the World, as winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964, challenged us to rethink who we were. Speaking out and tweaking our national conscience put him at great personal risk. He was confident, though, that he was following the path ordained for him, and the courage required to reach his destination would be there. His guiding light was the motto he and others chose to express as the purpose of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference when it was formed in 1957 to broaden the nonviolent battle for civil rights,
“To save the soul of America”