As the 51st anniversary of the assassination of Dr.Martin Luther King Jr. on April 4 approaches as well as the 52nd anniversary of his speech at the Riverside Church in New York also on April 4, I decided to listen to his speech again. I was struck by how powerful it is, and how relevant all of it still is today.
He spoke these words 51 years ago, but we only need to change the names of the countries to fit current conditions. He begins quoting from the executive statement of Clergy and Laity Concerned, saying, “A time comes when silence is betrayal.” How true today!
As a civil rights leader, Dr. King believed that peace is part of the civil rights package, and became aware in his own work that the two are financially interconnected. As he worked to alleviate poverty, he saw the funding for helping the poor being instead used for troops to fight in Vietnam. How relevant that is today, as our current president proposes a budget increase for the military to $750 billion, while cutting funding for human needs by 15%.
Dr. King deplored the horrors of the war in Vietnam (read Syria, Yemen, Iraq, Afghanistan), the horrors our military inflicted not only on the people of the attacked country, but also on our soldiers. He talks about the men (and women) of color who are sent to fight for freedoms for people in far away countries; freedoms they do not enjoy at home. Our soldiers soon realize that they are involved in a civil war, not fighting for the freedoms of the people, but for the benefit of the rulers.
Dr. King speaks of colonialism. As the United States and other Western countries “develop” third world countries, it is not for the benefit of the indigenous people, but to take the gained fortunes home. He speaks of US interference to undermine the governments of Venezuela, Guatemala, and Peru, as well as US military forces in Cambodia, again not for the benefit of those who live there, but for the US or US corporations. In addition, he opposes violence at home among our own people, and tells young black militant youth, “Molotov cocktails and rifles won’t solve your problems.”
Reinforced by his Nobel Peace Prize, he feels compelled to speak out for all humanity, and as a religious leader he declares, “My ministry is in obedience to the One who loved his enemies so fully that he died for them. What, then, can I say to the Vietcong or to Castro or to Mao as a faithful minister of this One? Can I threaten them with death or must I not share with them my life?”
The slogan, “Love is stronger than Hate” was resurrected after the attack at the Tree of Life synagogue and comes right from that speech, as he implores the different faith groups, Jewish, Islamic, Christian, Hindu, Buddhist and others, to unite against hate and against fear of “the other” in order to work jointly for a world in peace.
To commemorate Dr. King’s life and death, we urge you to listen again to the beyond vietnam speech, which he gave at the Riverside Church on April 4, 1967, exactly one year before he was murdered.
Dr. King’s relevance and eloquence are unsurpassed. This speech must be heard again and again.
by Edith Bell, coordinator of the Pittsburgh branch of the Women’s International
League for Peace and Freedom, and a long time peace activist.