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Dr. Martin Luther King's best speech

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Here is my favorite speech by Dr. King: Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break the Silence. It is a detailed analysis of the origins of the Vietnam War, and why he opposed it. He delivered the speech at the Riverside Church in New York City on April 4th, 1967.

To make good on the promise of Dr. Martin Luther King’s thinking, we need to consider his words carefully, especially when we celebrate the national holiday in his honor, as we do this week.

You can listen to the audio in the video associated with his article or go to it directly here. You can also read the entire text here.

It is a speech for which he was criticized severely by many sides, including the NAACP, the New York Times and the Washington Post.

While Dr. King gave the speech himself, and did so more than once, it was originally drafted by a friend of his. His name is Vincent Harding. Here's a link describing Dr. Harding's role in the speech.

This speech is important because not only did it call for an end to the Vietnam War, but also it put forth a far-reaching vision of a new society. His vision expressed in this speech is much more detailed than his more famous "I have a Dream" speech.

Below are some of my favorite quotes from this speech, ideas which are ever-relevant today.

How to end the U.S. war against Vietnam:

“I would like to suggest five concrete things that our government should do immediately to begin the long and difficult process of extricating ourselves from this nightmarish conflict:

  1. End all bombing in North and South Vietnam.
  2. Declare a unilateral cease-fire in the hope that such action will create the atmosphere for negotiation.
  3. Take immediate steps to prevent other battlegrounds in Southeast Asia by curtailing our military buildup in Thailand and our interference in Laos.
  4. Realistically accept the fact that the National Liberation Front has substantial support in South Vietnam and must thereby play a role in any meaningful negotiations and in any future Vietnam government.
  5. Set a date that we will remove all foreign troops from Vietnam in accordance with the 1954 Geneva agreement.”

Changing our thinking to prevent war:

“Here is the true meaning and value of compassion and nonviolence when it helps us to see the enemy's point of view, to hear his questions, to know his assessment of ourselves. For from his view we may indeed see the basic weaknesses of our own condition, and if we are mature, we may learn and grow and profit from the wisdom of the brothers who are called the opposition.”

A revolution of values in America:

"I am convinced that if we are to get on to the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin [applause], we must rapidly begin the shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights, are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered."

The invocation of love:

"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. History is cluttered with the wreckage of nations and individuals that pursued this self-defeating path of hate. As Arnold Toynbee says : "Love is the ultimate force that makes for the saving choice of life and good against the damning choice of death and evil. Therefore the first hope in our inventory must be the hope that love is going to have the last word."

Restructuring society itself, rather than engaging in superficial fixes:

“True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it is not haphazard and superficial. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring. A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth.”

And finally, his message conveying great urgency:

“We are now faced with the fact 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 the flood; it ebbs. We may cry out desperately for time to pause in her passage, but time is deaf to every plea and rushes on. Over the bleached bones and jumbled residue of numerous civilizations are written the pathetic words: ‘Too late.’. . . We still have a choice today; nonviolent coexistence or violent co-annihilation.”

May the voice of Dr. King be with us . . .

Let us strive to apply Dr. King's ideas in the quest for a more just society; a more democratic nation; and a more sustainable, happy world.

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