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September-October 2011

Vol. 35, No. 5

Martin Luther King, Jr.: Time to break silence

On April 4, 1967, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered a speech during a meeting of Clergy and Laity Concerned at Riverside Church in New York City. Speaking out clearly against the war in Vietnam, Dr. King said, "I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today -- my own government. For the sake of…hundreds of thousands trembling under our violence, I cannot be silent… Somehow this madness must cease. We must stop now."

Over four decades later, in August 2011, the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial opened in Washington, D.C. Emphasizing Dr. King's message of justice, democracy, hope and love, the memorial remembers him as a "great orator whose impact on the nation came from the eloquence and inspirational quality of his words." Among the many quotes from Dr. King, the memorial website highlights the following, which he delivered in December 1964:

World peace through nonviolent means is neither absurd nor unattainable. All other methods have failed. Thus we must begin anew. Nonviolence is a good starting point. Those of us who believe in this method can be voices of reason, sanity, and understanding amid the voices of violence, hatred, and emotion. We can very well set a mood of peace out of which a system of peace can be built.

Dr. King's insights are painfully pertinent today to U.S. wars and drone attacks in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and throughout the Middle East, U.S. support for regime change in Libya, the development of AFRICOM, U.S. militarism in Latin America and the Pacific, the legacy of the School of the Americas, the U.S. military budget, and on and on.

Dr. King said that "we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. 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, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered … A true revolution of values will lay hands on the world order and say of war: 'This way of settling differences is not just.' This business of burning human beings with napalm, of filling our nation's homes with orphans and widows, of injecting poisonous drugs of hate into veins of people normally humane, of sending men home from dark and bloody battlefields physically handicapped and psychologically deranged, cannot be reconciled with wisdom, justice and love. A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death."

Faith in action:

Jay Jansen, an 80-year old historian-musician, determined to do something about the fact that Dr. King's words were largely ignored by "those entrusted with moral leadership" by organized religion, while "everyday, somewhere in Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Yemen, Pakistan or Libya children perish in air strikes," initiated and began circulating a petition to pastors and preachers, available at here.

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