Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Silence Is Betrayal

Silence Is Betrayal


Monday 05 April 2010


by: Stephen Rohde  |  Los Angeles Daily Journal




On April 4, 1967, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., delivered

a historic speech at Riverside Church in New York City,

which has become known as "Beyond Vietnam: A Time to

Break Silence."


In a powerful and inspiring speech, Dr. King declared

that his deep religious faith would no longer allow him

to confine himself to the domestic struggle for civil

rights. Instead, he was compelled to denounce the war

in Vietnam because it was wrong and because of what it

was doing to America and the rest of the world.


He declared that "[a] time comes when silence is

betrayal." Today, ignoring Dr. King's warnings, our

country is engaged in foreign wars in Iraq, Afghanistan

and Pakistan. Today, silence on these disastrous wars

is betrayal.


Dr. King knew well the daunting task he faced. "Even

when pressed by the demands of inner truth, men do not

easily assume the task of opposing their government's

policy, especially in time of war. Nor does the human

spirit move without great difficulty against all the

apathy of conformist thought within one's own bosom and

in the surrounding world."


Early in his speech, Dr. King made the immediate

connection between the cost of war abroad and the unmet

needs of the people at home. Recalling the hopes and

"new beginnings" of the poverty program, Dr. King

bemoaned "the buildup in Vietnam" as he watched the

program "broken and eviscerated as if it were some idle

political plaything 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 adventures like 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."


In words so achingly true today, Dr. King spoke of his

deep concern for "our troops there as anything else.

For it occurs to me that what we are submitting them to

in Vietnam is not simply the brutalizing process that

goes on in any war where armies face each other and

seek to destroy. We are adding cynicism to the process

of death, for they must know after a short period there

that none of the things we claim to be fighting for are

really involved. Before long they must know that their

government has sent them into a struggle among

Vietnamese, and the more sophisticated surely realize

that we are on the side of the wealthy and the secure

while we create hell for the poor."


"Somehow this madness must cease. We must stop now. I

speak as a child of God and brother to the suffering

poor of Vietnam. I speak for those whose land is being

laid waste, whose homes are being destroyed, whose

culture is being subverted. I speak for the poor of

America who are paying the double price of smashed

hopes at home and death and corruption in Vietnam. I

speak as a citizen of the world, for the world as it

stands aghast at the path we have taken. I speak as an

American to the leaders of my own nation. The great

initiative in this war is ours. The initiative to stop

it must be ours."


Consequently, in words we so yearn to hear today from

President Barack Obama, Dr. King declared: "The world

now demands a maturity of America that we may not be

able to achieve. It demands that we admit that we have

been wrong from the beginning of our adventure in

Vietnam, that we have been detrimental to the life of

the Vietnamese people. The situation is one in which we

must be ready to turn sharply from our present ways. In

order to atone for our sins and errors in Vietnam, we

should take the initiative in bringing a halt to this

tragic war."


But Dr. King refused to leave it there. "The war in

Vietnam is but a symptom of a far deeper malady within

the American spirit, and if we ignore this sobering

reality we will find ourselves organizing clergy- and

laymen-concerned committees for the next generation.

They will be concerned about Guatemala and Peru. They

will be concerned about Thailand and Cambodia. They

will be concerned about Mozambique and South Africa. We

will be marching for these and a dozen other names and

attending rallies without end unless there is a

significant and profound change in American life and

policy. Such thoughts take us beyond Vietnam, but not

beyond our calling as sons of the living God."


Dr. King foretold that increasingly "by choice or by

accident, this is the role our nation has taken - the

role of those who make peaceful revolution impossible

by refusing to give up the privileges and the pleasures

that come from the To get on the right side of history,

Dr. King called for "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."


As if he could hear President Obama boasting about

"spreading democracy in Afghanistan," Dr. King warned

that the "Western arrogance of feeling that it has

everything to teach others and nothing to learn from

them is not just."


"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."


Analyzing the obsession with anti-communism, in terms

we would be wise today to apply to the obsession with

anti-terrorism, Dr. King said that "It is a sad fact

that, because of comfort, complacency, a morbid fear of

communism, and our proneness to adjust to injustice,

the Western nations that initiated so much of the

revolutionary spirit of the modern world have now

become the arch anti-revolutionaries. This has driven

many to feel that only Marxism has the revolutionary

spirit. Therefore, communism is a judgment against our

failure to make democracy real and follow through on

the revolutions we initiated. Our only hope today lies

in our ability to recapture the revolutionary spirit

and go out into a sometimes hostile world declaring

eternal hostility to poverty, racism, and militarism.

With this powerful commitment we shall boldly challenge

the status quo and unjust mores and thereby speed the

day when 'every valley shall be exalted, and every

mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked

shall be made straight and the rough places plain. "


With an insistence as compelling today as it was over

40 years ago, Dr. King declared: "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.' There is an

invisible book of life that faithfully records our

vigilance or our neglect. 'The moving finger writes,

and having writ moves on...' We still have a choice

today; nonviolent coexistence or violent



Dr King urged us to "move past indecision to action"

and find "new ways to speak for peace and justice" for

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," Dr. King concluded. "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. Shall we say the odds are too

great? Shall we tell them the struggle is too hard?

Will our message be that the forces of American life

militate against their arrival as full men, and we send

our deepest regrets? Or will there be another message,

of longing, of hope, of solidarity with their

yearnings, of commitment to their cause, whatever the

cost? The choice is ours, and though we might prefer it

otherwise we must choose in this crucial moment of

human history."


Can we do any less in the face of the monstrous wars in

Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan? Are the odds too great

to end these war now? Is it too hard to speak to loyal

Americans who have yet to see that their government has

lied to them? Shall we just send our regrets to the

families here and around the world who will lose their

children, husbands and wives today and tomorrow while

we remain silent and inert?


As it was for Dr. King then, it is for us now a

"crucial moment of human history."


Stephen Rohde, a constitutional lawyer and author, is

Chair of Interfaith Communities United for Justice and Peace.



No comments: