Monday, January 17, 2011

Happy Martin Luther King Jr. Day

Last week Defense Department General Counsel Jeh Johnson claimed that were the late Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (at left, Riverfront Times) still alive, Rev. Dr. King would have supported the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Without hesitation a wide array of people across the internet decried this evidently nonsensical assertion, and cited many examples, from throughout his life and career, of his anti-war and anti-violence stances.

But why not go directly to Rev. Dr. King's words themselves? Here is one of his most important speeches, delivered on April 4, 1967 at Riverside Church in New York City, a year before his assassination, on the Vietnam War.  Rev. Dr. King had spoken many times at Riverside, often memorably, but this speech was a landmark for many reasons.  I sincerely hope the President and others who honor Rev. Dr. King's memory take note of this profound speech, among the bravest and most important he ever delivered.

Martin Luther King Jr.'s Speech at Riverside Church (with audio)

A snippet from the speech's end:

Now let us begin. 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.

As that noble bard of yesterday, James Russell Lowell, eloquently stated:

Once to every man and nation comes a moment to decide,
In the strife of truth and Falsehood, for the good or evil side;
Some great cause, God’s new Messiah offering each the bloom or blight,
And the choice goes by forever ‘twixt that darkness and that light.
Though the cause of evil prosper, yet ‘tis truth alone is strong
Though her portions be the scaffold, and upon the throne be wrong
Yet that scaffold sways the future, and behind the dim unknown
Standeth God within the shadow, keeping watch above his own.

And if we will only make the right choice, we will be able to transform this pending cosmic elegy into a creative psalm of peace. If we will make the right choice, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our world into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. If we will but make the right choice, we will be able to speed up the day, all over America and all over the world, when "justice will roll down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream."

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