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"Why do you care about war?"



Full transcript

The Triple Prong Sickness of America

Excerpts From King’s Speech Delivered at the National Conference on New Politics
August 31, 1967 

Over the past two years, as I have moved to break the betrayal of my own silences and to speak from the burnings of my own heart, as I have called for radical departures from the destruction of Vietnam, many persons have questioned me about the wisdom of my path. At the heart of their concerns this query has often loomed large and loud: Why are you speaking about war, Dr. King? Why are you joining the voices of dissent? Peace and civil rights don't mix, they say. Aren't you hurting the cause of your people, they ask? And when I hear them, though I often understand the source of their concern, I am nevertheless greatly saddened, for such questions mean that the inquirers have not really known me, my commitment or my calling. Indeed, their questions suggest that they do not know the world in which they live…

...I wish that I could say that this is just a passing phase in the cycles of our nation’s life; certainly times of war, times of reaction throughout the society but I suspect that we are now experiencing the coming to the surface of a triple prong sickness that has been lurking within our body politic from its very beginning. That is the sickness of racism, excessive materialism and militarism. Not only is this our nation’s dilemma it is the plague of western civilization...

 ...for the good of America, it is necessary to refute the idea that the dominant ideology in our country, even today, is freedom and equality while racism is just an occasional departure from the norm on the part of a few bigoted extremists. Racism can well be, that corrosive evil that will bring down the curtain on western civilization. Arnold Toynbee has said that some twenty-six civilization have risen upon the face of the Earth, almost all of them have descended into the junk heap of destruction. The decline and fall of these civilizations, according to Toynbee, was not caused by external invasion but by internal decay. They failed to respond creatively to the challenges impinging upon them. If America does not respond creatively to the challenge to banish racism, some future historian will have to say, that a great civilization died because it lacked the soul and commitment to make justice a reality for all [people]...

 ...The second aspect of our afflicted society is extreme materialism, an Asian writer has portrayed our dilemma in candid terms, he says, “you call your thousand material devices labor saving machinery, yet you are forever busy. With the multiplying of your machinery you grow increasingly fatigued, anxious, nervous,dissatisfied. Whatever you have you want more and wherever you are you want to go somewhere else. Your devices are neither time saving nor soul saving machinery. They are so many sharp spurs which urge you on to invent more machinery and to do more business”...our moral lag must be redeemed; when scientific power outruns moral power, we end up with guided missiles and misguided men…

 ...It is this moral lag in our thing-oriented society that blinds us to the human reality around us and encourages us in the greed and exploitation which creates the sector of poverty in the midst of wealth. Again we have deluded ourselves into believing the myth that Capitalism grew and prospered out of the protestant ethic of hard work and sacrifice, the fact is that Capitalism was built on the exploitation and suffering of black slaves and continues to thrive on the exploitation of the poor – both black and white, both here and abroad. If Negroes and poor whites do not participate in the free flow of wealth within our economy, they will forever be poor, giving their energies, their talents and their limited funds to the consumer market but reaping few benefits and services in return. The way to end poverty is to end the exploitation of the poor, ensure them a fair share of the government services and the nation’s resources. The final phase of our national sickness is the disease of militarism...

…[W]ar has played havoc with the destiny of the entire world. It has torn up the Geneva Agreement, it has seriously impaired the United Nations, it has exacerbated the hatred between continents and worst still between races. It has frustrated our development at home, telling our own underprivileged citizens that we place insatiable military demands above their critical needs. It has greatly contributed to the forces of reaction in America and strengthened the military industrial complex. And it has practically destroyed Vietnam and left thousands of American and Vietnamese youth maimed and mutilated and exposed the whole world to the risk of nuclear warfare....

We are arrogant in professing to be concerned about the freedom of foreign nations while not setting our own house in order. Many of our Senators and Congressmen vote joyously to appropriate billions of dollars for the War in Vietnam and many of these same Senators and Congressmen vote loudly against a Fair Housing Bill to make it possible for a Negro veteran of Vietnam to purchase a decent home. We arm Negro soldiers to kill on foreign battlefields but offer little protection for their relatives from beatings and killings in our own South. We are willing to make a Negro 100% of a citizen in Warfare but reduce him to 50% of a citizen on American soil.
We must move past indecision to action. We must find new ways to speak for peace in Vietnam and justice throughout the developing world -- a world that borders on our doors. 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. Now let us rededicate ourselves to the long and bitter -- but beautiful -- struggle for a new world. This is the callling 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.

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