Day 19 of our Lenten Journey through Dr. King’s “Beyond Vietnam” speech.
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.
So, too, with Hanoi. In the North, where our bombs now pummel the land, and our mines endanger the waterways, we are met by a deep but understandable mistrust. To speak for them is to explain this lack of confidence in Western worlds, and especially their distrust of American intentions now. In Hanoi are the men who led this nation to independence against the Japanese and the French, the men who sought membership in the French Commonwealth and were betrayed by the weakness of Paris and the willfulness of the colonial armies. It was they who led a second struggle against French domination at tremendous costs, and then were persuaded to give up the land they controlled between the thirteenth and seventeenth parallel as a temporary measure at Geneva. After 1954 they watched us conspire with Diem to prevent elections which could have surely brought Ho Chi Minh to power over a unified Vietnam, and they realized they had been betrayed again. When we ask why they do not leap to negotiate, these things must be considered.
By Wesley Morris (photo above), Union Theological Seminary
Dr. King, with compassionate and nonviolent reasoning, addresses his home country in this passage from “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence”. In his gathering, Dr. King goes beyond the self-interest of his nation and proclaims God’s love and justice to be inclusive of people the United States labeled enemies.
In the body of his renowned speech, Dr. King contends with a world divided, east and west, oppressed and oppressor, colonized and colonizer. He speaks from the position of a moral witness of people scattered time and time again, because they sought to be free. The history of resistance to domination by the people of Vietnam was endured, felt and embodied through the lived experience of gunfire, blood and sacrifice.
The Christian responsibility to give sight to those who cannot see is equal to the presentation of our bodies and voices in solidarity with the unseen and unheard. As peacemakers, we are blessed in the work of breaking quietude and calling out injustice. It is time to break silence, when “welcome home” banners flown at high mast are juxtaposed by bombed cities and human death. When the ever-pressing questions that bind our humanity one to another are cursory mentions at best and reduced to negotiable, it’s time to break silence.
As our nation sits on the brink of a national transition of power into the hands of a president elect that to this point, has wielded a clinched fist and prideful heart in his decisions, we need to break the silence. Dr. King’s clarion call to extend the necessary power of love beyond the limits of personality and towards democracy and equal treatment under the law is the beginning of political maturity. Living into the mutual bonds of moral responsibility draws us nearer to our interrelated destiny as a country.
The Bible is clear, we are to strive in this way, “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” and “inasmuch as you have done it to the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me”. How we treat other people, nations and cultures, says more about who we are than any self proclamation of greatness could ever say on our behalf. May God’s grace and mercy abound and all oppressed and oppressors be made free.