To See The Enemy’s Point of View

Wesley MorrisDay 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. Continue reading

Raise the Questions They Cannot Raise

WesSueDay 11 in our Lenten Journey through Dr. King’s “Beyond Vietnam” speech.

We have destroyed their two most cherished institutions: the family and the village. We have destroyed their land and their crops. We have cooperated in the crushing of the nation’s only noncommunist revolutionary political force, the unified Buddhist Church. We have supported the enemies of the peasants of Saigon. We have corrupted their women and children and killed their men.

Now there is little left to build on, save bitterness. Soon the only solid physical foundations remaining will be found at our military bases and in the concrete of the concentration camps we call “fortified hamlets.” The peasants may well wonder if we plan to build our new Vietnam on such grounds as these. Could we blame them for such thoughts? We must speak for them and raise the questions they cannot raise. These, too, are our brothers.

By Sue Ferguson Johnson and Wes Howard-Brook

When King turned his prophetic voice to the war in Vietnam, he joined a long tradition of those who saw and named the connections between what he called the “evil triplets” of racism, capitalism and militarism. A century earlier, former slave Frederick Douglas, abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison, and women’s suffragette Susan B. Anthony combined in a campaign that similarly linked such evils in their own time (see H. Meyer, All on Fire). Now, fifty years after King, we, too, are called to speak and to act in solidarity for justice in all its interconnected manifestations. Continue reading

These Voiceless Ones

JuliusDay 15 of our Lenten Journey through Dr. King’s “Beyond Vietnam” speech.

So they go, primarily women and children and the aged. They watch as we poison their water, as we kill a million acres of their crops. They must weep as the bulldozers roar through their areas preparing to destroy the precious trees. They wander into the hospitals with at least twenty casualties from American firepower for one Vietcong-inflicted injury. So far we may have killed a million of them, mostly children. They wander into the towns and see thousands of the children, homeless, without clothes, running in packs on the streets like animals. They see the children degraded by our soldiers as they beg for food. They see the children selling their sisters to our soldiers, soliciting for their mothers.

What do the peasants think as we ally ourselves with the landlords and as we refuse to put any action into our many words concerning land reform? What do they think as we test out our latest weapons on them, just as the Germans tested out new medicine and new tortures in the concentration camps of Europe? Where are the roots of the independent Vietnam we claim to be building? Is it among these voiceless ones?
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A Lenten liturgy from Exodus 17:3-7 and John 4:5-42 from Atlanta-based UCC pastor Julius Jessup Peterson (photo above):

Call to Worship:

Leader: We are called in this time to remember and to anticipate.

People: We can’t see through the fog around us, we are without water, and the fruit of our land is filled with disease.

Leader: We are called to remember that salvation is liberation from the fear of death, and sin is separation from you.

People: Violence has divided us, neighbor against neighbor, loved one against kin, we have lost our way. Continue reading

Regular Promises of Peace and Democracy

LyniceDay 14 of our Lenten Journey through Dr. King’s “Beyond Vietnam” speech.

The only change came from America as we increased our troop commitments in support of governments which were singularly corrupt, inept, and without popular support. All the while the people read our leaflets and received the regular promises of peace and democracy and land reform. Now they languish under our bombs and consider us, not their fellow Vietnamese, the real enemy. They move sadly and apathetically as we herd them off the land of their fathers into concentration camps where minimal social needs are rarely met. They know they must move on or be destroyed by our bombs.
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From Lynice Pinkard (photo above), the former pastor at First Congregational Church of Oakland, in an interview with Mark Leviton in Sun Magazine (October 2014):

As a culture we are in a nosedive toward death, and to interrupt it, we must opt out of the capitalist systems that are killing us and decimating the planet. Although we might criticize systems and bemoan their negative effects, we do not often focus on the degree to which we rely upon them. We balk at any course of action that truly threatens the status quo, because a confrontation with the system is going to cost us our comforts and our reputation and possibly our lives. But we have to stop shopping at the bargain counter of the American company store, where we exchange substance for more security, more status, more wealth, and more power. It is nearly impossible to be a prophet with a wallet full of credit cards. Resistance to the system means social death and loss of identity, but it is also a struggle for life. It is not the futile hope for a better day, the self-indulgent staking out of a political position, or a reckless descent into disorder. It is self-determination with integrity. It is the assertion of life without apology. It is the willingness to defend what we love with our lives. Continue reading

Strange Liberators

DeniseDay 12 of our Lenten Journey through Dr. King’s “Beyond Vietnam” speech.

They must see Americans as strange liberators. The Vietnamese people proclaimed their own independence in 1954—in 1945 rather—after a combined French and Japanese occupation and before the communist revolution in China. They were led by Ho Chi Minh. Even though they quoted the American Declaration of Independence in their own document of freedom, we refused to recognize them. Instead, we decided to support France in its reconquest of her former colony. Our government felt then that the Vietnamese people were not ready for independence, and we again fell victim to the deadly Western arrogance that has poisoned the international atmosphere for so long. With that tragic decision we rejected a revolutionary government seeking self-determination and a government that had been established not by China—for whom the Vietnamese have no great love—but by clearly indigenous forces that included some communists. For the peasants this new government meant real land reform, one of the most important needs in their lives.
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By Rev. Denise Griebler (photo above), the pastor of First United Church of Christ in Richmond, Michigan

We do not tell the truth about ourselves.   No wonder we and others are confused. Perhaps we have refused the long look in the mirror for so long that we simply do not know. But I think it is also true that we do not want to know.

Listen. Begin with the genocide. Indigenous people, communities and cultures crushed by colonial greed and settler-culture that took whatever it wanted with the twisted and absurd notion that this was all preordained, a manifest destiny set forth by a false-god in their image. Listen.   You can hear the sounds of an economy built on enslaving human beings and extracting their labor with the blessing of this false-god. Listen, as the ever-expanding economy gobbles up land and with it the gifts below the surface of land, waters, species, human life and labor and leaves in its aftermath spoiled land, air and water. They say a sound goes on forever. Listen. The cries of the indigenous and enslaved people and of the earth, our Mother, can be heard. Continue reading

To Know Them and Hear Their Broken Cries

SugrueDay 11 of our Lenten Journey through Dr. King’s “Beyond Vietnam” speech.

And as I ponder the madness of Vietnam and search within myself for ways to understand and respond in compassion, my mind goes constantly to the people of that peninsula. I speak now not of the soldiers of each side, not of the ideologies of the Liberation Front, not of the junta in Saigon, but simply of the people who have been living under the curse of war for almost three continuous decades now. I think of them, too, because it is clear to me that there will be no meaningful solution there until some attempt is made to know them and hear their broken cries.
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From Thomas Sugrue, Professor of history at University of Pennsylvania, in “Restoring King” in Jacobin Magazine (January 16, 2017):

King’s radicalism is lost to the obfuscating fog of memory. In American culture today, we have several Martin Luther King Jr’s:

the Commemorative King, the Therapeutic King, the Conservative King, and the Commodified King. Each of these Kings competes for our attention, but each of them represents a vision of King that he himself would not have recognized.

First is the commemorative King. Only fifteen years after his death, King won an extraordinary recognition — he became the only individual (unless you count Presidents Washington and Lincoln, whose birthdays have been unceremoniously consolidated into President’s Day) with his own national holiday. That a man who was berated as un-American, hounded by the FBI, arrested and jailed numerous times, was recognized by a national holiday is nothing short of amazing. Continue reading

To Speak for the Weak

RutesTen Days into our Lenten Journey through Dr. King’s “Beyond Vietnam” Speech.

Finally, as I try to explain for you and for myself the road that leads from Montgomery to this place, I would have offered all that was most valid if I simply said that I must be true to my conviction that I share with all men the calling to be a son of the living God. Beyond the calling of race or nation or creed is this vocation of sonship and brotherhood. Because I believe that the Father is deeply concerned, especially for His suffering and helpless and outcast children, I come tonight to speak for them. This I believe to be the privilege and the burden of all of us who deem ourselves bound by allegiances and loyalties which are broader and deeper than nationalism and which go beyond our nation’s self-defined goals and positions. We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for the victims of our nation, for those it calls “enemy,” for no document from human hands can make these humans any less our brothers.
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By Tommy Airey, co-editor of RadicalDiscipleship.Net (photo above with former intentional community members Mabel and Ivy

More than 50 years ago almost to the day (March 9, 1964), citing an 1868 treaty which empowered Native American peoples to claim surplus federal land, five Sioux activists occupied and took possession of Alcatraz Island. It was less than one year after the notorious federal prison closed down after decades of complaints over high costs and the flushing of sewage into San Francisco Bay. These indigenous prophets envisioned a redemption of the island, transforming it into a cultural center and university. They were apprehended and removed after only four hours, imperial conventional wisdom dismissing their public offer to buy the land for the amount the government had initially offered them: $9.40. Continue reading