Exactly a year before his assassination, Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr spoke out against the war in Vietnam:
“As I have walked among the desperate, rejected and angry young men I have told them that Molotov cocktails and rifles would not solve their problems. I have tried to offer them my deepest compassion while maintaining my conviction that social change comes most meaningfully through nonviolent action. But they asked — and rightly so — what about Vietnam? They asked if our own nation wasn’t using massive doses of violence to solve its problems, to bring about the changes it wanted. Their questions hit home, and I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today — my own government.”
I re-read this speech every year around his birthday and each time, different parts of it speak to me.
This year, I noticed that not only was Rev. King a great speaker, he was a listener as well. He speaks of talking to the poor and hearing their questions. He speaks of understanding their point of view, one that rightly asks, “How can you tell us that violence is wrong, when our government engages in so much of it in our name?”
He speaks too of understanding the point of view of our so-called “enemies” in Vietnam, and how, to them, we must seem “strange liberators” as we support the colonization of a nation that modeled its declaration of independence after our own.
What is notable to me is that Rev. King had an agenda of civil rights and non-violence, but it wasn’t a one-sided agenda based only upon “his side” talking, wherein any means justified the ends. He sought to listen to and understand those who had been designated his enemies. He questioned the words used to describe them. He put himself in their position and tried to understand their history of pain, oppression, and fear.
People like to quote Rev. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, and I can understand that. It’s a great, moving speech. I wish his above speech were more known, but I also understand why many politicians and culture warriors don’t draw from it as much.