On Memorial Day we honor the sacrifice of those who died in our nation’s wars. Honoring their lives is not synonymous with supporting war in general or a specific war in particular. On this Memorial Day, I want to share some words of Martin Luther King, Jr. from one of his most important but often neglected messages known as either “Beyond Vietnam” or “A Time to Break Silence.” It was given on April 4, 1967 at Riverside Church in New York and was up to that point Dr. King’s clearest expression of opposition to the Vietnam war. With the help of his friend and colleague Vincent Harding, Dr. King crafted a compelling rationale for ending the war. That rationale has been proven true both historically and theologically in the years since. I encourage you to take the time to read this amazing and challenging address. Click here to go read the whole speech.
The part that I want to draw our attention to focuses on Dr. King’s articulation of the impact of war on those who are sent to fight. It is his concern for their lives that is one of the main reasons to oppose the war:
I am as deeply concerned about our own troops there as anything else. For it occurs to me that what we are submitting them to in Vietnam is not simply the brutalizing process that goes on in any war where armies face each other and seek to destroy. We are adding cynicism to the process of death, for they must know after a short period there that none of the things we claim to be fighting for are really involved. Before long they must know that their government has sent them into a struggle among Vietnamese, and the more sophisticated surely realize that we are on the side of the wealthy, and the secure, while we create a hell for the poor.
A true revolution of values will lay hand on the world order and say of war, “This way of settling differences is not just.” This business of burning human beings with napalm, of filling our nation’s homes with orphans and widows, of injecting poisonous drugs of hate into the veins of peoples normally humane, of sending men home from dark and bloody battlefields physically handicapped and psychologically deranged, cannot be reconciled with wisdom, justice, and love. A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.
At a time when our nation has been at war for going on 18 years and some are promoting war with Iran, I hope and pray that we will heed these words of Dr. King as a message for our day. The impact of PTSD continues to devastate the lives of hundreds of thousands of men and women. As followers of the Prince of Peace, the best way to support our troops is to be peace makers.