Since 1865, when it was founded by Northern abolitionists, The Nation has always believed in the liberating power of truth, of conviction, of conscience, and of fighting for causes lost and found. And like our founders, the magazine has an abiding belief that there is no force so potent in politics as a moral issue.
One of the great moral figures of our country’s history, Martin Luther King Jr. was a correspondent for The Nation–traveling the South in the early 1960s and filing annual dispatches for the magazine on the state of civil rights. In 1967, Dr. King traveled to Los Angeles under the auspices of The Nation and The Nation Institute to give the speech that would align the armies of the Civil Rights Movement with the rapidly expanding national protest against the Vietnam War. It was at this gathering, before an overflow crowd at the Beverly Hills Hilton on February 25, that Dr. King first came out, courageously, eloquently and unequivocally , against the war. Two months later, on April 4th, King delivered his famous antiwar sermon at Riverside Church in New York City.
Today we are again mired in an intractable and monstrous war overseas. It is a moment to listen to Dr. King’s words about the broader casualties of another war–casualties that go beyond the carnage of battle to the devastating costs of war at home–the damage to social justice and racial equality, and the unbearable cost to free speech and dissent.
In these few excerpts from his remarkable speech, Dr. King painted a picture of a society that looks remarkably, starkly, like the one we live in today.
“….This confused war has played havoc with our domestic destinies, despite feeble protestations to the contrary. And promises of Great Society have been shut down on the battlefields of Vietnam in pursuit of this widened war which has narrowed domestic welfare programs, making the poor white and Negro bear the heaviest burdens at the front and at home. While the anti-poverty program is cautiously initiated, zealously supervised and evaluated for immediate results, billions are liberally expended for this ill-considered war. Recently revealed mis-estimates of the war budget amount to $10 billion for the single year. This error alone is more than five times the amount committed to antipoverty programs. The security we profess to seek in foreign adventures we will lose in our decaying cities. The bombs in Vietnam explode at home. They destroy the hopes and possibilities for a decent America. If we reversed investments and gave the armed forces the anti-poverty budget, the generals could be forgiven if they walked off the battlefield in disgust.”
“….At this moment in history, it is irrefutable that our world prestige is pathetically frail. Our war policy excites pronounced contempt and aversion virtually everywhere. Even when some national governments, for reasons of economic and diplomatic interest do not condemn us, their people in surprising measure have made clear they do not share the official policy. We are isolated in our false values. In a world demanding social and economic justice, we must undergo a vigorous reordering of our national priorities..”
” All of this reveals that our nation has not yet used its vast resources of power to end the long night of poverty, racism, and man’s inhumanity to man. Enlarged power means enlarged peril. That is not concomitant growth of the soul. Genuine power is the right use of strength. If our nation’s strength is not used responsibly and with restraint, it will be following Lord Acton’s dictum, power that tends to corrupt and power that corrupts, an absolute power that corrupts absolutely. Our arrogance can be our doom. It can bring the curtains down on our national drama. Ultimately a great nation is a compassionate nation. We are challenged in these turbulent days to use our power to speed up the day when every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked places shall be made straight, and the rough places plain.”
“I do not wish to minimize the complexity of the problems that need to be faced in achieving disarmament and peace. But I think it is a fact that we shall not have the will, the courage, and the insight to deal with such matters unless in this field we are prepared to undergo a spiritual and mental reevaluation, a change of focus which will enable us to see that the things which seem most real and powerful are, indeed, now unreal and have come under the sentence of death. We need to make a supreme effort to generate the readiness, indeed, the eagerness, to enter into the new world which is now possible. We will not build a peaceful world by following a negative path. It is not enough to say ‘We must not wage war.’ It is necessary to love peace and sacrifice for it. We must concentrate not merely on the negative expulsion of war but on the positive affirmation of peace….In short, we must shift the arms race into a peace race”
“…Let me say, finally, that I oppose the war in Vietnam because I love America. I speak out against it not in anger but with anxiety and sorrow in my heart, and above all with a passionate desire to see our beloved country stand as the moral example of the world. I speak out against this war because I am disappointed with America, and there can be no great disappointment when there is no great love. I am disappointed with our failure to deal positively and forthrightly with the triple evils of racism, extreme materialism and militarism…”
“Those of us who love peace must organize as effectively as the war hawks. As they spread the propaganda of war, we must spread the propaganda of peace. We must combine the fervor of the civil rights movement with the peace movement. We must demonstrate, teach and preach until the very foundations of our nation are shaken. We must work unceasingly to lift this nation that we love to a higher destiny, to a new plateau of compassion, to a more noble expression of humaneness.”
“…There is an element of urgency in our re-directing American power. We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now…..”
Today, 41 years later, we are once again, as Dr. King told us, “in an unthinkable position morally and politically…” Who of sane mind can look out over the current landscape in America and breathe easily. At The Nation, we recognize that when it comes to the future of our democracy, of our country and the world, we are in the fight of our lives–confronted by failed policies, wanton destruction, false promises, rampant corruption, metastasizing financial pain, and the downward spiraling of America’s standing in the world.
In the spirit of Dr. King, The Nation stands with our readers, our community, our writers, and with the millions of Americans who demand public accountability and an end to this catastrophe. We are determined to end this unjust and self-destructive conflict –as we continue to work passionately to speak truth and build a better nation and world.