US Catholic Faith in Real Life

Remembering MLK and looking ahead to Syria

By Elizabeth Lefebvre | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare

Today, we remember the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington and Martin Luther King’s famous “I Have A Dream” speech. Commentaries and reflections abound as people remember the event or remark on how far, if at all, we have come since that day in terms of racial and economic progress.

However, as conflict continues to rage in Syria, I can’t help but think of some of King’s other, though maybe less well-known positions and speeches. Years after “I Have A Dream,” King would eventually take a strong position against the Vietnam War. In one speech from April 1967, delivered at Riverside Church in New York, King said, “A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.” Both then and now, the money being used to wage war could find so many other uses to improve the well-being of those in our country.

Government officials have indicated that the U.S. military could strike in Syria as early as Thursday. And while the situation today in Syria is certainly different from the Vietnam War which King specifically spoke against, we could do well to keep in mind King’s thoughts on war, violence, and peace, much like we do his outspoken work for civil rights.

King’s position against the Vietnam War was not necessarily a popular one, and it strained many of his relations with those who had been his allies in other areas, including the Johnson administration. But he still spoke out because he wished to see the United States stand as the moral example to the world. As he said in another 1967 speech:

“The past is prophetic in that it asserts loudly that wars are poor chisels for carving out peaceful tomorrows. One day we must come to see that peace is not merely a distant goal that we seek, but a means by which we arrive at that goal. We must pursue peaceful ends through peaceful means. How much longer must we play at deadly war games before we heed the plaintive pleas of the unnumbered dead a maimed of past wars?”

It certainly looks as though the deadly war games will continue. As leaders continue to deliberate and make preparations going forward, perhaps they could consider what sort of tomorrow airstrikes and militarism will chisel out for all those involved.

Image: Wikimedia Commons: Martin Luther King, Jr., speaking against the Vietnam War, St. Paul Campus, University of Minnesota