A Time To Break Silence Analysis

Submitted By niso197
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One of the greatest speeches by Martin Luther King, Jr., "A Time to Break Silence," was delivered at Riverside Church, New York City, on April 4, 1967. It is a statement against war in principle, in the same sense in which King's "Letter from Birmingham City Jail," published four years earlier, had been a statement against social injustice in principle. Yet like that extraordinary earlier appeal, "A Time to Break Silence" is also addressed to the evils of a particular time and place. It protests the command and deployment by Lyndon Johnson of almost unlimited violence against the people and the land of Vietnam for the declared purpose of protecting them from the menace of world communism.

King began by acknowledging his solidarity with the organizers of Clergy and Laymen Concerned about Vietnam; and he pledged himself in full accord with their recent statement: "A time comes when silence is betrayal." In Vietnam, says King, "that time has come for us."

Yet to support concrete acts of nonviolent protest or non-cooperation remains a difficult choice.

"Even when pressed by the demands of inner truth, men do not easily assume the task of opposing their government's policy, especially in time of war. Nor does the human spirit move without great difficulty against all the apathy of conformist thought within one's own bosom and in the surrounding world."

The trouble is all the greater in a case like this, where evil is on both sides but where America's violence has greatly exceeded that of the enemy, since American resources for violence through the use of air power are so much greater. In such a situation, says King, "we are always on the verge of being mesmerized by uncertainty; but we must move on."

This speech was King's public announcement of his opposition to the war. Moral protest, which said "The war is wrong," was still, as it would remain, very much a minority position. Even the tactical objection that said, "The war cannot be won," was still a marginal view, though now steadily gaining adherents. King knew that his uncompromising dissent would draw bitter attacks. Members of the black community would charge that by his new commitment he was diluting the single-minded pursuit of civil rights for which he was known to stand. "Some of us," he confesses, "who have already begun to break the silence of the night have found that the calling to speak is often a vocation of agony, but we must speak."

Here King arrives at the heart of his subject:

"Over the past two years, as I have moved to break the betrayal of my own silences and to speak from the burnings of my own heart, as I have called for radical departures from the destruction of Vietnam, many persons have questioned me about the wisdom of my path. At the heart of their concerns this query has often loomed large and loud: 'Why are you speaking about the war, Dr. King?' 'Why are you joining the voices of dissent?' 'Peace and civil rights don't mix,' they say. 'Aren't you hurting the cause of your people,' they ask? And when I hear them, though I often understand the source of their concern, I am nevertheless greatly saddened, for such questions mean that the inquirers have not really known me, my commitment or my calling. Indeed, their questions suggest that they do not know the world in which they live.

In the light of such tragic misunderstanding, I deem it of signal importance to try to state clearly, and I trust concisely, why I believe that the path from Dexter Avenue Baptist Church – the church in Montgomery, Alabama, where I began my pastorate – leads clearly to this sanctuary tonight."

His aim is to unite the protest against civil injustices with the protest against a policy of violence and domination abroad. You may (King seems to have thought) – you may, in some imagined logical universe, combine the domestic good and the foreign evil; but that is not how the minds and feelings of people in practice function. If it is logically possible