The Year of “Nonviolence or Non-Existence”

It was early 1968.  Since the previous spring Martin Luther King, Jr. had been pursuing a course that for many was unthinkable.  He had deliberately connected the dots between the movement for civil rights and the struggle to end the war in Vietnam, and had paid the price.  He was roundly criticized by the Johnson administration and the media, as well as people in his own movement.  From the right he was attacked for having the gall to question US foreign policy.  From the left he was lambasted for losing focus and not keeping his eyes on the prize.

He even got it from a childhood friend who stopped by the house one afternoon to vent.

“Why are you speaking out against the Vietnam War?” he carped.

King put aside his customary oratory. “When I speak about nonviolence,” he patiently explained, “I mean nonviolent all the way.”

As David Garrow’s classic biography of King, Bearing the Cross, reports, he went on to say, “Never could I advocate nonviolence in this country and not advocate nonviolence for the whole world. That’s my philosophy. I don’t believe in death and killing on any side, no matter who’s heading it up—whether it be America or any other country. Nonviolence is my stand and I’ll die for that stand.”

Read the rest of Rev John Dear’s important editorial.

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