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On Peace and Non-Violence

Questions surrounding ends and means, principles and expediencies, strategies and tactics, have been swirling around my mind of late.

In my meditations, I remembered that on Christmas Eve I posted the audio of a sermon by Martin Luther King. I took some time over the weekend to listen to it again and transcribe some of the relevant sections. 1 From Fair Trade coffee and a global economy, to the communications strategies of conservationist groups, I find these words relevant and provocative. I’ve included here roughly the first half of his lecture.

On Peace and Non-violence, excerpt

Massey lecture for CBC – part five, Christmas Eve 1967

Peace on Earth. This Christmas season finds us a rather bewildered human race. We neither have peace within or peace without. Everywhere paralyzing fears cower people by day and haunt them by night. our world is sick with war. Everywhere we turn we see it’s ominous possibility. And yet my friends, a Christmas hope for peace and goodwill towards all men can no longer be dismissed as a kind of pious dream of some utopian hoper. If we don’t have goodwill towards men in this world, we will destroy ourselves by the misuse of our own instruments and our own power – wisdom born of experience that tell us that war is obsolete.

There may have been a time when war served as a negative good by preventing the spread and growth of an evil force. But the very destructive power of modern weapons of warfare eliminates even the possibility that war may any longer serve as a negative good – so if we assume that life is worth living, if we assume that mankind has a right to survive, then we must find an alternative to war.

So let us this morning explore the conditions for peace. And as we explore these conditions I would like to suggest that modern man really go all out to study the meaning of non-violence, it’s philosophy and it’s strategy.

We have experimented with the meaning of nonviolence in our struggle for racial justice in the United States. But now the time has come for man to experiment with nonviolence in all areas of human conflict. And that means nonviolence on an international scale.

Now let me suggest first, that if we are going to have peace on earth our loyalties must become ecumenical rather than sectional. No individual can live alone, no nation can live alone, and as long as we try the more we’re going to have war in this world. The judgement of God is upon us. And we must either learn to live together as brother or we’re going to perish together as fools. As nations and individuals we are interdependent.

I have mentioned to you before of our visit to India some years ago. it was a marvelous experience. But I say to you this morning that there were those depressing moments. But how can one avoid being depressed when he sees with his  own eyes evidences of millions of people going to bed hungry at night. How can  one avoid being depressed when he sees with his own eyes thousands of people sleeping on the sidewalks at night. more than a million sleep on the sidewalks of Bombay India every night, more than a half a million sleep on the sidewalks of Calcutta every night – they have no houses to go in, they have no beds to sleep in.

As I beheld these conditions something within me cried out, can we in America stand idly by and not be concerned? And an answer came, “oh no!” And I started thinking about the fact that right here in our country we spend millions of dollars everyday to store surplus food and I said to myself, “I know where we can store that food free of charge” – in the wrinkled stomachs of the millions of God’s children in Asia and Africa, latin America and even in our own nation, who go to bed hungry at night.

It really boils down to this. That all life is inter-related. we are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny so that whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. We are made to live together because of the inter-related structure of reality.

Did you ever stop to think that you can’t leave for your job in the morning with out being dependency on most of the world. You get up in the morning and go the bathroom and you reach for for the sponge and that’s handed to you by a Pacific islander. You reach for a bar of soap and that’s given to you at the hands of a Frenchman. Then you go in the kitchen to drink your coffee for the morning. That’s poured in your cup by a South American. Or maybe you want tea – that’s poured in your cup by a Chinese. Or maybe you’re desirous of having coco for breakfast and that’s poured in your cup by a West African. And then reach over for your toast and that’s given to you at the hands of an english speaking farmer, not to mention the bacon.

Before you finish eating breakfast in the morning you are dependent on more than half of the world. This is the way our universe is structured. It is it’s inter-related quality. We aren’t going to have peace on earth until we recognize this basic fact of the inter-related structure of all reality.

Now let me say secondly that if we are to have peace in the world, men and nation must embrace the non-violent affirmation that ends and means must cohere.

One of the great philosophical debates of history has been over the whole question of means and ends. And there have always been those who argued that the end justifies the means – that the means really aren’t important, the important thing is to get to the end you seek. So if you are seeking to develop a just society, the important thing is to get there and the means are really not important – any means that will get your there, they may be violent means, they may be untruthful means, they may be unjust means, to get to a just end. There have been those who have argued this through out history.

But we will never have peace in the world until men everywhere recognize that ends are not cut off from means because the means represent the ideal in the making and the end in process. And ultimately you cannot reach good end through evil means. Because the means represent the seed and the end represents the tree.

It’s one of the strangest things that all of the great military geniuses of the world have talked about peace. The conquerors of old came killing in pursuit of peace. Alexander, Julius Ceaser, Charlemagne and Napolean, were akin in seeking a peaceful world order. Did you know that if you read Mein Kampf close enough, Hitler contended that everything he did in Germany, was for peace. The leaders of the world today talk eloquently about peace. Every time we drop our bombs in North Vietnam, president Johnson is talking eloquently about peace. What is the problem? They are talking about peace as a distant goal, as an end we seek.

But one day we must come to see that peace is not merely a distant goal we seek but it is a means by which we arrive at that goal. We must pursue peaceful ends through peaceful means. All of this is saying that in the final analysis, ends and means must cohere because the need is pre-existent in the means. And ultimately destructive means cannot bring about constructive ends.

Now let me say that the next thing we must be concerned about if we are going to get peace on earth and goodwill towards men, must be the affirmation of the sacredness of all human life…

  1. Wow, transcription is not straightforward. It would probably be a little easier with a foot pedal controller. All of the decisions around punctuation, paragraph breaks, and emphasis, are my own.

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