Remembering the words of Thich Nhat Hanh on Martin Luther King’s day

While many tomorrow will, understandably, recall Rev. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, I often think of another of his great speeches, one that was, in some ways, more radical and disconcerting because he linked his struggle for racial justice to US foreign policy.

It was delivered in New York in 1967 and can be heard here.

There is also a personal aspect of that speech for me because my young son’s great uncle, Thich Nhat Hanh, was quoted by King in the speech:

“This is the message of the great Buddhist leaders of Vietnam. Recently one of them wrote these words, and I quote: ‘Each day the war goes on the hatred increases in the hearts of the Vietnamese and in the hearts of those of humanitarian instinct. The Americans are forcing even their friends into becoming their enemies. It is curious that the Americans, who calculate so carefully on the possibilities of military victory, do not realize that in the process they are incurring deep psychological and political defeat. The image of America will never again be the image of revolution, freedom, and democracy, but the image of violence and militarism.'”

Thich Nhat Hanh had met with King when he came to the United States from Vietnam and apparently had a significant impact on King’s thinking. In fact, King nominated him for the Nobel Peace Prize. This year, Thich Nhat Hanh is quite ill so there is a poignancy to this important historical connection. It is also the case that now is once again a time when America must find a way to stand for “revolution, freedom and democracy” as the events in Paris and the middle east remind us.