Kingian Nonviolence Book Club – The Trumpet of Conscience

Trumpets of ConscienceThis week in the Kingian Nonviolence Book Club, we discussed The Trumpet of Conscience. It was a fascinated discussion and it became very clear how prescient Dr. King was in recognizing social problems and ills that were emerging and on the horizon during his times. On the one hand, this book was inspiring in that he does provide creative ideas and motivation for addressing these problems. On the other hand, it was clear that not enough people have read Dr. King’s words or taken his ideas to heart since many of the problems he identified over 50 years ago have only gotten worse. Continue reading to see the questions we discussed and excerpts from the book that speak to those questions.

CHAPTER 2: CONSCIENCE AND THE VIETNAM WAR

What were the main reasons Dr. King was opposed to the war in Vietnam?

“I knew that America would never invest the necessary funds or energies in rehabilitation of its poor so long as adventures like Vietnam continued to draw men and skills and money like some demoniacal destructive suction tube.”

“the war was doing far more than devastating the hopes of the poor at home. It was sending their sons and their brothers and their husbands to fight and to die and in extraordinarily higher proportions relative to the rest of the population. We were taking the black young men who had been crippled by our society and sending them eight thousand miles away to guarantee liberties in Southeast Asia which they had not found in southwest Georgia and East Harlem. And so we have been repeatedly faced with the cruel irony of watching Negro and white boys on TV screens as they kill and die together for a nation that has been unable to seat them together in the same schools. We watch them in brutal solidarity burning the huts of a poor village, but we realize that they would never live on the same block in Detroit. I could not be silent in the face of such cruel manipulation of the poor.”

“the war was doing far more than devastating the hopes of the poor at home. It was sending their sons and their brothers and their husbands to fight and to die and in extraordinarily higher proportions relative to the rest of the population. We were taking the black young men who had been crippled by our society and sending them eight thousand miles away to guarantee liberties in Southeast Asia which they had not found in southwest Georgia and East Harlem. And so we have been repeatedly faced with the cruel irony of watching Negro and white boys on TV screens as they kill and die together for a nation that has been unable to seat them together in the same schools. We watch them in brutal solidarity burning the huts of a poor village, but we realize that they would never live on the same block in Detroit. I could not be silent in the face of such cruel manipulation of the poor.”

“I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today: my own government. For the sake of those boys, for the sake of this government, for the sake of the hundreds of thousands trembling under our violence, I cannot be silent.”

“We have destroyed their two most cherished institutions: the family and the village. We have destroyed their land and their crops. We have cooperated in crushing one of the nation’s only non-Communist revolutionary political forces, the United Buddhist Church. We have supported the enemies of the peasants of Saigon. We have corrupted their women and children and killed their men. What liberators!”

Excerpts From: Martin Luther King, Jr. “The Trumpet of Conscience.” Beacon Press, 1967. iBooks.
This material may be protected by copyright.

How did Dr. King respond to the criticism about his position on the Vietnam War?

“We are adding cynicism to the process of death, for they must know after a short period there that none of the things we claim to be fighting for are really involved, and the more sophisticated surely realize that we are on the side of the wealthy and the secure while we create a hell for the poor.”

Excerpt From: Martin Luther King, Jr. “The Trumpet of Conscience.” Beacon Press, 1967. iBooks.

What does the true meaning and value of compassion and nonviolence enable us to do?

“Here is the true meaning and value of compassion and nonviolence, when they help us to see the enemy’s point of view, to hear his questions, to know his assessment of ourselves. For from his view we may indeed see the basic weaknesses of our own condition, and if we are mature, we may learn and grow and profit from the wisdom of the brothers who are called the opposition.”

Excerpt From: Martin Luther King, Jr. “The Trumpet of Conscience.” Beacon Press, 1967. iBooks.

What was Dr. King’s concept of a defense against communism?

“I am convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies. A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast between poverty and wealth. With righteous indignation, it will look across the seas and see individual capitalists of the West investing huge sums of money in Asia, Africa, and South America only to take the profits out with no concern for the social betterment of the countries and say: “This is not just.” It will look at our alliance with the landed gentry of Latin America and say: “This is not just.” The Western arrogance of feeling that it has everything to teach others and nothing to learn from them is not just. A true revolution”

Excerpt From: Martin Luther King, Jr. “The Trumpet of Conscience.” Beacon Press, 1967. iBooks.
This material may be protected by copyright.

CHAPTER 3: YOUTH AND SOCIAL ACTION

How did Dr. King describe the effects of four wars in 25 years plus the nuclear bomb on the youth of the 1960s?

“This generation is engaged in a cold war, not only with the earlier generation, but with the values of its society. It is not the familiar and normal hostility of the young groping for independence. It has a new quality of bitter antagonism and confused anger which suggests basic issues are being contested.”

“This is the generation not only of war, but of war in its ultimate revelation. This is the generation that truly has no place to hide and no place to find security.”

Excerpts From: Martin Luther King, Jr. “The Trumpet of Conscience.” Beacon Press, 1967. iBooks.

What were the three different categories of youth during that period?

“The largest group of young people is struggling to adapt itself to the prevailing values of our society. Without much enthusiasm, they accept the system of government, the economic relationships of the property system, and the social stratifications both engender. But even so, they are a profoundly troubled group, and are harsh critics of the status quo.”

“this majority group reflects the confusion of the larger society, which is itself caught up in a kind of transitional state of conscience as it moves slowly toward the realization that war cannot be justified in the human future.”

“There is a second group of young people, the radicals. They range from moderate to extreme in the degree to which they want to alter the social system. All of them agree that only by structural change can current evils be eliminated, because the roots are in the system rather than in men or in faulty operation. These are a new breed of radicals. Very few adhere to any established ideology; some borrow from old doctrines of revolution; but practically all of them suspend judgment on what the form of a new society must be. They are in serious revolt against old values and have not yet concretely formulated the new ones. They are not repeating previous revolutionary doctrines; most of them have not even read the revolutionary classics. Ironically, their rebelliousness comes from having been frustrated in seeking change within the framework of the existing society. They tried to build racial equality and met tenacious and vicious opposition. They worked to end the Vietnam war and experienced futility. So they seek a fresh start with new rules in a new order. It is fair to say, though, that at present they know what they don’t want rather than what they do want.”

“What is the attitude of this second radical group to the problem of violence? In a word, mixed; there are young radicals today who are pacifists, and there are others who are armchair revolutionaries who insist on the political and psychological need for violence. These young theorists of violence elaborately scorn the process of dialogue in favor of the “tactics of confrontation”; they glorify the guerrilla movement and especially its new martyr, Che Guevara; and they equate revolutionary consciousness with the readiness to shed blood. But across the spectrum of attitudes toward violence that can be found among the radicals is there a unifying thread? I think there is. Whether they read Gandhi or Frantz Fanon, all the radicals understand the need for action—direct self-transforming and structure-transforming action. This may be their most creative collective insight.”

“The young people in the third group are currently called “hippies.” They may be traced in a fairly direct line from yesterday’s beatniks. The hippies are not only colorful, but complex; and in many respects their extreme conduct illuminates the negative effect of society’s evils on sensitive young people. While there are variations, those who identify with this group have a common philosophy. They are struggling to disengage from society as their expression of their rejection of it. They disavow responsibility to organized society. Unlike the radicals, they are seeking not change but flight. When occasionally they merge with a peace demonstration, it is not to better the political world, but to give expression to their own world. The hard-core hippie is a remarkable contradiction. He uses drugs to turn inward, away from reality, to find peace and security. Yet he advocates love as the highest human value—love, which can exist only in communication between people, and not in the total isolation of the individual.”

“one dream of the hippie group is very significant, and that is its dream of peace. Most of the hippies are pacifists, and a few have thought their way through to a persuasive and psychologically sophisticated “peace strategy.” And society at large may be more ready now to learn from that dream than it was a century or two ago, to listen to the argument for peace, not as a dream, but as a practical possibility: something to choose and use.”

Excerpts From: Martin Luther King, Jr. “The Trumpet of Conscience.” Beacon Press, 1967. iBooks.
This material may be protected by copyright.

What was the meaning of direct self transforming and structure transforming actions of youth?

The young people who participated in the early civil rights actions first transformed themselves and then they engaged in the structure transformation. Without the first phase you are not prepared for the challenge of that second phase.

Socialization is based on fear and disconnection. If we start on our self and the opposite of fear is love then we have to start with ourselves and loving ourselves.

Associating the self transformation with the three groups of youth that King identifies. The hippies were focused in self transformation without doing much on structural transformation, while the radicals were focused on the structural transformation without doing much on the self transformation.

The spirit is awake now. The structures will follow.

What did Martin Luther King Jr. say about technology and growth?

“Mammoth productive facilities with computer minds, cities that engulf the landscape and pierce the clouds, planes that almost outrace time—these are awesome, but they cannot be spiritually inspiring. Nothing in our glittering technology can raise man to new heights, because material growth has been made an end in itself, and, in the absence of moral purpose, man himself becomes smaller as the works of man become bigger.”

“…instead of strengthening democracy at home, it has helped to eviscerate it. Gargantuan industry and government, woven into an intricate computerized mechanism, leave the person outside. The sense of participation is lost, the feeling that ordinary individuals influence important decisions vanishes, and man becomes separated and diminished.

“When an individual is no longer a true participant, when he no longer feels a sense of responsibility to his society, the content of democracy is emptied. When culture is degraded and vulgarity enthroned, when the social system does not build security but induces peril, inexorably the individual is impelled to pull away from a soulless society. This process produces alienation—perhaps the most pervasive and insidious development in contemporary society.”

Excerpts From: Martin Luther King, Jr. “The Trumpet of Conscience.” Beacon Press, 1967. iBooks.

Are there forces in the last quarter of this century that can reverse the process of alienation?

“Nonviolent active resistance to social evils, including massive civil disobedience when there is need for it, can unite in a new action-synthesis the best insights of all three groups I have pointed out among our young people. From the hippies, it can accept the vision of peaceful means to a goal of peace, and also their sense of beauty, gentleness, and of the unique gifts of each man’s spirit. From the radicals, it can adopt the burning sense of urgency, the recognition of the need for direct and collective action, and the need for strategy and organization. And because the emerging program is neither one of anarchy nor one of despair, it can welcome the work and insights of those young people who have not rejected our present society in its totality. They can challenge the more extreme groups to integrate the new vision into history as it actually is, into society as it actually works. They can help the movement not to break the bruised reed or to quench the smoking wick of values that are already recognized in the society that we want to change. And they can help keep open the possibility of honorable compromise.”

Excerpts From: Martin Luther King, Jr. “The Trumpet of Conscience.” Beacon Press, 1967. iBooks.

What did he say about middle-class values and youth?

“It is ironic that today so many educators and sociologists are seeking methods to instill middle-class values in Negro youth as the ideal in social development. It was precisely when young Negroes threw off their middle-class values that they made an historic social contribution. They abandoned those values when they put careers and wealth in a secondary role. When they cheerfully became jailbirds and troublemakers, when they took off their Brooks Brothers attire and put on overalls to work in the isolated rural South, they challenged and inspired white youth to emulate them. Many left school, not to abandon learning, but to seek it in more direct ways. They were constructive school dropouts, a variety that strengthened the society and themselves. These Negro and white youth preceded the conception of the Peace Corps, and it is safe to say that their work was the inspiration for its organization on an international scale.”

“a significant body of young people learned that in opposing the tyrannical forces that were crushing them they added stature and meaning to their lives. The Negro and white youth who in alliance fought bruising engagements with the status quo inspired each other with a sense of moral mission, and both gave the nation an example of self-sacrifice and dedication.”

Excerpts From: Martin Luther King, Jr. “The Trumpet of Conscience.” Beacon Press, 1967. iBooks.

What is the mandate Dr. King gave the next generation of youth?

“The revolutionary spirit is already world-wide. If the anger of the peoples of the world at the injustice of things is to be channeled into a revolution of love and creativity, we must begin now to work, urgently, with all the peoples, to shape a new world.”

Excerpt From: Martin Luther King, Jr. “The Trumpet of Conscience.” Beacon Press, 1967. iBooks.

CHAPTER 4: NONVIOLENCE AND SOCIAL CHANGE

How did Dr. King respond to the question of “will nonviolence work?”

“If one can find a core of nonviolence toward persons, even during the riots when emotions were exploding, it means that nonviolence should not be written off for the future as a force in Negro life.”

“I am convinced that even very violent temperaments can be channeled through nonviolent discipline, if the movement is moving, if they can act constructively and express through an effective channel their very legitimate anger.”

Excerpts From: Martin Luther King, Jr. “The Trumpet of Conscience.” Beacon Press, 1967. iBooks.

What did Dr. King say nonviolence must become if it is to be effective against these conditions?

“I intended to show that nonviolence will be effective, but not until it has achieved the massive dimensions, the disciplined planning, and the intense commitment of a sustained, direct-action movement of civil disobedience on the national scale.”

Excerpt From: Martin Luther King, Jr. “The Trumpet of Conscience.” Beacon Press, 1967. iBooks.

What was Dr. Kings plan with respect to a non-violent army?

“Beginning in the New Year, we will be recruiting three thousand of the poorest citizens from ten different urban and rural areas to initiate and lead a sustained, massive, direct-action movement in Washington.”

“this nonviolent army, this “freedom church” of the poor, will work with us for three months to develop nonviolent action skills. Then we will move on Washington, determined to stay there until the legislative and executive branches of the government take serious and adequate action on jobs and income. A delegation of poor people can walk into a high official’s office with a carefully, collectively prepared list of demands”

Excerpts From: Martin Luther King, Jr. “The Trumpet of Conscience.” Beacon Press, 1967. iBooks.

What was his intended nonviolent strategy?

“The many people who will come and join this three thousand, from all groups in the country’s life, will play a supportive role, deciding to be poor for a time along with the dispossessed who are asking for their right to jobs or income—jobs, income, the demolition of slums, and the rebuilding by the people who live there of new communities in their place; in fact, a new economic deal for the poor.”

“Why camp in Washington to demand these things? Because only the federal Congress and administration can decide to use the billions of dollars we need for a real war on poverty.”

Excerpts From: Martin Luther King, Jr. “The Trumpet of Conscience.” Beacon Press, 1967. iBooks.

What did he mean by “nonviolence is no longer an option for intellectual analysis it is an imperative for action?”

“In a world facing the revolt of ragged and hungry masses of God’s children; in a world torn between the tensions of East and West, white and colored, individualists and collectivists; in a world whose cultural and spiritual power lags so far behind her technological capabilities that we live each day on the verge of nuclear co-annihilation; in this world, nonviolence is no longer an option for intellectual analysis, it is an imperative for action.”

Excerpt From: Martin Luther King, Jr. “The Trumpet of Conscience.” Beacon Press, 1967. iBooks.

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