The Dream Is Still Being Dreamed

On this day in 1963, words were spoken which may be rightly said to have changed a nation. True, thousands and thousands of people had been striving and sacrificing for the change long before the speech, and that work is continuing today. But on 28 August 1963, the whole world watched as a great man made a great speech about a simple idea: All people are created equal and should be equal.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a human being, so it is not surprising that in recent years some of his foibles have been brought to light. If he was flawed, however, these were minor flaws, for he remained focussed on his goal, and he remained true to his principles. When he was met with violence, he offered peaceful response. Dr. King never hesitated to speak out, but he continually forebore to strike out. And though he could march 25,000 people from Selma to Montgomery to present their demands to Governor Wallace, he did not use that great crowd to extort or coerce. At a time of uncertainty and unrest, Dr. King strove to effect maximal change with minimal upheaval.

Dr. King was also one of America’s greatest orators, possessed of an entrancing speaking voice, a dramatic delivery style, and a great gift of rhetorical brilliance. Few people can hear a recording of a speech by King and remain unmoved. His, “I Have a Dream” speech surely ranks among the very foremost of American speeches, and it represents a landmark in the Civil Rights movement of the 20th century. In one of the most often quoted passages in any American speech, Dr. King proclaimed:

“I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal. I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slaveowners will be able to sit down together at a table of brotherhood. I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a desert state, sweltering with the heat of injustice and oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice. I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream today!”

It is clear that Dr. King’s work is not yet completed, even today. But it is also clear that his dream did not die with him. He was just 38 years old when he was killed; shortly before his death he was heard to wonder if he had accomplished anything at all in the previous dozen years: there was still so very much yet to be done. The work which Dr. King undertook remains to this day unfinished, but he did not strive in vain. The world we live in today is one far removed from that of 1955 or even 1968. It is today unthinkable that dogs and fire hoses would be used against peaceful demonstrators. It is unimaginable that a state government would seriously assert its right to disenfranchise and to discriminate against a large portion of its citizens. It seems medieval that a state would deny anyone employment, or legal rights, or even so basic a human institution as marriage, based upon race. Yet in one form or another, issues of these types still face us, more usually as a matter of kind rather than degree.

The work is not yet done. But it has been well begun.

Dr. King earned a goodly share of the credit for getting this work underway. It seems fitting, that we pause for a moment on this anniversary to remember a great leader. And to recall his great work, a work in progress.

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Jamie Rawson
Flower Mound, Texas

Oh, the worst of tragedies is not to die young, but to live until I am seventy-five and yet not ever truly to have lived.

– Martin Luther King Jr.

Seventy Years Ago Today, And After

It is likely worthwhile to reflect that seventy years ago today, at 0816 hours Japanese War Time, the first nuclear weapon used in battle exploded over the city of Hiroshima. The blast destroyed about 80% of the structures in the city, and in the wake of the blast perhaps 150,000 people died, some long years later as a result of radiation exposure.

Whether or not The Bomb should have been dropped is a matter that is much debated; some say it was not needed, others say it was the only hope for allied victory. In the end the debate can always rage, and both extremes of the argument have their points. It is certainly clear from the American experience in the final stages of the Pacific war that the Japanese Homeland would have been fiercely defended, and many tens of thousands (likely hundreds of thousands) of Japanese soldiers would have died in the defense. Many tens of thousands of Americans and allies would have died as well. In any case, invasion was a bloody, dreadful prospect.

I cannot say that The Bomb was the only way, but I can understand the grim realities that led to the decision to use it. Whether the decision was right or wrong, The Bomb was dropped, and the result was ghastly in the extreme. True, war is a ghastly business, and all carnage — that delivered by 1000 heavy bombers or that delivered by one — is carnage. But the spectre of a city wided out at a single blow intensifies the horror. And Hiroshima has come to symbolize the devastation of nuclear warfare.

My main motive today, though, is to write about a different anniversary, a personal one, of August 6, 1981, in Palos Verdes, in Southern California.

On that date my Mom and Dad hosted a barbecue for several neighbors and friends. I was in charge of most of the cooking so that my Mom and Dad could concentrate on socializing with their guests. I made up an immense batch of seasoned hamburger patties and staffed the grill.

The guests — there were about 12 or 15 or so — chatted and had a pleasant time. Some were local neighbors, and some guests were visiting from Japan, for the barbecue was a thank you for the friends and neighbors who had helped my Mom and Dad prepare for an upcoming trip to Japan as part of a teachers’ exchange program. These neighbors and friends were mostly employees of Japanese firms doing business in America. They were in california for a few years, and they gladly helped my Mom to practice her Japanese, to learn about Japanese culture and history, and to discover and to appreciate Japanese cuisine.

When my Mom decided to hold the thank-you barbecue — intended as a typically American cultural event — she discovered, to her anxiety, that the only date that all could coordinate was Thursday, 6 August. And she was aware that it had been 36 years to the day since Enola Gay had dropped its devastating payload on Hiroshima. But those whom she asked if it would be better to reschedule assured her that no, it would not be a problem. That was in the past, and the present was time for friendship.

So we hosted the barbecue and a good time was had by all. I received many requests for my hamburger recipe, and the next Christmas I received a small ceramic sake service from Japan, along with a thank you note assuring me that “Jamie’s hunburgers” were quite popular among the outdoor grilling crowd in Osaka!

So it is this personal anniversary that I share today. Yes, great devastation happened seventy years ago, but much healing happened in the intervening years. August 6 to me is always an occasion to recall that past conflict need not be present strife, if we have the courage and the character to permit the past to be the past. Remember the past. Honor it. Learn from it. Be guided by it. And visit the past from time to time. But do not live there. The present needs us so that we may continue to advance the cause of friendship and of peace.

— Jamie Rawson
Flower Mound, Texas

It isn’t enough to talk about peace. One must believe in it. And it isn’t enough to believe in it. One must work at it. — Eleanor Roosevelt