Hauntingly beautiful words
“I have saved this one opportunity to speak briefly to you about this mindless menace of violence in America which again stains our land and every one of our lives.
It is not the concern of any one race. The victims of the violence are black and white, rich and poor, young and old, famous and unknown. No one – no matter where he lives or what he does – can be certain who will suffer from some senseless act of bloodshed. And yet it goes on and on and on.
Whenever any American’s life is taken by another American unnecessarily – whether it is done in the name of the law or in the defiance of law, by one man or a gang, in cold blood or in passion, in an attack of violence or in response to violence, the whole nation is degraded.
Yet we seemingly tolerate a rising level of violence that ignores our common humanity and our claims to civilization alike. We calmly accept newspaper reports of civilian slaughter in far off lands. We glorify killing on movie and television screens and call it entertainment. We make it easy for men of all shades of sanity to acquire weapons and ammunition they desire.
I have not come here to propose a set of specific remedies nor is there a single set. When you teach a man to hate and fear his brother, when you teach that he is a lesser man because of his color or his beliefs or the policies he pursues, when you teach that those who differ from you threaten your freedom or your job or your family, then you also learn to confront others not as fellow citizens but as enemies.
We must admit the vanity of our false distinctions among men and learn to find our own advancement in the search for the advancement of all. We must admit in ourselves that our own children’s future cannot be built on the misfortunes of others. We must recognize that this short life can neither be ennobled nor enriched by hatred or revenge.
Our lives on this planet are too short and the work to be done too great to let this spirit flourish any longer in our land. Of course we cannot vanish it with a program, nor with a resolution.
But we can perhaps remember – even if only for a time – that those who live with us seek – as we do – nothing but the chance to live out their lives in purpose and happiness, winning what satisfaction and fulfillment they can.”
These words were spoken by Robert F. Kennedy on April 5, 1968 — the day after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.
Of course, the then U.S. presidential candidate delivered these words a mere two months before he himself fell victim to another callous gun murder on June 6.
Even half a century on, it is hard to fathom that the United States still has not paid proper respect to these callous murders by handgun and by sharpshooting rifle, through imposing gun control legislation – as any civilized nation would.
RFK’s speech did not limit itself to the assassination of MLK, but instead addressed the broader issue of violence in this country. That is why his words hold so true today. It seems as if we have lived in a time warp ever since.
As Americans are once again overcoming the grief of another mass shooting that cost the lives of nine innocent people last week in Roseburg, Oregon, Kennedy’s words spoken some 47 years ago are both a reminder of the challenges to counter violence, as well as a reminder of American society’s collective failure to have done so.
Violence still stains our land. Lives are still taken both in the name of the law and in its defiance. We still make it easy for anybody to acquire guns and ammunition.
And for all the constant worries of “domestic terrorism,” we still do not admit what is so glaringly obvious to all civilized people – whether in the United States of America or elsewhere: The NRA is the chief sponsor of gun-induced domestic terrorism.
For if school children and college students get mowed down so regularly, so easily and with such savagery, what else do we want to call the domestic enablers of such gun-toting perversions?
Notwithstanding our rhetoric on “equal opportunity,” we more sharply than ever divide people by color, beliefs or policies.
Our depraved political culture defines anybody who disagrees as someone who threatens our freedom, our jobs or our family.
More than ever before, the fortunes of the 1% are built on the misfortune of others.
And so it still holds true that Americans find themselves incapable of changing this culture of violence simply by adopting strict gun control laws.
We must dig deeper into our national soul. As Robert Kennedy said, those around us want the same things as we do: Happiness, satisfaction and fulfillment.
Let us not wait another 47 years to meet the challenge that this American prophet once laid out for us.