The following are quotes King made from various events and time periods throughout his lifetime on the discussion of war and peace. Some of these statements have been published in books or taken from recorded speeches and sermons.
I want to say one other challenge that we face is simply that we must find an alternative to war and bloodshed. Anyone who feels, and there are still a lot of people who feel that way, that war can solve the social problems facing mankind is sleeping through a great revolution. President Kennedy said on one occasion, "Mankind must put an end to war or war will put an end to mankind." The world must hear this. I pray to God that America will hear this before it is too late, because today we’re fighting a war.
I am convinced that it is one of the most unjust wars that has ever been fought in the history of the world. Our involvement in the war in Vietnam has torn up the Geneva Accord. It has strengthened the military-industrial complex; it has strengthened the forces of reaction in our nation. It has put us against the self-determination of a vast majority of the Vietnamese people, and put us in the position of protecting a corrupt regime that is stacked against the poor.
It has played havoc with our domestic destinies. This day we are spending five hundred thousand dollars to kill every Vietcong soldier. Every time we kill one we spend about five hundred thousand dollars while we spend only fifty-three dollars a year for every person characterized as poverty-stricken in the so-called poverty program, which is not even a good skirmish against poverty.
Not only that, it has put us in a position of appearing to the world as an arrogant nation. And here we are ten thousand miles away from home fighting for the so-called freedom of the Vietnamese people when we have not even put our own house in order. And we force young black men and young white men to fight and kill in brutal solidarity. Yet when they come back home that can’t hardly live on the same block together.
The judgment of God is upon us today. And we could go right down the line and see that something must be done—and something must be done quickly. We have alienated ourselves from other nations so we end up morally and politically isolated in the world. There is not a single major ally of the United States of America that would dare send a troop to Vietnam, and so the only friends that we have now are a few client-nations like Taiwan, Thailand, South Korea, and a few others.
This is where we are. "Mankind must put an end to war or war will put an end to mankind," and the best way to start is to put an end to war in Vietnam, because if it continues, we will inevitably come to the point of confronting China which could lead the whole world to nuclear annihilation.
It is no longer a choice, my friends, between violence and nonviolence. It is either nonviolence or nonexistence. And the alternative to disarmament, the alternative to a greater suspension of nuclear tests, the alternative to strengthening the United Nations and thereby disarming the whole world, may well be a civilization plunged into the abyss of annihilation, and our earthly habitat would be transformed into an inferno that even the mind of Dante could not imagine.
-- Martin Luther King, Jr., Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution, 31 March 1968
Through our scientific and technological genius, we have made of this world a neighborhood and yet we have not had the ethical commitment to make of it a brotherhood. But somehow, and in some way, we have got to do this. We must all learn to live together as brothers or we will all perish together as fools. We are tied together in the single garment of destiny, caught in an inescapable network of mutuality. And whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. For some strange reason I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. And you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be. This is the way God’s universe is made; this is the way it is structured.
John Donne caught it years ago and placed it in graphic terms: "No man is an island entire of itself. Every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main." And he goes on toward the end to say, "Any man’s death diminishes me because I am involved in mankind; therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee." We must see this, believe this, and live by it if we are to remain awake through a great revolution.
--Martin Luther King, Jr., Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution, 2 June 1959
Now the question that we face this evening is this: In the light of the fact that the oppressed people of the world are rising up against that oppression; in the light of the fact that the American Negro is rising up against his oppression, the question is this: How will the struggle for justice be waged? And I think that is one of the most important questions confronting our generation. As we move to make justice a reality on the international scale, as we move to make justice a reality in this nation, how will the struggle be waged? It seems to me that there are two possible answers to this question. One is to use the all to prevalent method of physical violence. And it is true that man throughout history has sought to achieve justice through violence. And we all know the danger of this method. It seems to create many more social problems than it solves. And it seems to me that in the struggle for justice that this method is ultimately futile. If the Negro succumbs to the temptation of using violence in his struggle for justice, unborn generations will be the recipients of a long and desolate life of bitterness, and his chief legacy to the future will be an endless reign of meaningless chaos. And there is still a voice crying into the vista of time saying to every potential Peter put up your sword. And history is replete with the bleached bones of nations and communities that failed to follow this command.
--Martin Luther King, Jr., Justice Without Violence, 3 April 1957
Nonviolence is absolute commitment to the way of love. Love is not emotional bash; it is not empty sentimentalism. It is the active outpouring of one's whole being into the being of another.
--Martin Luther King, Jr., 1957
The reason I can' t follow the old eye-for-an-eye philosophy is that it ends up leaving everyone blind. Somebody must have sense and somebody must have religion. I remember some years ago, my brother and I were driving from Atlanta to Chattanooga, Tennessee. And for some reason the drivers that night were very discourteous or they were forgetting to dim their lights...And finally A.D. looked over at me and he said, 'I'm tired of this now, and the next car that comes by here and refuses to dim the lights, I'm going to refuse to dim mine.' I said, 'Wait a minute, don't do that . Somebody has to have some sense on this highway.' And I'm saying the same thing for us here in Birmingham. We are moving up a mighty highway toward the city of Freedom. There will be meandering points. There will be curves and difficult moments, and we will be tempted to retaliate with the same kind of force that the opposition will use. But I'm going to say to you, 'Wait a minute, Birmingham. Somebody's got to have some sense in Birmingham.'
--Martin Luther King, Jr., 3 May 1963
We must move past indecision to action. We must find new ways to speak for peace in Vietnam and for justice throughout the developing world, a world that borders on our doors. If we do not act, we shall surely be dragged down the long, dark, and shameful corridors of time reserved for those who possess power without compassion, might without morality, and strength without sight.
--Martin Luther King, Jr., "Conscience and the Vietnam War," The Trumpet of Conscience, 1968
At Oslo I suggested that the philosophy and strategy of non-violence become immediately a subject for study and serious experimentation in every field of human conflict, including relations between nations. This was not, I believe, an unrealistic suggestion. World peace through non-violent means is neither absurd nor unattainable. All other methods have failed. Thus we must begin anew. Non-violence is a good starting point. Those of us who believe in this method can be voices of reason, sanity and understanding amid the voices of violence, hatred and emotion. We can very well set a mood of peace out of which a system of peace can be built. Racial injustice around the world. Poverty. War. When man solves these three great problems he will have squared his moral progress with his scientific progress. And more importantly, he will have learned the practical art of living in harmony.
--Martin Luther King, Jr., "Dreams of Brighter Tomorrows," Ebony Magazine, March 1965
And the leaders of the world today talk eloquently about peace. Every time we drop our bombs in North Vietnam, President Johnson talks 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 that 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, means and ends must cohere because the end is preexistent in the means, and ultimately destructive means cannot bring about constructive ends.
--Martin Luther King, Jr., "A Christmas Sermon on Peace," The Trumpet of Conscience, 24 December 1967
I refuse to accept the cynical notion that nation after nation must spiral down a militaristic stairway into the hell of nuclear annihilation... I believe that even amid today's mortar bursts and whining bullets, there is still hope for a brighter tomorrow... I still believe that one day mankind will bow before the altars of God and be crowned triumphant over war and bloodshed.
--Martin Luther King, Jr., Address in Acceptance of Nobel Peace Prize, 10 December 1964
More recently I have come to see the need for the method of nonviolence in international relations. Although I was not yet convinced of its efficacy in conflicts between nations, I felt that while war could never be a positive good, it could serve as a negative good by preventing the spread and growth of an evil force. War, horrible as it is, might be preferable to surrender to a totalitarian system. But now I believe that the potential destructiveness of modern weapons totally rules out the possibility of war ever again achieving a negative good. If we assume that mankind has a right to survive then we must find an alternative to war and destruction. "Don't ever let anyone pull you so low as to hate them. We must use the weapon of love. We must have the compassion and understanding for those who hate us. We must realize so many people are taught to hate us that they are not totally responsible for their hate. But we stand in life at midnight; we are always on the threshold of a new dawn."
--Martin Luther King, Jr., "Pilgrimage to Nonviolence," Strength to Love, 13 April 1960
World peace through nonviolent means is neither absurd nor unattainable. All other methods have failed. Thus we must begin anew. Nonviolence is a good starting point. Those of us who believe in this method can be voices of reason, sanity, and understanding amid the voices of violence, hatred, and emotion. We can very well set a mood of peace out of which a system of peace can be built.
--Martin Luther King, Jr., December 1964
I am convinced that love is the most durable power in the world. It is not an expression of impractical idealism, but of practical realism. Far from being the pious injunction of a Utopian dreamer, love is an absolute necessity for the survival of our civilization. To return hate for hate does nothing but intensify the existence of evil in the universe. Someone must have sense enough and religion enough to cut off the chain of hate and evil, and this can only be done through love.
--Martin Luther King, Jr., 1957
In struggling for human dignity the oppressed people of the world must not allow themselves to become bitter or indulge in hate campaigns. To retaliate with hate and bitterness would do nothing but intensify the hate in the world. Along the way of life, someone must have sense enough and morality enough to cut off the chain of hate. This can be done only by projecting the ethics of love to the center of our lives.
--Martin Luther King, Jr., undated
There are two types of laws: there are just laws and there are unjust laws... What is the difference between the two?...An unjust law is a man-made code that is out of harmony with the moral law.
--Martin Luther King, Jr., 1963
The ultimate test of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and moments of convenience, but where he stands in moments of challenge and moments of controversy.
--Martin Luther King, Jr., 27 January 1965
Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence, and toughness multiplies toughness in a descending spiral of destruction.
--Martin Luther King, Jr., "Loving Your Enemies," Strength to Love