By Catherine Galda
Throughout history, there have been many famous speeches that many people can still recite or know phrases from to this day. Many known the opening to the Gettysburg Address, President FDR’s address to Congress on the day Pearl Harbor was bombed, Dr. King’s I Have A Dream Speech and his last speech ever given, President Kennedy’s Inaugural Address, his Cuban Missile Crisis Speech, and his speech on Civil Rights. However, there is one speech that I feel is very important to this day but sadly not many people know about this speech. This speech was said on April 5, 1968 in Cleveland, Ohio by Senator Robert F. Kennedy.
The 1960’s was a great time as well as a tumultuous time. The country had many great moments as well as many dark moments that still leave a mark on us when we think of them today. One such event happened on April 4, 1968 with the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr in Memphis, Tennessee. When news spread of his assassination, rioters took to the street and burned over a hundred cities in anger. One city that did not burn was Indianapolis, where Senator Robert F. Kennedy addressed the crowd, telling them of the assassination and how he sympathized because of the assassination of his brother five years earlier. Although the speech RFK gave in Indianapolis has been considered a great speech, the one he gave the next day is the one that rings true to this day.
The next day, RFK gave a speech in Cleveland titled “The Mindless Menace of Violence.” The speech discusses the truth of that time and the truth of today; the mindless menace of violence in America. This is the speech:
[This is a time of shame] and a time of sorrow. It is not a day for politics. I have saved this one opportunity -- my only event of today -- to speak briefly to you about the mindless menace of violence in America which again stains our land and every one of our lives.
It's 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. They are, most important of all, human beings whom other human beings loved and needed. No one -- no matter where he lives or what he does -- can be certain whom next will suffer from some senseless act of bloodshed And yet it goes on and on and on in this country of ours.
Why? What has violence ever accomplished? What has it ever created? No martyr's cause has ever been stilled by an assassin's bullet. No wrongs have ever been righted by riots and civil disorders. A sniper is only a coward, not a hero; and an uncontrolled or uncontrollable mob is only the voice of madness, not the voice of the people.
Whenever any American's life is taken by another American unnecessarily -- whether it is done in the name of the law or in defiance of the law, by one man or by a gang, in cold blood or in passion, in an attack of violence or in response to violence -- whenever we tear at the fabric of our lives which another man has painfully and clumsily woven for himself and his children -- whenever we do this, then whole nation is degraded. "Among free men," said Abraham Lincoln, "there can be no successful appeal from the ballot to the bullet; and those who take such appeal are sure to lose their case and pay the cost."
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 we call it entertainment. We make it easier for men of all shades of sanity to acquire weapons and ammunition that they desire.
Too often we honor swagger and bluster and the wielders of force. Too often we excuse those who are willing to build their own lives on the shattered dreams of other human beings. Some Americans who preach nonviolence abroad fail to practice it here at home. Some who accuse others of rioting, and inciting riots, have by their own conduct invited them. Some look for scapegoats; others look for conspiracies. But this much is clear: violence breeds violence; repression breeds retaliation; and only a cleaning of our whole society can remove this sickness from our souls.
For there is another kind of violence, slower but just as deadly, destructive as the shot or the bomb in the night. This is the violence of institutions -- indifference, inaction, and decay. This is the violence that afflicts the poor, that poisons relations between men because their skin has different colors. This is a slow destruction of a child by hunger, and schools without books, and homes without heat in the winter. This is the breaking of a man's spirit by denying him the chance to stand as a father and as a man amongst other men.
And this too afflicts us all. For when you teach a man to hate and to fear his brother, when you teach that he is a lesser man because of his color or his beliefs or the policies that he pursues, when you teach that those who differ from you threaten your freedom or your job or your home or your family, then you also learn to confront others not as fellow citizens but as enemies -- to be met not with cooperation but with conquest, to be subjugated and to be mastered.
We learn, at the last, to look at our brothers as alien, alien men with whom we share a city, but not a community, men bound to us in common dwelling, but not in a common effort. We learn to share only a common fear -- only a common desire to retreat from each other -- only a common impulse to meet disagreement with force.
For all this there are no final answers for those of us who are American citizens. Yet we know what we must do, and that is to achieve true justice among all of our fellow citizens. The question is not what programs we should seek to enact. The question is whether we can find in our own midst and in our own hearts that leadership of humane purpose that will recognize the terrible truths of our existence.
We must admit the vanity of our false distinctions, the false distinctions among men, and learn to find our own advancement in search for the advancement of all. We must admit to ourselves that our own children's future cannot be built on the misfortune of another's. We must recognize that this short life can neither be ennobled or enriched by hatred or by revenge.
Our lives on this planet are too short, the work to be done is too great to let this spirit flourish any longer in this land of ours. Of course we cannot vanish it with a program, nor with a resolution.
But we can perhaps remember -- if only for a time -- that those who live with us are our brothers, that they share with us the same short movement of life, that they seek -- as do we -- nothing but the chance to live out their lives in purpose and in happiness, winning what satisfaction and fulfillment that they can.
Surely this bond of common fate, surely this bond of common goals can begin to teach us something. Surely we can learn, at least, to look around at those of us, of our fellow man, and surely we can begin to work a little harder to bind up the wounds among us and to become in our hearts brothers and countrymen once again.
This speech was written almost fifty years ago, but still holds true to the standards of today. Sadly, RFK became the next prominent victim of the mindless menace of violence when he was gunned down on June 5, 1968 and died the next day from his injuries. Although this speech is not as well-known as its predecessor (the speech given the night Dr. King was assassinated), it is the speech that holds the most meaning and the one that still means the most to modern America and one we may hopefully be able to learn from.