This year, as the nation observes the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the clamor of war threatens to drown the message of peace, nonviolence and human understanding -- the message to which King dedicated his life. Yet even in happier times, there are always competing noises to distract the world from the quest for peace. On this imperfect planet, peace -- among nations and among people -- is always threatened somehow, somewhere. There are always reasons to despair that goodwill and understanding will triumph over violence, prejudice and hatred or the fear that breeds them.
King's legacy is not just one of preaching peace, but also of the determination to endure the long quest for it. In the broad sweep of history, the changes brought so far by the civil rights movement may seem swift. Yet it's important to remember that for those who struggled for those changes, there were plenty of times when the road ahead seemed impossibly long and difficult.
Americans mark this day recognizing that the country still falls far short of Dr. King's dream that every person will be judged not by color or creed but by character. Even so, that dream stands as a beacon, a goal toward which to strive. This year we need that beacon more than ever. In a time of war it reminds us that even though the allied forces arrayed against Saddam Hussein seem assured of eventual military victory, the hardest work lies beyond the cease fire. Real victory will not be achieved until the world is safe for peace.