From March 2, 1965 until November 1, 1968 the United States were engaged in a sustained bombing campaign against North Vietnam under the code name "Rolling Thunder". On October 31, 1968, just days before the 1968 election, U.S. President Lyndon Baines Johnson announced an end to the bombardment.
During this period, at least...
- 300,000 attack sorties were flown by U.S.;
- 900 U.S. planes were lost;
- 1200 U.S. personnel were killed, captured, or missing;
Civilian death estimates range from 52,000 - 182,000.
"I have devoted every resource of the Presidency to the search for peace in Southeast Asia." Lyndon Baines Johnson October 31, 1968
Merton, Non-Violence, and Vietnam
Merton's commitment to peace and non-violence is rooted and grounded in his contemplative Christian faith; formed in the tradition of St. Francis, Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., and Dorothy Day; and lived out in the sixties context of the Vietnam War, nuclear bomb testing, Latin American liberation struggles, and U.S. civil rights issues. He writes extensively on themes of peace and non-violence in letters to friends and correspondents; in his poetry and journals; in books, essays, and articles for publication; and in unpublished papers passed amongst others involved in peace action in the sixties. Vietnam figures prominently throughout these writings.
Jim Forest, in "Living With Wisdom: A Life of Thomas Merton" characterizes Merton as a "Pastor to Peacemakers". Forest writes... "While his vocation made an active role in the peace movement impossible, through correspondence and occasional face-to-face visits Merton played a pastoral role among peace activists that was perhaps even more important than his public role as an author, and one in which he could communicate without having to worry about getting his words past the censors." LWW p. 149
In this role Merton was able to both encourage and support peace activists as well as be a voice of "conscience" when protest action strayed from the principles of love, compassion, inner peace, and non-violence. Merton's network of friends and correspondents in relation to the peace issues of his day was extensive and included: Daniel and Phil Berrigan, Joan Baez, Wibur "Ping" Ferry, Dorothy Day, Jim Forest, Hildegard Goss-Mayr, John Heidbrink, and Thich Naht Hahn to name but a few.
Merton's call to be a witness to non-violence is beautifully shared in the preface to a Japanese edition of "The Seven Story Mountain". Merton writes... “It is my intention to make my entire life a rejection of, a protest against the crimes and the injustices of war and political tyranny which threaten to destroy the whole [human] race... and the world with [it]. By my monastic life and vows I am saying NO to all the concentration camps, the aerial bombardments, the staged political trials, the judicial murders, the racial injustices, the economic tyrannies and the whole socio-economic apparatus which seems geared for nothing but global destruction in spite of all it's fair words in favour of peace”. Thomas Merton 1966
In peace... Rob
"That's all nonviolence is - organized love.” Joan Baez