Thursday, June 5, 2008

The RFK Connection

June 5, 1968 Ember Wednesday, Pentecost

8:45 a.m. A few minutes ago Fr. Hilarion and John Willett came up in the truck with a 5 gallon of water and told me Robert Kennedy had been shot in Los Angeles, after winning the California primary. A young 25-year old man shot him almost at point blank range “to save my country” – a right-wing fanatic? Kennedy was still alive and being operated on. I hope he survives! Above all for the sake of his family.

8:15 p.m. I said Mass for Robert Kennedy when I went down today. News kept coming through: bullet removed from his brain, he is alive but will remain in critical condition for 36 hours. About the assassin – all kinds of rumors.
- “The police won’t reveal anything about him.”
- According to Br. Wilfrid, the man “couldn’t speak a word of English and nobody could understand him – probably a Communist.”
- According to someone else he had worked all evening side by side with Kennedy in the campaign Headquarters – probably a “Democrat”!
- Tonight it is said he came originally from Jordan. Though he is an American citizen his statement that he shot K. “because I love my country” is to be interpreted as pro-Arab and anti-Israel. It remains to be seen if this if really the story. It sounds a bit fishy to me, so far.

June 6, 1968

More sorrow. I went down to the monastery with my laundry – saw the flag at half-mast and asked someone if R. Kennedy was dead. Of course, he was! The news was very depressing: there seemed to have been so much hope he would survive. I sent a telegram to Ethel. [Merton had been corresponding with Ethel Kennedy, RFK’s wife, since 1961] I wonder where Dan [Berrigan] is.

A murder is bad enough in itself – but a political assassination of one whose brother has already been the victim of one, and when R.K. was in a good position to get the Presidential Nomination and even the presidency, it is shattering. He was liberal enough – though not by any means an ideal candidate: but he had possibilities and the country as a whole liked him: would have accepted him.

The most disturbing thing about it is something hard to formulate: but it seems to be another step toward degradation and totalism on part of the whole country. It will be used as an excuse for tightening up police control – “law and order” – and then in fact not to stop murderers but to silence protest, and jail non-conformists. And to prevent the kind of change Kennedy might have wanted to effect politically. The situation to me seems very grave.

I don’t expect McCarthy to be nominated. Johnson’s machine is too powerful. If it is a choice between Humphrey and Nixon, Tweedledee and Tweedledum – in fact, two nonentities – I can’t vote at all. Still less for a goof like Reagan. And how vote for Rockefeller? He may be fairly capable but, like all the others, he will push the Vietnam War to its limit.

If McCarthy is not nominated I don’t see my way to voting for anybody.

I wonder what effect this will have on the country – the people, or does it matter?They will be perhaps more docile about accepting another step toward a police state.

Meanwhile, of course, there will be more murders. They will become more and more part of political life. The definitive way of making one’s point – i.e. for right wingers and fanatics of any kind.

- The Other Side of the Mountain. pp. 126-127.


  1. Thanks for posting. I was ten years old and in school when it happened. I remember watching him lying on the floor in the crowd on the black and white t.v. in our classroom. It was a shock but not a surprise to me, as I remember...Really interesting reading Merton's reactions...

  2. Seems like Merton was ahead of his times in many ways.

  3. I remember it too, Marc. I was 17 years old, had just graduated from high school. I think that because it came so soon after MLK, it was shocking but not surprising to a lot of people.

    Thanks for commenting, dhamma81. Yes, Merton was very much ahead of his time. I think it had to do with his ability to *be present* to what is now.

  4. Artsy guy here, focusing on the, well, art. That is a beautifully rendered portrait.

  5. It looks a lot like your stuff, onionboy. That's why I liked it!

  6. Thanks for the compliment beth, something for me to aspire toward.



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