311. Letter From President Johnson to Pope Paul VI1

Your Holiness:

I was deeply touched by your compassionate message of condolence upon the death of Senator Robert F. Kennedy.2 We draw strength from your prayers for our fellow citizens and for the Nation at this sad moment.

I am pleased that Archbishop Terrence Cooke has agreed to serve on the Presidential Commission appointed to seek out the causes of violence in our country.3

Senator Kennedy believed that Americans could, if they would, end the blight of poverty and bigotry. In this he was at one with the political leadership the United States has enjoyed for the past thirty-five years.

I must report that there has been no substantial progress toward a peaceful and just solution of the war in Vietnam during the Paris talks.4 Meanwhile, the Communists have mounted a savage, indiscriminate attack on Saigon—on the government of South Vietnam and on ordinary citizens alike.

There is much speculation that these rocket and mortar attacks are designed not only to shake the government, but to give the impression that the Communists hold the military initiative—and therefore to secure an advantage in Paris. It is a tragedy—one of many in this war—that the people of South Vietnam must suffer as they do because of the aggressive intentions of the Communists.

[Page 667]

I cannot predict when the North Vietnamese representatives will be more forthcoming in Paris; nor can I estimate how long the Communists’ offensive will continue in South Vietnam. I fear that neither will occur as soon as all mankind desires.

Nevertheless, the United States and those with whom we are allied will continue to seek an honorable peace at the negotiating table, as we shall remain firm in resisting terror and aggression in South Vietnam. I devoutly hope that my next letter to you will bring more hopeful tidings. Unless it is myself, I know of no one on earth who so longs for news of progress toward peace in Vietnam as Your Holiness.

I should tell you that I have greatly enjoyed my chats with the Apostolic Delegate in Washington.


Lyndon B. Johnson
  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Special Head of State Correspondence, Vatican, Vol. 2. No classification marking.
  2. Senator Kennedy died June 6 from gunshot wounds. A copy of the June 6 Papal message is ibid.
  3. Established June 10. For text of the President’s statement announcing the Commission’s creation, see Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Lyndon B. Johnson, 1968-69, Book I, pp. 697-699.
  4. The Paris peace talks began on May 13.