Thomas Merton, a Trappist monk who died this day in 1968, was also a prolific writer. He left behind a rich array of writings that grew out of a deeply contemplative existence that was very much rooted in the world; Merton was no hermit.
In the early 1960's Merton began writing about the imminent threat posed by the uncontrolled buildup of nuclear weapons and the preparation for their use. His protests made him a controversial figure (both inside and outside of the church), and his monastic superiors did all they could to stop him from writing about peace. But he found a way around them.
I thought it appropriate to share one of Merton's writings that I return to often as I try to understand how some people can go to work every day preparing for the destruction of humanity. In his book, Raids on the Unspeakable, Merton wrote an essay titled, A Devout Meditation in Memory of Adolph Eichmann.
He opened by saying that one of the things he found most disturbing about the Eichmann trial was that a psychiatrist examined him and found him "perfectly" sane. Had Eichmann (and the rest of the Nazis) been psychotic, it would have been easier for Merton to understand the horrific acts they conducted on a daily basis. But no; they were all quite sane, and that is the scary part.
Here are some excerpts from Merton's Meditation.
The sanity of Eichmann is disturbing. We equate sanity with a sense of justice, with humaneness, with prudence, with the capacity to love and understand other people. We rely on the sane people of the world to preserve it from barbarism, madness, destruction. And now it begins to dawn on us that it is precisely the sane ones who are the most dangerous.
It is the sane ones, the well-adapted ones, who can without qualms and without nausea aim the missile, and press the buttons that will initiate the great festival of destruction that they, the sane ones, have prepared... They will he obeying sane orders that have come sanely down the chain of command. And because of their sanity they will have no qualms at all.
The ones who coolly estimate how many millions of victims can he considered expendable in a nuclear war, I presume they do all right with the Rorschach ink blots too. On the other hand, you will probably find that the pacifists and the ban-the-bomb people are, quite seriously, just as we read in Time, a little crazy.
I imagine quite a lot of people DO think that we ban-the-bomb types are crazy. If those who Merton describes ARE sane (in the eyes of our society), then who needs it. I'll take insanity anytime. I hope these excerpts will make the rest of you crazy people want to read Merton's Meditation in its entirety.
LeonardClick here to read A Devout Meditation in Memory of Adolph Eichmann.