Endless war, Endless refugees and the prophecy of Thomas Merton
And now we must deal with our “deadening of conscience.”
“The great danger is that under the pressure of anxiety and fear, the alternation of crisis and relaxation, the people of the world will gradually come to accept the idea of war, the idea of total submission to power and the abdication of reason, spirit and conscience. The peril of the great cold war is the progressive deadening of conscience.”
-Thomas Merton(1915-1966), Trappist monk, theologian, anti-war activist
Context is the essence of history. When was it said, why was it said, and who said it give us a window into that time. It also gives us a measuring stick for our own circumstance, our context; how we have progressed, or not progressed.
Merton’s concern over the “deadening of conscience” comes from one of his Cold War Letters written through 1961 and 1962. These were a series of letters he sent to friends and colleagues expressing concerns on the growing confrontation between the world’s two nuclear powers, the US, and the now defunct USSR. The letters were written concurrent to the Cuban Missile Crisis which saw the world’s two super powers come very close to nuclear war.
Merton, the peace activist/theologian, and Kennedy as president were devoted to stopping the emerging Cold War as they both saw it as an existential threat to mankind. Where Merton’s peace activism was born out of his religious convictions, Kennedy, also a Catholic, became a convert to peace after arriving in the White House and coming to realize the ominous and growing power of the military industrial complex(MIC).
In 1961, Dwight D. Eisenhower, delivered his now famous farewell speech as he had become alarmed at the hold the MIC had over government.
Kennedy, like Eisenhower, came to realize the MIC, along with the CIA, were more than willing to subvert government in favor of their own agendas. Eisenhower, himself, was a military man as Supreme Allied Commander in WWll. Among his former colleagues he saw powerful generals who wanted continuous war and were willing to risk nuclear confrontation with the USSR. Kennedy as his successor would have to deal with these same generals in his efforts to stop the Cold War.
On November 22,1963, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated
Merton died in 1966 at the age of 53, an untimely accidental death.
Both Merton and Kennedy were powerful visionaries of their time- a time that was pivotal in the history of mankind; but as is so often the case, heroic efforts can be snuffed out by fate and conspiracy.
Their premature deaths were though merciful as neither would get to see the horror of how prophetic their concerns for mankind became. Both felt the differences we have with others should be addressed through consensus building, understanding and negotiation. War would never be eliminated, but it could certainly be minimized.
As Merton noted:
“Peace demands the most heroic labor and the most difficult sacrifice. It demands greater heroism than war. It demands greater fidelity to the truth and a much more perfect purity of conscience.”
By today’s standards Merton and Kennedy may be considered cock-eyed idealists. But to consider them as such is merely a measure of how far we have fallen, how we have retreated into chaos and anarchy, and so willingly indulge our bestial appetites for war and endless greed.