Having read Hannah Arendt's book about the trial in Jerusalem in
1961 of Adolph Eichmann, the chief bureaucrat of the Holocaust, Merton was
inspired to write an essay: "A Devout Meditation in Memory of Adolf
* * *
One of the most disturbing facts to come out in the Eichmann trial
was that a psychiatrist examined him and pronounced him perfectly sane....
[Eichmann's job] happened to be the supervision of mass murder. He was
thoughtful, orderly, unimaginative. He had a profound respect for system,
for law and order. He was obedient, loyal, a faithful officer of a great
state.... Apparently he slept well. He had a good appetite....
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.
What makes us so sure, after all, that the danger comes from a psychotic
getting into a position to fire the first shot in a nuclear war? Psychotics
will be suspect. The sane ones will keep them far from the button. No one
suspects the sane, and the sane ones will have perfectly good reasons,
logical, well-adjusted reasons, for firing the shot. 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. When the missiles take off,
then, it will be no mistake. We can no longer assume that because a man is
"sane" he is therefore in his "right mind."
The whole concept of sanity in a society where spiritual values have
lost their meaning is itself meaningless. A man can be "sane" in the limited
sense that he is not impeded by disordered emotions from acting in a cool,
orderly tier, according to the needs and dictates of the social situation in
which he finds himself. He can be perfectly "adjusted." God knows, perhaps
such people can be perfectly adjusted even in hell itself.
And so I ask myself: what is the meaning of a concept of sanity that
excludes love, considers it irrelevant, and destroys our capacity to love
other human beings, to respond to their needs and their sufferings, to
recognize them also as persons, to apprehend their pain as one's own?
-- Thomas Merton
Raids on the Unspeakable (New York: New Directions, 1966), 45-49