"Merton likened the ‘unspeakable’ to the ‘void’ – the unexpressed mendacity that undergirds the true objectives of our wars and dreams of international dominance."

Author Donovan extols the many virtues of a most unusual American, Thomas Merton (1915-1968), while examining more closely the strange circumstances of his death in Thailand. Said to have been “boisterously secular” in his youth, Merton converted to Catholicism while in college and later became a monk, joining a strict Trappist order in Kentucky. From this humble station, he became a well-known writer on spiritual themes, authoring the still popular work, The Seven Storey Mountain. His political views aligned him with such radical Catholic contemporaries as Dorothy Day and Daniel Berrigan. In 1968, at the height of the Viet Nam War, he was invited to speak to fellow Catholics at a conference in Thailand, his topic being “Marxism and Monastic Perspectives.” His death there, unwitnessed, was said to have been by electrocution from an electric fan. Mysteriously, US soldiers, acting under unknown orders, quickly shipped his body back home. According to the author, this action plus reports that a loud sound was heard outside his room at the time he might have died, along with other supporting clues, suggest a covert action by government operatives.

Donovan, who has worked as a consultant in developing countries, visited Thailand to collect data for this short book, speaking to the nurse who was the first on the scene when Merton’s body was discovered. He also interviewed folksinger Joan Baez, who saw Merton shortly before his Thailand trip and who reveals much about his unique, spiritually grounded yet very human personality. Donovan provides ample evidence that Merton’s outspoken views were unacceptable, possibly threatening, to the US government. Putting together the known and the possible, remembering that Merton was a widely respected spokesman for many anti-war factions both at home and abroad at a volatile era in our history, Donovan’s assassination theory seems plausible and deserves further examination.

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