Not Guilty By Reason of Insanity (or Coming to Our “Right Mind”)

Dear Friends,

At the recent Festival of Hope Steve Kelly gave a wonderful travelogue in which he lightheartedly addressed the audience as members of the jury, and proceeded to describe the events that unfolded in the early morning hours of November 2, 2009 as the Disarm Now Plowshares five made their journey into the heart of darkness.  As Steve held up Exhibit A, a hand-drawn map of Naval Base Kitsap-Bangor, and pointed to the various points of interest along their journey, I was reminded of Thomas Merton’s A Devout Meditation in Memory of Adolf Eichmann.

Merton wrote of how Eichmann, who was directly responsible for the extermination of at least 3 million Jews during World War II and was later tried for his crimes against humanity, was determined to be sane by the psychiatrist who examined him.  Yes, Eichmann was, as any of his performance reviews would have shown, a model employee who, as Merton describes, went about his administrative duties most conscientiously.  Of course, those duties just happened to be “the supervision of mass murder.”  As Merton describes him,

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. He served his government very well.

That description sounds remarkably enough like any number of faithful employees of our own (U.S.) government who today continue to prepare for what would be the greatest mass murder of all time, the unleashing of nuclear weapons.  Does that disturb you as it does me???  As Merton tells it,

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.

In Lynne Greenwald’s recent detention hearing, the government was obviously concerned that her actions have been intensifying, and becoming more unpredictable (from simple crossings of the Blue Line to the recent plowshares action).  Of course, while they were not inferring anything remotely resembling insanity (or any other mental disorder for that matter), the government was obviously concerned about her judgement in these matters.  And so I invoke Merton one last time to testify on behalf of the defense:

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 be 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, ladies and gentlemen of the jury; I ask you to ponder the question of sanity in a society where “those who have invented and developed atomic bombs, thermonuclear bombs, missiles; who have planned the strategy of the next war; who have evaluated the various possibilities of using bacterial and chemical agents…the ones who coolly estimate how many millions of victims can he considered expendable in a nuclear war” are the sane ones.  If you find anything wrong with the morality of such a society, then I ask that your judgement be in favor of the crazy people, those who have found their “right mind”, and find these five members of Disarm Now Plowshares not guilty by reason of insanity.

I rest my case.



Leonard Eiger, Nuclear Abolitionist Blog

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