Cold War Letters
By Thomas Merton
Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2006
Review by Carl McColman
Thomas Merton was one of the great prophetic voices of the turbulent 1960s, but some of his most trenchant writing was not allowed to be published during his lifetime. His “cold war letters” consisted of correspondence with a variety of well- and lesser-known artists and activists (including Erich Fromm, Clare Booth Luce, Henry Miller, and Dorothy Day) with whom Merton shared his thoughts about how people of faith and vision might be able to stand against the forces of chaos and destruction that defined that turbulent age. Written between 1961 and 1962, these letters were eventually collected and — after he was denied permission to publish them — circulated by Merton in mimeograph form. Here we find Merton the prophet, speaking on behalf of peace and against the horror of possible nuclear devastation. Almost fifty years later, it seems that his words remain even more urgently relevant than ever. If your perception of Merton is just as some monk withdrawn from the world and lost in navel-gazing, this book will correct your perception of the man who is arguably the greatest mystic of recent history.