Read: Gandhi and the Unspeakable

Arts & Culture

Ghandi and the Unspeakable
By James W. Douglass (Orbis, 2012)

It’s a slight book, but a profound one: In just 126 pages, author and theologian James Douglass explores the conspiracy behind the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi, revered by Indians as the father of India’s independence from 90 years of British rule.

When he was shot at age 78, Gandhi had been fasting to end the terror that raged between Muslims and Hindus following partition. Grief-stricken, nearly a million people, Hindu and Muslim alike, stood in the boiling sun waiting for Gandhi’s body to reach the Yamuna River for cremation. Behind the scenes, Hindu nationalist Vinayak Damodar Savarkar had masterminded this murder and went free; his puppet, Nathuram Godse, was executed for firing the fatal shots.

Why would this conspiracy, with its dark implications for the history of India, be of interest to a prominent American theologian? Beginning in 2008 with the publication of JFK and the Unspeakable: Why He Died and Why It Matters (Touchstone), Douglass has been tracing an “unspeakable” evil that works in darkness to subvert efforts toward nonviolence and world peace. The term is Thomas Merton’s, and he defines it as “a kind of systemic evil that defies speech.”

Douglass has long been called to a prophetic ministry. In the 1980s he and his wife Shelley co-founded the Ground Zero Center for Non-violent Action alongside the Trident submarine base on Puget Sound. Today they run a Catholic Worker house of hospitality in Birmingham, Alabama.

Those who killed Gandhi, like those who killed President Kennedy, tried to kill an idea. Yet upon that idea rests the survival of the planet and humankind.


“The Unspeakable remains in our midst,” writes Douglass. “If we have the courage to confront it with the force of truth and love, as Gandhi did, hope prevails."

This article appeared on the December 2012 issue of U.S. Catholic (Vol. 77, No. 12, pages 42-43)