The Hiroshima Psychosis

68 years ago today, the A-bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. Here are some rare photos of the mushroom cloud:

The physical after-effects of radiation were certainly devastating, but the bomb also took its psychological toll, as Robert Jay Lifton’s excellent book “Death in Life” (1967) shows. Based on interviews with more than a hundred survivors, Lifton claims the bomb left survivors psychologically damaged in very unique ways. Beyond the trauma created by death and destruction, it led to what Lifton calls “A-Bomb Neurosis”. Since the after-effects of radiation could kick in years later and take various forms, survivors lived in constant fear and became preoccupied with bodily concerns. Another issue was the widespread sense of being tainted by radiation, leading many survivors to effectively remove themselves from society.

Lifton’s main point is this: The destructive power of the A-bomb can’t just be measured in physical terms. “Death in Life” was one of the first and arguably the most important work of psychological history. It reminds us that nuclear arsenals not only have the power to destroy the world several times over, but also to turn everyone of us into a paranoid maniac.


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