Home > Audio or Video, Conflict & Security, History, Philosophy, Politics > Atrocity and survival: Robert Jay Lifton on history and psychology in war and trauma

Atrocity and survival: Robert Jay Lifton on history and psychology in war and trauma

Robert Jay Lifton, a psychiatrist and thinker has given a lecture on war and political violence going over the danger of apocalyptic movements and visions as destructive forces that seek to heal the world by destroying most of it. He is one of the first to have studied the psychological impact of the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima. An excerpt of his talk below:

Lifton points out that the wielding of nuclear weapons by superpowers generates a psychological and political climate that promotes proliferation of nuclear weapons. He has also pointed out that the existence of nuclear weapons, as weapons that can for the first time in human history end our very existence as a species, has had a deep impact on our symbols of human continuity and immortality. Where we might invest a sort of symbolic immortality of ourselves into our children, cultural and creative works, or social-political accomplishments. These powerful symbols of our continued presence reaching beyond our mortal lives have for the first time come under serious threat.

Lifton claims that the existence of nuclear weapons combined with increasingly rapid historical and technological changes in more recent human generations, and the increasing bombardment of images from contemporary media, help to erode central visions of a long-lasting truth as well as undermine our claims to symbolic immortality, since, after all, it is now conceivable that the human species might be wiped out in a nuclear war.

Lifton also discusses psychological concepts that might permit survivors of atrocities to deal with the gross excess of trauma they were faced with, and briefly explores the mind of perpetrators of mass violence. This discussion is available in an hour long interview, below:

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