Dr. Ran Zwingenberg (associate professor of Asian Studies, History, and Jewish Studies) will give a talk through the Humanities Institute on his new book, Nuclear Minds: Cold War Psychological Science and the Bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki (The University of Chicago Press, 2023).
Wednesday February 28
4:00 – 5:30 p.m.
102 Ihlseng Cottage
In 1945, researchers on a mission to Hiroshima with the United States Strategic Bombing Survey canvassed survivors of the nuclear attack. This marked the beginning of global efforts—by psychiatrists, psychologists, and other social scientists—to tackle the complex ways human minds were affected by the advent of the nuclear age. Nuclear Minds traces these efforts and the ways they were interpreted differently across communities of researchers and victims. The book explores how the bomb’s psychological impact on survivors was understood before the invention/discovery of the concept of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Zwigenberg argues, psychological and psychiatric research on Hiroshima and Nagasaki rarely referred to trauma or similar categories. Instead, institutional and political constraints—most notably the psychological sciences’ entanglement with Cold War science—led researchers to concentrate on short-term damage and somatic reactions or even led, in some cases, the denial of victims’ suffering. As a result, very few doctors tried to ameliorate suffering. This does not mean the professions “failed” to diagnose PTSD (a non-existent category at the time), rather both doctors and, even more importantly, survivors, understood and experienced psychological suffering and their role in society differently. This is made clear by comparing and connecting the nuclear case with that of Holocaust, military veterans and other victims. Thus, the book sets out, first, to understand the historical, cultural, and scientific constraints in which researchers and victims were acting and, second, to explore the way suffering was understood in different cultural contexts before PTSD was a category of analysis.