The Destruction of Feeling in a Rhetorically Nuclear Age

In Indefensible Weapons: The Political and Psychological Case Against Nuclearism, Robert Jay Lifton and Richard Falk warn readers of the repercussions of abusing the rhetoric of nuclear war. Such rhetoric causes those exposed to it to be psychologically numb to nuclear war’s severity, which in turn increases the likelihood of resorting to nuclear options. The names “Little Boy” and “Fat Man” conjure images of the Pillsbury Dough Boy and the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man rather than the terror they induced when dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Today, the way in which politicians spew nuclear rhetoric both terrifies and numbs us. Threats of nuclear war increase the likelihood of it happening, and if the rhetoric is empty, we are told it’s the end of the world as we know it but we feel fine. Language then has gravity and force—has the potential to be a stick-batted stone that cracks skulls and numbs psyches—making it crucial we stay awake, lest we fall asleep with fingers resting heavy on the proverbial button.

But staying awake is difficult when the destructive power of a nuclear weapon is unimaginable. In an attempt to imagine the unimaginable, Lifton and Falk interviewed Hiroshima survivors who explained the nuclear blast was a “sudden and absolute shift from normal existence to this overwhelming immersion in death.”[1] Hiroshima survivors glimpsed the image of extinction[2] and said they didn’t only feel like they were dying but the world was dying—that they were turned into “walking ghosts.”[3] And this is a psychological shift that lasts lifetimes and generations—not to mention the physical effects of radiation.

In other words, the repercussions of the nuclear option are so severe it ought not be considered an option and ought not be worth discussion.


[1] P. 39

[2] p. 63-64

[3] P. 40