INDEFENSIBLE WEAPONS: The Political and Moral Case Against Nuclear Arms by Robert J. & Richard Falk Lifton

INDEFENSIBLE WEAPONS: The Political and Moral Case Against Nuclear Arms

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British historian E. P. Thompson (Beyond the Cold War, p. 858) calls it ""exterminism."" Yale psychiatrist Lifton and Princeton political scientist Falk call it ""nuclearism.' In each case, the concept applies to the proliferation of nuclear warheads. Here, it is employed in a separate essay by each author, and a joint conclusion. Lifton, who has spent much time with the Hiroshima victims, uses it to describe the mental state of the population both before and after a nuclear explosion (not analogous, of course, to the Hiroshima situation). Before, nuclearism describes the psychological consequences of living under the threat of the Bomb: the passivity induced by the sheer magnitude of the potential horrors; the absorption into the craziness of school air-raid shelter drills; the disruption in normal social psychological development that results from contemplating extinction--the breaking of the ""human chain"" that links generations and provides meaning to individual lives. The actual occurrence of nuclear attack is then seen to result in complete and utter disorientation, belying any vain hopes of civil defense or evacuation. Lifton's only ray of hope is that by confronting the reality of the nuclear age and its impact on life, the nuclear disarmament movement will be able to reverse the psychological damage and restore a kind of wholeness. Wholeness figures in Falk's discussion as well, since he seeks an alternative to the strategic and political presupposition of nuclearism in a ""holistic"" approach to world affairs. The root of the nuclear race lies in the assumption of aggression on the part of the Other--though, in practice, Falk lays most of the blame on the US--and the technological desire to be one step ahead of the presumed enemy. The problem is that the search for security through nuclear weapons results in less security: the constant fear of their latest breakthrough; unrealistic expectations of communications-systems survival; etc. And all of this adds up to itchy preemptive fingers. Falk's holism, though, doesn't get us very far beyond--though the world-order approach sounds good, the description of snarling superpowers makes it sound limp. When Falk gets down to incremental measures to reduce rather than freeze nuclear weapons, he comes out for a doctrine of minimum deterrence, still a long way from holism. On the valuation of nuclear strategy and preventive steps, Solly Zuckerman's Nuclear Illusion and Reality is better, if less impassioned, while Jonathan Schell's Fate of the Earth has already summarized Lifton's findings. It's a neat double-package, but the goods are somewhat shopworn.

Pub Date: Oct. 6th, 1982
Publisher: Basic Books