THE GENOCIDAL MENTALITY: Nazi Holocaust and Nuclear Threat by Robert Jay & Eric Markusen Lifton

THE GENOCIDAL MENTALITY: Nazi Holocaust and Nuclear Threat

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Building on his earlier studies (The Future of Immortality, The Nazi Doctors, etc.), Lifton--writing with Markusen (Sociology/Carthage College)--here formulates a novel--if overblown--analogy between Nazi medical experiments and nuclear weapons research. Although the authors carefully circumscribe their analogy with caveats, they nevertheless conclude that nuclear-weapons designers share much in common with Nazi doctors who performed experiments on humans. In short, Lifton and Markusen contend that atomic-weapons production constitutes a ""nuclear Auschwitz."" In developing this thesis, they focus strongly on the various psychological strategems that normal people employ when engaged in evil enterprises, and then provide revealing insights into such mental phenomena as ""doubling"" (separating one's homicidal self from one's humane self) and ""numbing"" (ceasing to feel). In addition, the authors offer a riveting account of techniques used by weapons laboratories to ensnare idealistic young physicists--e.g, the promise of more challenging work that lured M.I.T. physicist Peter Hagelstein to the Lawrence Livermore labs. However, despite the insights, the authors fail to persuade fully in equating the ideology of nuclear deterrence--which they see as leading inevitably to nuclear war--with that of Nazi racism. Moreover, the text suffers from heavy psychological jargon (""In the dissociative state, there is an interruption in the flow of images and forms that characterizes [sic] the ordinary symbolizing function of the self'). Still, shortcomings aside, a challenging moral indictment.

Pub Date: April 18th, 1990
Publisher: Basic Books