Beyond the “Empire of Trauma“: Cold War Psychological Science and the Bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki

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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 manuscript explores how the bomb’s psychological impact on survivors was understood before the invention/ discovery of the concept of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). In fact, I argue, 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.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number5815
JournalAsia-Pacific Journal: Japan Focus
Issue number12
StatePublished - Nov 24 2023

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Cultural Studies
  • Anthropology
  • History
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Political Science and International Relations

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