“Hiroshima and Covid-19”

(First published here, by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists on August 5, 2020)

By Robert Jay Lifton and Charles B. Strozier

We are always terrified by a deadly force that we cannot see or in any way perceive until it strikes.

That was the kind of fear one of us (Lifton) encountered in survivors of the atomic bomb when he interviewed them in Hiroshima some decades ago—a fear of “invisible contamination.” Their fear was based on their witness or experience of grotesque early symptoms of radiation effects, a later increase in leukemia and other cancers, and the possibility of hereditary harm to subsequent generations.

With COVID-19 the dread involves a force that is everywhere and nowhere; the virus takes on an almost supernatural aura that in turn leads to bizarre conspiratorial explanations. It is very difficult to bring reason to a deadly force that is invisible.

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Protect Us From This Dangerous President

From a letter to the editor of the New York Times:

To the Editor:

Soon after the election, one of us raised concerns about Donald Trump’s fitness for office, based on the alarming symptoms of mental instability he had shown during his campaign. Since then, this concern has grown. Even within the space of a few weeks, the demands of the presidency have magnified his erratic patterns of behavior.

In particular, we are struck by his repeated failure to distinguish between reality and fantasy, and his outbursts of rage when his fantasies are contradicted. Without any demonstrable evidence, he repeatedly resorts to paranoid claims of conspiracy.

Most recently, in response to suggestions of contact between his campaign and agents of the Russian government, he has issued tirades against the press as an “enemy of the people” and accusations without proof that his predecessor, former President Barack Obama, engaged in partisan surveillance against him.

We are in no way offering a psychiatric diagnosis, which would be unwise to attempt from a distance. Nevertheless, as psychiatrists we feel obliged to express our alarm. We fear that when faced with a crisis, President Trump will lack the judgment to respond rationally.

The military powers entrusted to him endanger us all. We urge our elected representatives to take the necessary steps to protect us from this dangerous president.

JUDITH L. HERMAN
ROBERT JAY LIFTON, NEW YORK