“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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