Nuclear Minds: Cold War Psychological Science and the A-Bomb
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Expires on Jul 14, 2025
Credit Offered
1.5 CME Credits
1.5 COP Credits

In a 2009 a plan to designate Nagasaki survivors as suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) for the purpose of compensation failed to gain approval, and the designation was dropped from official guidelines. A-bomb survivors (hibakusha) and their advocates rejected the designation, arguing that hibakusha should be designated as radiation victims and not “merely” as victims of long-term psychological effects. This rejection of the category of trauma as a legitimate disorder has a long history in Japan. Hiroshima and Nagasaki survivors were denied psychological care for almost half a century, and it was only following the 1995 Kobe earthquake that Japanese psychiatrists started large scale epidemiological surveys on survivors. This delay was doubly tragic as Hiroshima and Nagasaki played a crucial role in the history of PTSD. Robert J. Lifton, one of the members of the committee that inserted PTSD into the DSM, started his career in Hiroshima. Lifton’s work, and that of his colleagues brought together the experiences of hibakusha, Holocaust survivors and Vietnam veterans in their campaign for PTSD. Lifton also played a role in the later introduction of the category into Japan. This story, however, is not a Whig like history of science triumphing against the odds. As evident by the fact that it was survivors themselves that rejected trauma, the history of nuclear trauma is much more complex. Focusing on the careers of Lifton, and two of his Japanese contemporaries, psychiatrist Konuma Masaho and sociologist Ishida Tadashi, my talk will examine the reactions to the psychological toll of the A-bomb in both perpetrator and victim communities. The denial of trauma, I argue, was not a simple cover up, nor was it a case of intentional blindness to the suffering brought about by the nuclear attack. Rather, practitioners and victims alike understood the experience differently. Institutional entanglement with Cold War politics, the symbolic importance of the survivors, and the impact of radiation further muddied the diagnostic waters and led to the failure of the emergent notion of trauma to gain a foothold in the stricken cities.


Recorded webinar, non-interactive, self-paced distance learning activity.

This presentation was recorded on July 6, 2022.

Course References

  • “Atomic Trauma: Japanese Psychiatry in Hiroshima and Nagasaki,” in Mark S. Micale and Hans Pols, (ed.), Traumatic Pasts in Asia: History, Psychiatry and Trauma 1930 the Present, (Berghahn Books, 2021), pp. 78-95.
  • “Healing a Sick World: Psychiatric Medicine and the Atomic Age,” Medical History, Vol. 62, No. 1 (2018), pp. 27-49.
  • Nuclear Minds: Cold War Psychological Science and the Bomb (University of Chicago Press, 2023)

Learning Objectives

  • Examine the reactions of the psychological professions in Japan and the US to the nuclear attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
  • Examine the reactions to the psychological toll of the A-bomb in both perpetrator and victim communities.
  • Examine the reaction of the professions in Israel and Germany, to the plight of Holocaust survivors.
  • Compare and contrast the connections between the effect of Hiroshima and the Holocaust to survivors of the events.
  • Evaluate the reason behind the denial of trauma for Hiroshima and Nagasaki survivors.

Target Audience

Medical Students, Residents/Fellows, Psychiatrists, Non-psychiatrist physicians

Estimated Time to Complete

Estimated Duration: 90 minutes
Begin Date: July 14, 2022
End Date: July 14, 2025

How to Earn Credit

Participants who wish to earn AMA PRA Category 1 Credit ™ or a certificate of participation may do so by completing all sections of the course including the evaluation. After evaluating the program, course participants will be provided with an opportunity to claim hours of participation and print an official CME certificate (physicians) or certificate of participation (non-physicians) showing the completion date and hours earned. 

Continuing Education Credit

The American Psychiatric Association (APA) is accredited by the Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education (ACCME) to provide continuing medical education for physicians. 

The APA designates this enduring CME activity for a maximum of 1.5 AMA PRA Category 1 Credits™. Physicians should claim only the credit commensurate with the extent of their participation in the activity.

Faculty and Planner Disclosures

All financial relationships with commercial interests relevant to this activity have been mitigated.

Program Presenters

  • Ran Zwigenberg, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Asian Studies, History, and Jewish Studies, Pennsylvania State University. Reports no financial relationships with commerical interests.

Program Planners

  • Violet Moloney, Instructional Designer at American Psychiatric Association. Reports no financial relationships with commerical interests.
  • Benjamin Buchholz, Instructional Designer at American Psychiatric Association. Reports no financial relationships with commerical interests.

Accessibility for Participants with Disabilities

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Technical Requirements

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  • Internet Explorer 11+

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