The Society for the
Psychological
Study of Social Issues

    

Psychology and Atomic Energy

Author: SPSSI committee on International Peace
Source: Excerpted from Newsletter, August 1946

Position Statement: “Atomic energy is producing an international fear psychology. But such a fear is not necessarily bad, for human fear releases great psychological energies...Our fear of the atomic bomb does stem from a real and frightful danger. This danger comes from the fact that there is no military defense against the atomic bomb. This fact must always be kept clear and our first objective must be to mobilize a healthy, action-goading fear for effective measures against the real danger-war. The other kind of fear, however, the intangible, unhealthy fear-threatens our achievement of this objective.

Three factors are responsible for this. One, the policy of 'secrecy' renders us confused and ignorant. We are left with no clear idea of the bomb's terrible potentialities or whether a defense against the bomb is at all possible...Two, military control of atomic energy creates the 'mental set' which leads us to think of atomic energy only as an instrument for destruction and War. Three, the intense rivalries among nation for access to atomic power suggests to us that the world-is full of sovereign states preparing for aggression against each other.

From all of this a crippling, feeling of ignorance, impotence and general, insecurity may result...If we as a nation become victims of such a fear we may seek relief in escapist thinking. We will then try to find comfort in. the pronouncements of dubious 'authorities' that the bomb is not dangerous. We will indulge in wishful thinking that some defense against the bomb will be developed--despite what the scientists say...

Or, what is equally fatal, we may become frantic in our precautions against the unknown danger. We will then accept the suppression of freedom of speech, of research, and of criticism in our own country because we will have become 'spy conscious' and,' secret conscious.' ...We will support a national policy of universal conscription, militarism, and political isolation.

This panicky and destructive thinking is just the mental preparation which sets the stage for international conflict arid violence...We in America have a tremendous opportunity...Our position is unique in that we alone are actual producers of atomic energy and for the time being, therefore, we can have a unique influence. We can use this influence to reduce panicky fear and suspicion and to awaken all men to the real danger. Toward that end, the Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues proposes the following six point program:

1) The real danger of the atomic bomb-the possibility of another war-must be made clear to all of our people...
2) Serious and intelligent action must be taken to advance international friendship...
3) International control of atomic energy must be established....
4) We must 'stop making atomic bombs immediately...
5) An effective civilian control of atomic energy must be instituted in our country at once...
6) The possible benefits of atomic energy must be emphasized and developed... We must see the importance of our psychology, our own ways of thinking, for preventing war and controlling the use of atomic energy. No cannon, no airplane, no atomic bomb can declare war. Only man can do that. The atomic bomb has not plunged the world into an area of the dark and fearful unknown-man's psychology is doing that. Just as atomic fission was accomplished by cooperative physical research, the fear which it created can and must be dispelled by cooperative social endeavor.”


Research that produces nothing but books will not suffice.
                                                                                                                    - Kurt Lewin