‘Wars begin in the minds of men’: psychiatry and the cold war antinuclear movement

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This article analyzes the history of psychiatrists’ entwined efforts to understand the psychological effect of nuclear war’s threat and to disseminate those findings as a contribution to the antinuclear movement. The sub-specialty of ‘nuclear psychiatry’ sought: (1) to expose how avoidance, denial, and dehumanization set the conditions for the arms race and, potentially, nuclear war; (2) to explain the psychological consequences of nuclear war’s threat, particularly on children and adolescents. By enlightening leaders and the public about delusional, distorted thinking on the nuclear question and the rise of nuclear anxiety, psychiatrist-activists hoped to leverage their expertise for political ends. Connecting developments in the United States with those in Great Britain and the Soviet Union, this article draws on previously untapped archival and published materials, including research findings, media coverage, and internal documents from profession-based antinuclear organizations from the 1960s through the 1980s. In the process, it reveals the centrality of psy-disciplines to the history of the antinuclear movement and the Nuclear Age.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)433-454
Number of pages22
JournalJournal of Contemporary History
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2022


  • antinuclear movement
  • children
  • Cold War
  • Nuclear anxiety
  • psychiatry

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