October 10, 1982
The Office of the Dean of the College sponsored an all-college symposium on “Issues of Nuclear War.” “My purpose in establishing the all-college symposium,” said Dean of the College H. Patrick Sullivan, “is to provide an annual occasion when the Vassar College community--- and through it, a larger community—can focus upon widely shared concerns. For this first year of the symposium I chose the issues of nuclear war as the focus.” The Miscellany News
The keynote speaker, Yale psychohistorian Dr. Robert J. Lifton, speaking to a near-capacity audience in Walker Field House on “Beyond Nuclear Numbing—The Call to Awareness,” drew on his extensive study in 1962 of survivors of the bombing of Hiroshima to descrbe the four stages of their "lifelong immersion in death." Discussing the "psychic numbing" of the present age towards the horrors of nuclear war, Lifton "observed," wrote Seth Mandell '84 in The Miscellany News, "that a 'worship of nuclear weapons,' borne out of the arms race is not uncommon. The 'agent of our destruction becomes the object of our worship.' The awesome capacity of the weapons becomes romanticized to the point of delusion."
Another highlight of the symposium was a faculty panel on “The Contribution of the Academic Disciplines to an Understanding of the Issues,” featuring Michael Brown of the political science department, Professor of Biology Patricia Johnson, Stephen Rousseas of the economics department and Professor of Physics Morton Tavel. Other conference events included a performance by the Bread and Puppet Theatre troupe, film screenings, as well as talks by Professor of History Henry Steele Commager of Amherst on “Chaos and Catastrophe: The Limits of Nuclear War” and by Katherine D. Seelman, a specialist on technology and public policy from New York University, who addressed the moral dimension of nuclear weapons in remarks entitled “New Perils, New Challenges, New Ethics.”