Living with Nuclear Annihilation or Terrorism

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Living with the Possibility of Nuclear Annihilation or Terrorism Prior to the late 1970s, psychologists generally ignored the impact that nuclear mutually-assured destruction was having on the minds of U.S. citizens (reviewed by Wagner, 1985). However, the Three Mile Island accident, failure to ratify the SALT II treaty, and Hollywood depictions of what can go wrong, fed the public imagination and psychologists began to pay attention to the long-term effects of living with the threat of immediate nuclear annihilation. Based on several studies, children and adolescents were acutely aware of the annihilation threat (reviewed by Wagner, 1985). As these children matured into adults, this 'nuclear anxiety' became hidden behind psychological defenses that diffused or distorted the threat. For example, demonizing the Soviet Union and its citizens as irrational and anti-American helped justify the nuclear Arms Race. Eventually, the nuclear threat was diffused or further distorted through a process called 'psychic-numbing'. The War on Terror, which arguably began in the minds of average Americans with the September 11, 2001 attacks on the New York World Trade Center and the Pentagon, seems to have had a similar psychological impact on U.S. citizens. For a few years following the 9/11 attacks, citizens were reminded almost daily of changes in the terrorism threat levels. Planes, trains, buses, and public venues were transformed overnight into terrorism targets, so the reminders
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