Wednesday, 1 January 2020

Locked Up: ‘Patients’ and their Gaolers. 15. Claude Eatherly. Hiroshima Bomb Pilot. Christopher John Müller and Anthony Stadlen conduct Inner Circle Seminar 260 (9 August 2020)

Locked Up: ‘Patients’ and their Gaolers

15. Claude Eatherly
(2 October 1918 – 1 July 1978)

Repentant Hiroshima Bomb Pilot
An investigation into his alleged ‘insanity’
75 years after Nagasaki (9 August 1945)
and into the responses to the threat of nuclear war of
 Günther Anders, Martin Heidegger, and Bertrand Russell

Christopher John Müller   Anthony Stadlen
conduct by Zoom
Inner Circle Seminar No. 260
Sunday 9 August 2020
10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Claude Eatherly
Günther Anders

Bertrand Russell

Friday 6 August 2020 and Sunday 9 August 2020 are the 75th anniversaries of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki respectively. Major Claude R. Eatherly was the pilot of the weather reconnaissance aircraft Straight Flush from which he gave the go-ahead for the crew of the plane Enola Gay to drop the atomic bomb on Hiroshima on 6 August 1945.

Robert Jungk wrote:

It is said that after the shattering experience of Hiroshima Major Eatherly spoke to no one for days on end.

In striking contrast to the other servicemen involved, who were feted as heroes, he could not reconcile his conscience with what he had done. He was, as a result, certified and incarcerated as ‘mentally ill’.

The philosopher Günther Anders, former student of Martin Heidegger and former husband of Hannah Arendt, initiated a correspondence with Eatherly in the asylum where he was imprisoned. Their letters were published in 1961 as a book, Burning Conscience, with a Preface by the philosopher Bertrand Russell, who wrote:

No unbiased person, after reading Eatherly’s letters, can honestly doubt his sanity. [...] The world was prepared to honour him for his part in the massacre, but, when he repented, it turned against him, seeing in his act of repentance its own condemnation.

Lord Russell also wrote that, if the man who wrote these letters is considered mad, then:

I shall not be surprised if my last years are spent in a lunatic asylum – where I shall enjoy the company of all who are capable of feelings of humanity.

However, it is important to realise that, as Thomas Szasz has recounted in Faith in Freedom (2004), Russell was not opposed to all psychiatric incarceration. He vigorously sought the committal to an asylum of his own son John whom he did regard as insane. 

Russell did himself commit carefully considered civil disobedience later that year, 1961, at the age of 89, by sitting down in Trafalgar Square to protest against preparations for thermonuclear war; he was not arrested on that occasion, but not long afterwards spent seven days in Brixton Gaol (where he had already spent six months for pacifist activity during the First World War) for refusing to be of ‘good behaviour’ by refraining from inciting further civil disobedience.

Heidegger, who had a position as preeminent philosopher in West Germany comparable to Russell’s in the United Kingdom, did not become involved in his former student Anders’s collaboration with EatherlyHeidegger once signed a petition against a nuclear power station, but otherwise limited himself to observing that the atomic bomb was merely the ‘last emission’ of the ‘atomisation’ effected centuries earler by Descartes. In other words, insisted Heidegger,

The Dreadful [‘das Entsetzliche’] has already happened.’
          (R. D. Laings report of Joseph Schorsteins translation)

If the hydrogen bombs did not go off and destroy all life on earth, he warned, a far worse danger would threaten humanity. Men and women were in danger of losing their essential nature as meditative rather than merely calculative beings.

He used the same word, ‘das Entsetzliche’, that he had used to characterise the ‘Holy’ in the 1930s. This links today’s seminar with last Sunday’s seminar on the ‘Holy’ and Heidegger’s understanding of it. We shall try to make intelligible that Heidegger could use the same word for both. How should it be translated in each case?

We shall explore Claude Eatherly’s case as a paradigm of a procedure of locking up ‘inconvenient people that is still prevalent in our society today. We shall also compare and contrast the very different, but complementary, responses to the nuclear arms race of the philosophers Bertrand Russell and Martin Heidegger.

We will be joined from Sydney, Australia by Dr Christopher John Müller, author of Prometheanism: Technology, Digital Culture and Human Obsolescence: Thinking Finitude, Digital Technology and Human Obsolescence with Günther Anders (2016). He is a Lecturer in the Department of Media, Music, Communication and Cultural Studies at Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia and Honorary Research Associate of the School of English, Communication and Philosophy at Cardiff University and Associate Teacher at the University of Bristol. His work draws on Literature, Philosophy and Critical Theory to address the manner in which technological and linguistic structures shape human perception, agency and interaction.

This will be an online seminar, using ZOOM.

Cost: Psychotherapy trainees £132, others £165; or, for this seminar and the previous one (on 2 August) together, trainees £88, others £110 per seminar; some bursaries; payment in advance by bank transfer or PayPal; no refunds or transfers unless seminar cancelled; a ZOOM invitation and instructions will then be sent.

Apply to: Anthony Stadlen, ‘Oakleigh’, 2A Alexandra Avenue, London N22 7XE
Tel: +44 (0) 20 8888 6857  iPhone: 07809 433250

For further information on seminars, visit:

The Inner Circle Seminars were founded by Anthony Stadlen in 1996 as an ethical, existential, phenomenological search for truth in psychotherapy. They have been kindly described by Thomas Szasz as ‘Institute for Advanced Studies in the Moral Foundations of Human Decency and Helpfulness’. But they are independent of all institutes, schools and universities.

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