Who was Robert Jungk and what does he have to tell us today?

Portrait shot of Robert Jungk in his “Library of the Future”, taken by Walter Spielmann

Futurologist, forward thinker, science publicist, rebel and motivator for freedom, figurehead of the anti-nuclear movementthat is how Robert Jungk is called in contemporary historical sources.

Text: Hans Holzinger, Translation: Hanna Freudenthaler

Who was Robert Jungk and what does he have to tell us today? One thing is clear: Robert Jungk can be considered co-founder of the critical and creative science of the future, or so called futurology. At the same time, he is a representative of what we can today call civil society. Robert Jungk was a figurehead of the peace, anti-nuclear, and environmental movement, which increased in importance in the 1970s. Had he still been alive today, he would certainly have joined the global protests against the excesses of the global finance system.

Since 1971, Robert Jungk had had his permanent abode in Salzburg. There he died on 14 July 1994. Both his wife Ruth, who died on 28 March 1995, and him are laid to rest in a grave of honour on the Jewish cemetery in Salzburg.

In 1986, Robert Jungk was awarded with the Alternative Nobel Prize. After Leopold Kohr who was given this award in 1983, Jungk was the second citizen of Salzburg who had the honour of receiving this award.

 The following pages should provide information about the life and work of Robert Jungk, his books and beliefs, as well as their actuality.

“The photos used are mostly taken from the Jungk archive, which is in the possession of the Robert Jungk Foundation. All sources available are stated. We thank Jungk’s son Stephan Peter Jungk, who is living in Paris as a writer, for providing us with some wonderful personal images.

Walter Spielmann, head of the Robert Jungk Library for Future Studies, about the Futurologist:

“Turning the affected into the involved” – no sentence is as suitable for describing Robert Jungk’s concerns as this one. As co-founder of a social and emancipatory futurology, he built on the creativity and power of people who are willing to choose new paths into the future. At the Library for Future Studies, founded in Salzburg in 1985, these kind of approaches are gathered.

Creation of the future – the credo of Robert Jungk – is after all the wars and catastrophes of the 20th century a challenge, but also a chance that should not be left to the individual. Future, that is all of us.

All the examples of a different, a better world that Robert Jungk relentlessly collected as a proof for this thesis, and all these pioneers of alternate futures that he brought together, a long time before social networking even existed, point out the sustainability and actuality of his thinking – today, tomorrow, and even after that.”

“My life for the future” 

Presentation of the autobiography “Trotzdem. Mein Leben für die Zukunft” at the Earth Day 1992 (photo: Delmar Mavignier, JBZ archive)

Presentation of the autobiography “Trotzdem. Mein Leben für die Zukunft” at the Earth Day 1992 (photo: Delmar Mavignier, JBZ archive)

 If you look for contemporary documents about Robert Jungk, you will find numerous characterisations and job designations. Futurologist, forward thinker, science publicist, author, or agitator for survival. 4.5 million copies of Jungk’s books have been sold worldwide. Furthermore, his work as journalist, columnist, highly coveted lecturer, and head of many future workshops have to be mentioned.

We owe many valuable clues about Robert Jungk’s thought and work to his autobiography, which he managed to complete before his death in 1993. The autobiography is called “Trotzdem. Mein Leben für die Zukunft” (Nevertheless. My life for the future.) and gives and insight into an eventful century of contemporary history.

Below you will find a (by no means complete!) overview of his life and work, divided into four chapters.

Youth and Wartime

Born in 1913 as the child of a family of artists, Jungk spends his youth in the city of his birth, Berlin. Here, he also takes his high-school diploma in 1932. “Even though like many other boys he is enthusiastic about flags, uniforms, march music, victory, fame, and death on the battlefield”, visiting the anti-war museum in Berlin is a key moment (German: “Schlüsselerlebnis”) for his turn to political pacifism (cf. “Das Schlüsselerlebnis” in Zukunft zwischen Angst und Hoffnung 1990: p.240).

Role model of the young Robert Jungk is the roving reporter Egon Erwin Kisch, a friend of Jungk’s father. Jungk himself will later on adopt many views from him. One day after the Reichstagsbrand (the burning of the Reichstag in Berlin) in February 1933, the young student of the Berlin University is arrested for his protest against the antisemitic propaganda. Shortly after, he is released again, but in the meantime staying in Germany has become too dangerous.

Fleeing Germany – Exile in Switzerland

In Paris, Jungk lives in exile for the first time. He studies psychology and sociology, but due to a severe illness he illegally has to return to his parents in Berlin in 1936. A year later, after the cover of his secret work as a courier is blown, he and his family have to flee again. His path, via Prague, where Jungk meets the artist and later on writer Peter Weiss, leads him to his final exile in Switzerland. Unlike the majority of his Jewish family members, he is able to escape the persecution by the Hitler regime from 1939 to 1945.

Robert Jungk living in exile in Switzerland, where he writes articles for the newspaper “Weltwoche” under a pseudonym (JBZ archive)

Reports under Pseudonym about Hitler Germany

Robert Jungk did not only complete his studies in Zurich, he also wrote articles under pseudonym for numerous Swiss newspapers, especially for the Weltwoche. As a connoisseur of Germany and with the help of available sources he informs about the events in the Third Reich. In his articles he repeatedly points out the terrors of the Nazi regime. However, no one believes his news from the Polish and Jewish underground about the cruel proceedings in the concentration camps from 1942 onwards; and therefore, they were never printed. This appears from the prologue of the volume “Deutschland von außen. Beobachtungen eines illegalen Zeitzeugen” (Germany from the outside. Observations by an illegal contemporary witness), which consist of selected Weltwoche articles. According to Jungk’s prologue of the aforementioned volume “Deutschland von außen” (1990: p. 9) “They thought that not even Hitler was capable of an industrially operated genocide of innumerable women, children, and elderly people. It understandably defied their imagination.”

Observations by an illegal contemporary witness

Of particular historical interest are especially those observations and analyses that depict the military strategies of Nazi Germany and the psychological mechanisms that kept the terror regime alive for such a long time. In an article from the 12th December 1941, for example, Jungk shows the relation between the growing dissatisfaction of the German population after the tailing off of the first accomplishments of the war and the further accentuation of the persecution of Jews. Dissatisfaction was growing as the German population felt the downside of the war due to the increasing number of soldiers killed. “It seems though”, writes the author maybe too optimistically, “as if the attempt to direct all feelings of discomfort, anger, and hatred of the German population at an obviously already disempowered and humiliated group of people was not quite enough. Because the wave of self-criticism passed on from person to person and also in public sheets continued” (in Deutschland von außen, 1990, p. 93).

The intangibility of the Holocaust

Another article from 31 July 1942 mentions the forced mass deportations to the eastern territories that concerned all those who were viewed with suspicion by the Hitler regime. In this article the deportations are explained by Hitler’s fear of sparking riots in the upstate caused by the upcoming opening of the second front. “One of the phenomena of this as well as any other war is the increasing deadening of feelings towards the atrocity of the events happening”, Jungk says in the introduction of this article. “When the first hostage shootings were reported, a wave of horror filled the world”, it says in the article, “today we are used to reading about higher and higher execution numbers. Every dread still tops the previous one, and what seemed outrageous yesterday, has now become custom already” (in Deutschland von außen, 1990, p. 186).

Reports about the Nuremberg Trials

After the end of the war Jungk, now under his own name, becomes foreign correspondent, again mainly for the Zurich newspaper Weltwoche. In his article from 23 November 1945 about the main defendants of the Nazi regime facing the Nuremberg Trials, Jungk repeatedly refers to the contributory fault of collaborators abroad and in Germany. “Had we all braced ourselves sooner and more urgently against the rising regime of immorality, that is Nazism, many things could have turned out differently” (in Deutschland von außen, 1990, p. 252 ff.).

The article, ridden by grief about the intangible severity of the Holocaust, mourns the trials’ lack of emotions as well as the desire of the German majority to no longer hear of “the litany of destruction and death.” Jungk explains this with “the tiredness of the heart adding up to the inertia of the heart.” “This, however, can yet again lead to the possibility of a new war” (ibid 252). In his memoirs the reporter asks himself self-critically how “those days of rage could degenerate into downplaying trials, where prosecutors read off statistics about all the suffering and horrors as if they were stock prices” (in Trotzdem, 1993, p. 214).

The fate of the “displaced persons”

Jungk is also critical about the fate of all the refugees in post-war Europe, the so called “displaced persons”, who were received only very tentatively by the victorious powers. Especially the Weltwoche article “Aus einem Totenland” (From a country of the dead) causes a sensation and was even read out in the House of Commons (cf. Deutschland von außen, 1990: p. 243 ff.). In the years after the war, Jungk functions as a correspondent for the UN in New York. According to his memoirs, he gets to know the “United Nations” more as the “United Bureaucrats”; a statement which reflects his life-long scepticism towards large organisations and the politics of diplomats (Trotzdem, 1993: p. 230).

“Lost freedom” – transition to the Cold War

“Der verlorene Friede” (The lost freedom) is the title of his autobiography’s chapter about the transition from the abatement of Nazi Germany to the Cold War. “Fascism and nationalism with its millions of victims was not even conquered yet when in 1944 the Russians and the Americans already initialised a new global conflict which overshadowed the following decades” (Trotzdem, 1993: p. 208). About the end of the war, “the fall of the brown and black dictatorship”, Jungk writes the following:

“Finally it was time, but we could not be relieved about it like many others. Everything that had been vague presumptions, rumours, or fragmented secret reports up to then turned out to be non-rectifiable and irrevocable facts: the gassing of millions of children, women, elderly, invalids, and healthy people. The newspapers were full of expectations, hopes, projects, plans. But we, the survivors, were left with a grief that no triumph and no comfort could make up for. It was no good quarrelling with God, cursing the criminals, or being angry with the people who let all of this happen.” (ibid. p. 211)

Moving to the US – marriage with Ruth Suschitzky

From 1947 to 1948, Jungk works as a correspondent for European newspapers at the UNO in New York and Washington. In 1948, he marries Ruth Suschitzky and in 1949 they move to Los Angeles where Jungk continues his work as correspondent.

Writing against nuclear weapons

The joy about the end of the war was tempered by yet another event – the nuclear bombing of the Japanese cities Hiroshima and Nagasaki by the US on 6 and 9 August 1945. In 1958, Jungk impressively depicts the corrosive consequences of these bombings in “Strahlen aus der Asche” (“Children of the Ashes”). Writing against the nuclear arms race and the imminent nuclear world war subsequently affects his work and establishes his international reputation as an author.

Robert Jungk with his wife Ruth and their son Peter Stephan, born in 1952, on holiday in Salzburg (JBZ archive)

“Tomorrow is Already Here”

In 1952, the same year as Jungk’s son Peter Stephan is born, his first book “Die Zukunft hat schon begonnen. Amerikas Allmacht und Ohnmacht” (“Tomorrow is Already Here”) is published. The reports from American armament laboratories about secret atomic plants and nuclear weapons tests as well as the uranium mining that destroyed the land and lives of Native Americans in order to produce these deadly weapons created an international stir beyond the German-speaking world. Not only the “reaching for atom”, but also the reaching for nature, man, and space are themes of this work. It is a warning of science overstepping limits and its consequences, which the author sees especially in the “newest world” of post-war America. “Only when the frantic reaching for omnipotence is resolved, when the hubris breaks down and makes way for modesty,” it says not without pathos, “will America be rediscovered by him, whom it has expelled: God” (Tomorrow is Already Here, 1990: p. 27).

Further successful books

In 1956 followed the second literary success: “Heller als tausend Sonnen. Das Schicksal der Atomforscher“(“Brighter than a Thousand Suns: A Personal History of the Atomic Scientists”). Jungk was probably the first to write about the history of the atomic bomb and its carriers. The reports, consisting of intense research and numerous personal conversations with atomic physicists, make clear that scientists can no longer refer to fundamental research. They have to bear the responsibility for the technical, political, and social consequences of their actions. “Brighter than a Thousand Suns” describes in detail the technological and industrial development of atomic research, from the first attempt at nuclear fission and the building of the first atomic bomb to the completion of the American H-bomb, for which President Truman fired the starting pistol in 1950. Jungk is especially interested in those atomic scientists, who were willing to put their knowledge into commission for the military, even after 1945. Key figures are Robert Oppenheimer and Edward Teller.

In a remake of the book in the 1960s, when during the Cuba Crisis the world almost became witness of an atomic confrontation, Jungk also acknowledges those, who not only distanced themselves from using nuclear fission very soon, but also publicly warned of the dangers. This was among others done in the context of the Pugwash Movement, founded by Albert Einstein and Bertrand Russell. “What if in 1945 the atomic scientists had kept quiet about the devastating nature of their invention or if, even more, they had been proud of their accomplishments? Then the public would maybe have forgotten the downfall of Hiroshima as fast as the downfall of Coventry, Hamburg, and Dresden,” Jungk writes (“Brighter than a Thousand Suns: A Personal History of the Atomic Scientists”, 1990: p. 377).

Robert Jungk researching for his book “Strahlen aus der Asche” in Japan, with one of the informants Koaru Ogura and his family (JBZ archive)

“Strahlen aus der Asche”

In the same year as “Brighter than a Thousand Suns: A personal History of the Atomic Scientists” is published, Jungk returns to Japan in order to do some research for his next book project about the consequences and victims of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Germany’s starting aspirations to get hold of its own nuclear weapons and the citizens collectively looking away induced Jungk to write the book “Strahlen aus der Asche” (“Children form the Ashes”), which is released in 1958. In the early 1960s follows a film together with Dagobert Lindlau on German TV (Trotzdem, 1993: p. 305 ff.).

In his coverage, Jungk impressively describes his encounters with the “hibakushas”, the survivors of the great “pikadon”, which is the Japanese term for the atomic bombing and means lightning and thunder. He especially points out the publicly unknown long-term effects of radioactive contamination, from which the victims will suffer all their lives. He does so in order to counteract the danger of downplaying and suppression, even in Japan. “The epic representational buildings of reconstruction are not a monument to Hiroshima. A monument to Hiroshima are the survivors, whose memories about that day burned into their skin, their blood, and their cells. They are the victims of a completely new form of war,” Jungk says in the epilogue of his book, translated into many languages (Strahlen aus der Asche, 1990: p. 312 ff.).

Meeting the “hibakushas”

Meeting the “hibakushas” motivates Jungk to warn even more intensely about the risks of nuclear weapons in the following years. “When I left Hiroshima, I had become a different person. I no longer wanted to cover something simply because it was interesting, but because it was vitally important and lessons for the future could be drawn from it” (Trotzdem 1993: p. 314 ff.). He also no longer solely stays behind his desk, but is actively involved in the German movement “Kampf dem Atomtod” (Fight against nuclear death) in 1958, as well as international associations such as the Pugwash-Group – an association against nuclear armament, which among others Albert Einstein was part of.

Robert Jungk at a demonstration of the Ostermarschbewegung (Easter March movement) in Vienna in 1966 – in the foreground, son Peter Stephan (JBZ archive)

President of the Austrian anti-nuclear movement

Since 1957, Robert Jungk has had his permanent residence in Vienna. In 1960, he becomes president of the Austrian anti-nuclear movement and among others makes friends with Günther Anders. Anders’ first volume of “Die Antiquiertheit des Menschen” (“The Outdatedness of Human Beings”), a radical philosophical critique of the nuclear age, published in 1956, created an international stir.

In 1959, a conference of the “European committee against nuclear armament”, founded by the German writer Hans Werner Richter, takes place in London. For this purpose, Jungk composes a “charter of hope” – a call for Europe to fight for complete nuclear disarmament.

Weltwoche cancels collaboration with Robert Jungk

Jungk’s resolute opposition to further distribution of nuclear weapons – even Switzerland discussed about becoming a national nuclear force at that time – costs the committed publicist his established collaboration with the Zurich newspaper Weltwoche. Jungk says in his memoirs, he was told afterwards that his dismissal could also be attributed to “pressure from Bonn”, which had subscribed to a “considerable number of copies” from the Weltwoche, paid with a special budget, the so-called “Reptilienfonds” (Trotzdem, 1993 p. 316 ff.).

In 1966, a well-intentioned report called “„Die große Maschine. Auf dem Weg in eine andere Welt“ (The great machine. On the way to a different world) about the European nuclear research centre CERN, at the border between Switzerland and France is released. Headed by the Austrian nuclear physicist Viktor Weisskopf, who had to immigrate to the US during the Nazi era, the CERN claims to contribute to global peace through initialising atomic research; scientists from Eastern Europe also collaborated there. Before becoming the head of CERN, Viktor Weisskopf used to be the vice-chairman of the department of theoretical physics for the Manhattan Project, which developed American atomic bombs.

In retrospect, Jungk becomes more critical about the European science factory as he finds out that it did not promote bringing about peace, but developed from the “rivalry with the powerful competing scientists in the US and the Soviet Union” (Trotzdem, 1993: p. 350).

Robert Jungk at a demonstration against a planned atomic reprocessing plant in Gorleben (JBZ archive)

Starting resistance against “peaceful” use of atomic energy

The realisation that peaceful and military use of atomic energy are inseparable is what turns Jungk into an advocate for the environmental movement, formed in the mid-1970s. The movement is in opposition to new atomic plants, especially in the federal republic of Germany, and demands the general withdrawal from the nuclear energy programme. Wyhl (1975) and Brokdorf in Northern Germany (1976) are the first hot spots of the dispute. The long lasting, but eventually successful civic protest against the atomic reprocessing plant in Wackersdorf (1984-1988) turns out to be a major milestone for the history of the anti-nuclear movement in which Jungk also played an active part.

In 1977, the volume “Der Atomstaat. Vom Fortschritt in die Unmenschlichkeit“(“The Nuclear State“) is published and again creates an international stir. The volume especially addresses social conflicts and a threat to democratic civil rights due to technologies like nuclear plants. [For more info, see anti-atom chapter]

Co-founder of futurology

At the beginning of the 1960s, futurology, which gains in international importance, awakens Jungk’s interest. In 1964, the “Institut für Zukunftsfragen” (Institute for future issues) is established in Vienna, but only exists for a short while. In the same year, the book series “Modelle für eine neue Welt” (Models for a new world), containing 10 volumes, is published together with Hans J. Mundt. In 1967, follows the initiation of “Mankind 2000”, an international association, which targets the illustration of constructive drafts of the future and – together with the sociologist and peace researcher Johan Galtung – the organisation of the first world conference for futurology in Oslo.

During the foundation phase of futurology as a science between 1968 and 1975, Jungk holds guest lectures on the new subject futurology as an honorary professor at the Technical University in Berlin. At the same time, he regularly attends world conferences.

In 1973, his book “Der Jahrtausendmensch” (“The Everyman Project”), which tells about alternative new beginnings from all over the world, is published. Connected to that is also the development of the method of future workshops together with students from the Berlin University. This is impressively depicted in the volume “Zukunftswerkstätten” (“Future Workshops”) published together with Norbert Müllert in 1980. [For more info, see chapter on future workshops]

Non-violent blockade of the nuclear missile base in Mutlangen in 1989 (JBZ archive)

 Protests against the Vietnam War – new peace movements

One of Jungk’s first encounters with his new hometown Salzburg – the Jungk family has been living here since 1970 – should not go unmentioned. During a student demonstration against the Vietnam war and against US president Richard Nixon’s visit in May 1972, Jungk is dragged to the ground by the police and injured on the head. As the scene was filmed, it was on the news the same evening. According to his memoirs, Jungk participated in the demonstration in solidarity with the students. At the same time, he wanted to keep an eye on his son Peter, who also took part in the demonstration even though he had to undergo a heart surgery a couple of days later.

As a curious side note: Lord Kenneth, a member of the British Labour party and friend of Robert Jungk, planned to secretly meet Henry Kissinger in Jungk’s flat on the day after the incident. Kissinger then was the head of the US State Department. The meeting, however, was cancelled by the US delegation and the two met in a luxury restaurant in Salzburg instead (Trotzdem, 1993 p. 431 ff.).

Jungk is also actively engaged in the resistance movement against the planned stationing of new nuclear middle-range missiles in whole Western Europe at the beginning of the 1980s. He builds his hopes on the “survival movement” consisting of hundreds of thousands demonstrators in many European cities as well as non-violent blockades at stationing sites such as Mutlangen, Greenham Common or Comiso, in which Jungk took part himself. As a participant and engaged observer Jungk documented this resistance against new nuclear missiles in his book, published in 1983, “Menschenbeben, Der Aufstand gegen das Unerträgliche“(Humanquake. The uprising against the unbearable).

In 1986, Robert Jungk’s columns from the professional journal “bild der wissenschaft” from 1972 to 1985 are published in the book “Und Wasser bricht den Stein” (And water splits the rock). These op-eds give a brilliant insight into Robert Jungk’s work as critical science journalist. He takes up new technical inventions and their social impacts and evaluates them.

Relation to Austria and Salzburg

As mentioned before, Robert Jungk moves to Austria in 1957, namely to Vienna. From 1970, the permanent residence of the Jungks is in Salzburg, where they obtain a flat in the Steingasse. “The Steingasse is the most beautiful on a late summer afternoon. The sunlight then falls diagonally on the windows and glances off a hundred times on the bumpy street,” Jungk writes in his memoirs. Furthermore, he says, “When I walk on this carpet of light I know how fortunate I can consider myself to have found a home here.” (Trotzdem, TB Ausg. 1994, p. 435).

Jungk also appreciates Salzburg for being a centre of culture and intellectual dispute. One has to mention, for example, Jungk’s contribution to the “Salzburger Humanismusgespräche” with the issue “Is there a need for a different science?” in 1980. Furthermore, the Goldegger dialogues in 1989 with the issue “Fears of life – living fears”, for which Jungk lead a future workshop, or the symposium “Mozartian future”, hosted by the Robert-Jungk foundation together with the Salzburger Festival in 1992.

Robert Jungk together with the founder of the Right Livelihood Award Jakob von Uexküll in “his” library for future issues opened in 1986 (JBZ archive)

Birthday wish – an International Library for the Future

A wish expressed to Salzburg’s governor at that time, Wilfried Haslauer, on Jungk’s 70th birthday in 1983 comes true in 1986. That year Jungk opens an “International Library for the Future” in Salzburg, for which he donates his extensive private book collection as a basis. Walter Spielmann, who worked on the implementation of this long-cherished dream together with Jungk, depicts the development and aims of this “Library for the Future” in the Festschrift for Robert Jungk’s 70th birthday called “Triebkraft Hoffnung” (1993, p. 279-294). [more in the chapter “His library”]

In 1989, Jungk’s last book before his memoirs “Projekt Ermutigung. Streitschrift wieder die Resignation“(Project encouragement. Polemic against resignation), which again summarises his way of looking ahead, is published.

1986: Visit from the governor of Salzburg Dr Wilfried Haslauer in the newly founded Library for the Future..

Green Party candidate in the 1992 presidential elections

Jungk’s affinity for environmental movements and newly emerging Green Parties induced the almost eighty-year-old to run for the Austrian presidential election from 1991 to 1992 at request of the Austrian Green Party. Therefore, he interrupts writing his memoirs for a year. In the first ballot, he receives 5.7 percent of all votes for the Green Party. He decides to run for president not because his chances of victory were high, but to “again draw the focus of attention to my perception of a good future” (Trotzdem 1993: p. 531).

Awarding of the honorary citizenship of Salzburg City by Mayor Dr Josef Reschen in 1989 (JBZ archive)

 Numerous honours in the final years of Jungk’s life

 During the final years of his life, Jungk was accorded numerous honours such as the Right Livelihood Award in 1986 and an honorary doctorate of the Osnabrück University as well as the Austrian Decoration for Science and Art in 1993. In 1989, Robert Jungk was appointed the eighth honorary citizen of Salzburg.

Shortly after his 80th birthday, Robert Jungk suffers from a severe stroke from which he does not recover anymore. Only some months earlier he had taken part in a demonstration against the Czech atomic plant in Temelin. Pictures of the demonstration show, however, that he must have been weak already.

He dies on 14 July 1994, the day of liberty, equality and fraternity, in Salzburg. He is laid to rest in the presence of his family and friends in a grave of honour at the Jewish cemetery in Salzburg. Jungk’s wife Ruth follows him one year later. She dies in 1995.

His library

In 1986, Robert Jungk’s long-cherished wish came true – the opening of the “International Library for the Future” (Internationale Bibliothek für Zukunftsfragen =JBZ) in Salzburg. Jungk’s extensive private book collection – back then around 3,500 books – were made publicly accessible and at the same time a place of involvement with future issues was created.

Intended to be a documentation centre for the development of the future as well as a place for dialogue about possible futures, the transdisciplinary library contains about 16,000 printed books and 90 magazines by now. It functions as a place of study for the JBZ team and anyone interested and proves itself as room for discussion about future issues. About 100 events with JBZ employees giving lectures take place in the library every year.

Under the management of Dr Walter Spielmann, the JBZ moved to Strubergasse 18, located in an innovative part of the city called STADTWERK, in 2015. Robert-Jungk-Platz (Robert-Jungk Square) could also be moved from its former Location.

Key theses

The following theses summarise Jungk’s work and are examined for their significance today.

“Turning the affected into the involved – a creative design of the future”

“Turning the affected into the involved” – this statement like no other characterises the interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary concerns of Robert Jungk. He focuses on four key themes the founder of a social and emancipated design of the future did not only feel particularly committed to, but also relentlessly committed himself to as a journalist, author, and finally yet importantly very gifted orator.

  • Democratising the future – We need everyone! We depend on everyone!

The future is too important to leave it to the interests of (often self-proclaimed) experts and policy makers. According to Robert Jungk’s beliefs, each and every person is capable of independently co-creating the future. Levelling criticism at existing things, expressing concerns and implementing them is the foundation of and guarantee for a lively formation of togetherness.

  • Controlling science, technology, and power

Scientific and military issues, especially in the course of globalisation, lead to permanent accumulation of power. The risks of technological omnipotent fantasies, particularly atomic and gene technology, threaten our future. Consequently, this leads to a limitation of individual self-determination. In order to counteract, we need attentive and critical control by independent media and well-informed, responsible, and engaged citizens. Science and research should not serve the interests of power and capital, but the wants of the powerless and needy.

  • Commitment to justice and humane life forms

Being conscious of the beauty and vulnerability of planet Earth, it is our responsibility to stand up for fair, sustainable, and liveable forms of togetherness on all levels. Not technological, but social inventions and new forms of informal and social cooperation, of living, of cultural encounter, of mobility, of work and not least of leisure should be developed, tested, and steadily improved in dialogues and in future workshops

  • Creativity and art as seismograph of the upcoming

With particular emphasis, Robert Jungk finally advertised the appreciation and promotion of creativity. He especially saw artists of all sorts as “eternal revolutionists”, as seismographs and pioneers of the upcoming. These artists, who are more alert and sensitive for the imaginable and desirable, could lay tracks for the future, but also perform the function of warners and admonishers. At the same time, Robert Jungk was convinced that the particularly noticeable and tangible creative potential of children and adolescents is still present in every adult and only waits to be awakened.

“Resistance against nuclear armament, inhumane technology and the power of new social movements” – 6 theses

The dominance of the scientific-technological ideas of progress lead to the dehumanization of our society. This is illustrated by defence research and the development of nuclear large-scale plants.

Robert Jungk counts among the central figures of the first peace movements against nuclear armament in the 1950s (Pugwash movement) as well as the second peace movement in the 1980s. The second movement protested against the sharpening of the arms race due to the so-called middle-range missiles, which would have had Europe as an arena in case of an atomic war. They also protested against the development of the Strategic Defence Initiative, the strategic shift of the war into space. He was highly critical of both camps that fought a systematic fight on the back of the extorted population (see “Trotzdem. Mein Leben für die Zukunft.” München 1993, p. 257). He also cared about dialogues and contact between East and West. In my opinion, the new peace movement played a pivotal role in the reform steps by Michail Gorbatschow in the UdSSR as well as finally in the overcoming of the Cold War. What is also sure is that the promised peace dividend has never been paid, that the defence spending is as high as never before – 1 billion Dollars according to the peace research institute SIPRI –, that after the Cold War several “hot” shooting wars occurred in Yugoslavia, Iraq, and Libya and that new confrontations are coming up. So China and Japan are extremely arming at the moment. Jungk’s thesis might hold true here: leaving the spiral of armament research could not be achieved. Barack Obama not being able to prevail against the gun lobby and follow through with his plans of disarmament and cutting the US military budget shows how difficult demilitarising the world is. Concerning the use of nuclear power, resistance is growing again because of Fukushima – and rightly so. Apart from the risks of nuclear plants, the final deposition of nuclear waste as a long-term problem has been anything but solved yet. Safety standards in new atomic plants have certainly improved since the old plants from the 1960s and 70s, even though it would be negligent to speak of a freedom of risks. Furthermore, it has been more than 20 years since the nuclear disaster of Tschernobyl and the collective memory is, as generally known, of limited range. Bigger incidents have not come to light since, which might have contributed to the protests tailing off. What should be gathered is whether residents near nuclear power plants have got used to their industrial-scale neighbours (habituation effect) or whether they have just resigned. To my knowledge there are only two European countries, apart from the Vatican, that harbour population majorities who are against nuclear plants – Austria and Germany. In both countries, the new construction of atomic plants would not stand a political chance. The use of atomic energy leading to a police state as feared by Jungk is not true in such a radical form. Only a crisis such as hushed up accidents, major quantities of nuclear material disappearing, and the danger of terrorist blackmailing could put it to the test.

Major industrial applications have changed the character of scientists. Not the interest in new insights, but the acquisition of lucrative orders come to the fore.

With the example of the fast breeder reactors Jungk shows how (at least in Germany) politics became interesting for the project due to great promises, downplaying of the risks, and in the beginning strongly understated details about the costs. He talks about “project swinging” which means nothing else than advertising projects as feasible without solid insights in order to get access to further research funds. This “reckless speculative research style” was launched in the amour laboratories of World War 2 and initially tested on major military projects (Der Atomstaat, 1984, p. 45ff.). Underlying this might also have been the enormous euphoria for technology in the 1950s, which Hermann Kahn paradigmatically called “Thinking the unthinkable”. However, the prophet of the future did not mean social creativity, but unthinkable technology futures such as colonies under the sea where food and nuclear-powered airplanes are manufactured (cf. Hermann Kahn, Anthony J. Wiener: Ihr werdet es erleben. Wien 1967). As a current example for this research style one could bring in nuclear fusion. Alexander M. Bradshaw, head of the Max-Planck Research Center for Plasma Physics praises nuclear fusion as the energy of the future, which should be ready for series production at the end of the 21st century at the latest. “Its environmentally friendly attributes – the price-competitive and more or less carbon dioxide-free energy generation, the short durability of the nuclear waste, and the physical impossibility of a nuclear run-through” – make nuclear fusion an attractive option according to Bradshaw. The scientist admits, however, that fusion is still going through development and “its success cannot be ultimately guaranteed” (Alex Bradshaw: Kernfusion: Klimaretter oder Utopie? In: Chemie Ingenieur Technik, 80, 2008, p. 308). The challenge: the plasma, inside which the atomic nuclei of the used materials lithium and deuterium should fuse, needs to be heated at a temperature of 100,000 to 200,000 degrees Celsius. At the moment nuclear fusion wastes much more energy than is produced. The first experimental reactor ITER (lat. “the way”) is built in Cadarache in the South of France. Start of construction works of this co-production of China, Europe, Japan, South Korea, and the US was in 2009. Large parts of the fundamental work comes from the Max-Planck Research Center for Plasma Physics, head of which Bradshaw was until 2008. Robert Jungk’s thesis about the own dynamics of research, which continually strives to make more profit, stays relevant.

Major technologies will always cause discomfort in people who justifiably feel excluded from the controllability of the risks.

In “Der Atomstaat” (“The Nuclear State”) Jungk quotes the Austrian scientist Helga Novotny, who back in the day worked at the IIASA (International Institute für Applied Systems Analysis) in Vienna/Laxenburg. She said that “the opposition against nuclear energy roots in the resistance against those who profit from the increasing economical and scientific focus. The opposition is directed against large-scale industry that makes common cause with big states and big science. It is the resistance of those who feel powerless and small in the face of the developments” (Der Atomstaat, 1977, zit. n. Ausgabe 1979 p. 77ff). This finding is still relevant today and still undermines democracy.

In order to make a transparent and democratic examination of major technologies possible, people especially from within the “system”, who point out the secret downsides, the risks, and the uncertainties of these modern major technologies, are needed.

During his research, Robert Jungk repeatedly referred to such converts, whose names could not be mentioned in order to not put their jobs at risk, but who gave him important insider information. In his book “Menschenbeben” (Humanquake), which is about the second peace movement of the 1980s, Jungk dedicates a separate chapter to those critical thinkers and the so called whistle blowers, the undercover informants (Menschenbeben, 1983, p. 19 –39). Due to the increasing complexity in modern times, these critics from within the “system” play a more and more important political role in democracy. This can be applied to many sectors, for example the current international financial crisis that would need much more experts, who strive against the mainstream and the recommended “solutions”.

Parliamentary democracy is no longer capable of establishing a critical public sphere that would be necessary to point out the dangers of possible aberrations and to initiate course corrections.

Political parties are frequently involved in the interests of economic lobbies, which undermines their ability to keep their critical distance. Therefore, it is up to a new political force – social movements, public campaigns, and civil society – to perform this function. There is not enough space to elaborate on Jungk’s understanding of democracy, which was characterised by an active civil society and the principle of self-organisation of the citizens [see also theses of Walter Spielmann]. The peace, feminist, human rights, environmental and anti-nuclear movements of the last decades and now, for example, the economically critical organisation Attac, agree with Jungk. The innovative political factor of the current parliamentary democracy are the so-called NGOs (non-governmental organisations). Concerning the use of nuclear energy, the resistance has built up again due to Fukushima, apart for occasional protests against nuclear waste transports. In Austria and Germany, there are still vast majorities who are against nuclear energy, while in other European countries this did not seem to be the case for a long time. This could be due to improved safety standards achieved by the anti-nuclear movement, but also because there have not been any bigger nuclear accidents recently. A reason could also be that the problem of the final deposition of radioactive material has been mostly put off by politics. Fukushima has changed the situation; for example, in Japan, but also in the atomic nation France there has been active resistance. The outcome is still uncertain. Beyond the catastrophe of Fukushima, the approaching challenge of the final deposition will remind us of the downsides of nuclearism.

Movements in favour of a lifestyle beyond consumerism, non-alienating workplaces, new ways of decentralised energy production and nutrition sovereignty, new forms of neighbourhoods, and economic cooperation will lead to a cultural renewal of the prosperous democracy.

This belief that Jungk shares with psychoanalyst and critic of consumerism Erich Fromm, critic of development Ivan Illich, or the advocate of the “menschliches Maß” (human measure) Leopold Kohr, has not or only partly verified so far. The power of the entertainment and event industry, mass media entertainment, as well as massive propaganda of the advertising industry apparently have a greater influence on peoples’ brains and hearts than utopian dreams about a simple, solid, and sensual lifestyle that has swapped competition for cooperation and community spirit. Klaus Firlei, president of the Robert-Jungk foundation, calls this phenomenon “experience-capitalism”, which largely interferes with the former private sphere of feelings and experiences for profit’s sake. The western, resource-intensive lifestyle spreads throughout all continents and covers the whole globe. One third of the so-called transnational consumerism class now lives in southern countries. Their characteristics are that they are meat-centred, fixated on cars, and device-intense – three characteristics with a high energy consumption!

Main writings

Robert Jungk was not only an extraordinary speaker, but he also was a highly active and extraordinary writer. He published various editions of his books and they have been translated into many languages since.

In the following, you will find an introduction to his most important publications. Original text passages from selected works are displayed. Furthermore, you will find an extensive bibliography.

Remark: The publishing house Rowohlt-Verlag reprinted five of Robert Jungk’s books in 2016. Those are “Tomorrow is Already Here”, “Brighter than a Thousand Suns”, “Children of the Ashes”, “The Nuclear State”, and “The Everyman Project”. More

“Tomorrow is Already Here” (1952)
These reports from armour laboratories about secret atomic plants and atomic bomb tests stirred up humankind. They did not leave anyone cold. more

“Abdankung der Kultur” (Abdication of culture) (1955)
This biography of Albert Schweitzer written under a pseudonym – only the preface beard Jungk’s name – is a critic of modern faith in progress. more

“Brighter than a Thousand Suns” (1956)
Robert Jungk seems to be the first one to depict the history of the atomic bomb and its engineers. Inquiries from the laboratories of nuclear weapon states. more

“Children from the Ashes” (1958)
This widely translated work about the consequences of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki turned into a reminding testimony against nuclearism.

“The Everyman Project” (1973)
This optimistic book gives insights into so-called future workshops. It describes democratic new approaches to economy, education, parenting, media use etc.

“The Nuclear State” (1977)
The military and peaceful usage of nuclear energy is inseparable. The risks of nuclear energy do not only threaten our health and well-being, but also democracy. More

“Future Workshops” (1980)
The future is too precious to be left to experts. Let us decide together upon which kind of future we want. That is the credo of this book.

“Menschenbeben” (Humanquake) (1983)
Due to the planned deployment of new nuclear missiles in Europe and the intensification of the Cold War, a new global peace movement was formed. Robert Jungk describes the movement as humanquake. more

“Und Wasser bricht den Stein” (And water splits the rock) (1986)
This volume gathers all the articles that Robert Jungk published in the professional journal “bild der wissenschaft”. It has become an important historical document since.

“Projekt Ermutigung” (The encouragement project) (1988)
In this book Robert Jungk summarises his thoughts for a humane future and technology. Referring to the French Revolution, Jungk hopes for an encouragement project.

“Trotzdem. Mein Leben für die Zukunft” (Nevertheless. My life for the future) (1992)
Robert Jungk’s autobiography provides insights into his eventful life and at the same time is a vivid mirror of an eventful century.

“Gestern ist heute. Heinz Haber und Robert Jungk im Disput über die Zukunft.” (Yesterday is today. Heinz Haber and Robert Jungk in dispute about the future) (2011)
A talk published by Wolfram Huncke, long-term chief editor of “bild der wissenschaft”. Published by Hirzel in 2011.

Demonstration against the nuclear plant in Temelin in 1993. (photo by Matthias Reichl)

The nuclear state and its actuality today

The catastrophe in the atomic plant in Fukushima, Japan as a result of an earthquake in March 2011 immediately brought the risks of atomic technology to mind. Even though the operators downplayed the extent of the catastrophe at first, its consequences were dramatic. In his book “The Nuclear State“, published in 1977, Robert Jungk had already explicitly warned about the new form of energy’s “character hostile to life”. These warning have stayed current unfortunately.

“With the technological utilisation of nuclear fission the plunge into a new dimension of violence was taken. At first, the violence was only directed at military opponents. Today it endangers our citizens because ‘atoms for peace’ do not differ from ‘atoms for war’. The declared intention to only use it for constructive purposes does not change anything about the new energy’s character hostile to life.” (“The Nuclear State”, p. 9)

[The text is based on a lecture delivered by Hans Holzinger on 30 April 2009 at the University of Paris in the course of a project about the perception of nuclear technology in Germany.]

A new term for a new danger

At a demonstration against the nuclear plant in Brokdorf, Germany on 19 February 1977, Robert Jungk used the term “nuclear state” for the first time. The atmosphere at the demonstration was quite tense with a lot of police and brutal use of force against protesters. It was later called the “battle of Brokdorf”. Obviously, they wanted to set a warning example in order to scare people away from further demonstrations. Luckily, nobody died unlike at a demonstration against the fast breeder reactor in Malville, France some time earlier. The atmosphere was still perilous according to Jungk.

He did not prepare the term “nuclear state” at his desk, but rather it appeared in his head like a “spontaneous suggestion” during his speech, said Jungk in his memoirs (“Trotzdem”, 1994, p. 463). When Rudolf Augstein picked up the term in the German political magazine “Der Spiegel”, it became popular.

According to Jungk it was quite fitting that only some days after the demonstration in Brokdorf the “Traube affair” leaked out. Dr Klaus Traube, scientist and manager of the company Interatom, which was in charge of the fast breeder reactor in Kalkar, Germany, was bugged and spied on by the public authorities because of unfounded suspicions. Traube, who was also a guest of this lecture series, became a firm opponent of nuclear energy.

The book, published later that year, which not only addressed the radiation risks of the atomic energy use, but also the democratic dangers of this high-risk technology, was named “Der Atomstaat” (“The Nuclear State”). In this book, Jungk describes the various aspects and parties concerned by nuclear energy use.

The new energy’s character hostile to life

Right in the introduction called “The hard way” Jungk clearly takes up position. The following slightly longer quote not only gives away the attitude of the critic of industrial technologies, but also gives an impression of the power lying in Jungk’s voice. His introductory words for his book “Atomstaat” (“The Nuclear State”) are the following:

“The technological utilisation of nuclear fission meant taking the plunge into a completely new dimension of violence. First, it was only directed at military opponents. Today it threatens our own civic. Atoms for peace theoretically do not differ from atoms for war. The declared intention only to use them for constructive purposes does not change anything about the new energy’s character that is hostile to life. Efforts to control the risks can only partly navigate the dangers. Even advocates have to admit that it will never be possible to exclude the dangers completely. The depending on the attitude bigger or smaller rest of insecurity can under certain circumstances bring such an immense disaster that every benefit gained will fade.” (The nuclear state, 1984, p. 9).

He continues: “This look ahead of the future, the fear of consequential damages of nuclear power gotten out of control will become the greatest imaginable burden of humankind – be it as a poison trail that cannot be extinguished or as the shadow of worry that will never go away” (ibid. p. 9).

His book “was written in fear and anger”: “In fear of the imminent loss of freedom and humanity. In anger about those who are willing to give up the most valuable goods for profit and consumption,” Jungk says. Many think that talking about technologies needs to be done without emotions. This, however, is the modern form of Biedermeier appeasement – “Silence is the primary civic duty,” Jungk states. “The ones who meet the monstrosities connected to the plutonium future with a cool mind, but without compassion, fear or arousal,” says Jungk,”contribute to its belittlement.” There are situations in which the power of feelings has to counteract a development and prevent “what hard-headed but wrong calculation has put in motion” (all quotes ibid. p. 10).

The philosopher and reporter of nuclear age

Günter Anders can be seen as the philosopher of nuclear age. In “The Outdatedness of Human Beings“ (Volume 1, 1956) he revealed the monstrosity of nuclear technology and the atomic bomb, which exceeds the human capacities of control and therefore could lead to the self-effacement of humankind.

The ethicist Hans Jonas extended this dilemma to the general human contact with the ecosphere, for example in the context of climate change. He says that the spheres of influence have exceeded the spheres of responsibility. Jonas derived an ethic of responsibility from this, which is capable of anticipating dangers and which leads to a reversal before a catastrophe takes place (because it is irreversible). Later the sociologist Ulrich Beck coined the term “risk society” for this phenomenon.

Robert Jungk could therefore be called the most important reporter, enlightener and agitator of the nuclear age so far. He also considers the irreversibility of nuclear fission as the main problem. It is a “completely new experience in history”. “If a reactor is set to work, processes are set to work with it that cannot be eliminated in the long term. Radioactive decomposition processes enduring generations with a radiation danger for all living beings need to be controlled carefully and permanently” (ibid p. 14). Today, atomic waste is still a constantly supressed problem that is loaded onto future generations. Plutonium has a half-life period of 27,000 years, which equates to 500 generations.

About the book

Chapter 1: “Radiation fodder” – Staff of the atomic plants as the first victims

Now moving on to the outline of the book “Der Atomstaat” (“The Nuclear State”), which consists of seven chapters. Right in the first chapter Jungk addresses those who are immediately exposed to the dangers of radiation, even without a nuclear accident. Those are the staff of the atomic plants. The chapter is given the title “Radiation fodder”.

In his book, Jungk describes the worries and the steadily growing protest of the workers at the reprocessing plant in La Hague, France. In 1967, the first plant of this kind was built; in 1976, at the time of the beginning protests, the second plant was planned by COGEMA (Compagnie Génerale de Matières Nucléaires). Since at the time only a few reprocessing plants were in use, the French were supposed to make a big deal with the reprocessing of nuclear fuel rods – the plant in West Valley, U.S. had to be closed down for safety reasons and the one in Windscale, Great Britain was overloaded. Material from Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden, Spain and even Japan was processed. On top of that, La Hague and Windscale were the first plants of that size with many uncleared safety issues. The location of La Hague at the north tip of Normandy was chosen because of the sparsely inhabited region, the proximity to the sea, which facilitated the delivery of the material to be enriched, and the opportunity provided for effluent disposal. Another reason for the site selection was according to Jungk the strong current flowing towards the ocean. It was meant to “flush away the poison from the French shore as fast as possible”. Jungk continues that there were further factors in favour of the location, which the French nuclear authority had already chosen in the late 1950s. These factors were “the particularly fast wind speed that would quickly blow away all radioactive gases and the quality of the soil that was in their eyes suitable for the middle-term storage of nuclear waste. Furthermore, the never officially admitted but leaked consideration that a peninsula was easier to be sealed off from the rest of the mainland in case of a catastrophe than a location in up-country” (ibid. p. 31).

The strengths of Jungk’s journalistic work were that he did not only make controversial studies public, but also always investigated on site and got himself into conversations – conversations with experts, opponents and advocates of nuclear energy, residents affected by the plants and, in the case of La Hague, with workers and unionists of the atomic plants. Dialogue partners were, for example, the physicist Bernhard Laponche, who was an employee of the French nuclear authority and leading operative of the social democratic and Christian-oriented federation of trade unions CFDT (Conféderation Francaise de Travail). Laponche publicly pointed out the safety defects of atomic plants. Another dialogue partner was Daniel Cauchon, who led the way in contributing to forms of resistance like a strike between September and December 1976. Cauchon gave Jungk insights into the strains the workers in the atomic plants had to face. He also reported that contract workers, so called “interimaires” were employed so the health check of those workers could be outsourced to their companies. This way the obligatory submission of control samples to the health authority, from which the daily dose the workers were exposed to could be read, were forgotten about.

Putting the reports about the precarious situation of the workers in the nuclear plants at the beginning of his book was a skilled strategy of Jungk because that way the risks of this technology could be depicted credibly. The workers (and their unions) were not against atomic power, which gave them work, per se, but advocated better safety measures. Jungk writes, „Thanks to the critical unionists of La Hague I got an insight into the workplace that could not have been scarier. The people in here do not only forfeit their health, but also their speech and right to self-determination. They call themselves ‘radiation fodder’, applying the term ‘cannon fodder’ to their situation” (ibid. p. 20). Elsewhere Jungk writes, “The atomic Sisyphus has the same hard lot as his mystic ancestor. His charges are not only heavy they are also toxic. The never-ending labour that is demanded from him strains his physical force and his mental resilience. The fear of the invisible rays that could hit him bother him as much as the isolation in the carapace he has to wear for work” (ibid. p. 21).

It exceeds my knowledge in how far Jungk’s reports about La Hague contributed to the sensitisation of the French public. The book was published in France in 1979. I also do not know about the job situation of the workers in the atomic plants today. What is sure is that the courage of the workers back then to turn to the public at least led to stricter safety measures.

Chapter 2: “The gamblers” – Nuclear scientists

The second chapter of the book deals with those nuclear scientists who promise a bright energy future if we let ourselves in for nuclear fission. Robert Jungk calls these scientists “The gamblers”. One of them was the professor Rolf Häfele who worked at the nuclear research centre in Karlsruhe for 12 years and who was one of the most vehement advocates of fast breeding reactors. These reactors are power plants that use Plutonium as nuclear fuel, need even higher temperatures than light water reactors, and use Cadmium for cooling instead of water. Fast breeding reactors were supposed to supply even more energy, but are significantly more dangerous than other reactor types because a core meltdown could result in an atomic explosion. Jungk calls the scientists gamblers because they gamble with the life of others and thereby ignore and ridicule critical studies as several examples in the book show. They are also gamblers because this new type of scientists gamble with enormous sums of money that could be earned if they succeeded in making the projects tempting to politicians. I will take you up on that later.

Chapter 3: “Homo atomicus” – Humankind as fallibility factor

In the third chapter “Homo atomicus” Jungk depicts the attempt to eliminate humankind as fallibility factor. This is on the one hand put into practice by robotisation and on the other hand by hard selection processes and trainings for workers. It is crucial that “the staff does not lose their head in case of an incident”. “A pious hope as the events at Three Mile Island have proven,” Jungk writes (ibid. p. 66). Many more incidents in the future like the worst-case scenario in Tschernobyl have shown that human failure can never be ruled out.

Jungk also justifiably criticises the technocratic language of experts who call the staff “lifeware” in addition to the hardware of computers and the software of the linked programs. He renders problematic that obviously nobody was bothered that supervisory institutions were consulted for the staff selection, not only in the power plants but also in the ancillary industries.

Jungk recites a grotesque but also revealing sounding list based on a survey of German companies that was published in the German newspaper “Wirtschaftswoche” on 4 March 1977. The list included the possible exclusion criteria for appliers – smokers (justification: higher disease frequency, increased tension), homosexuals (justification: disagreeable, incapable of filling certain positions such as instructor or staff manager), women (justification: allegedly incapable of being managers, possible pregnancies), foreigners (justification: allegedly unreliable, prejudiced against customers), alumni of certain majors at the Berlin and Bremen University (justification: of allegedly Marxist cadre factory background). Jungk concludes that similar or even more rigorous criteria can be expected “where the general management wants to be especially cautious – especially in the nuclear sector” (ibid. p. 68).

On one occasion, and it sounds almost like an anecdote, a big part of an atomic plant had to be dismantled again because a rumour circulated that a construction worker, as an act of sabotage, had set a bomb in concrete – it certainly turned out to be a fallacy.

Why did Jungk call this chapter “Homo Atomicus”? The reason is that he not just ironically said that there was research done on the genetic breeding of perfect and flawless humans in order to get hold of this interference factor.

Chapter 4: “The intimidated” – Silencing the insiders

In the fourth chapter called “The intimidated”, Jungk depicts that those who could be a potential threat to the nuclear power lobby were exposed to humiliation because as insiders they broke the silence about the grievances or just because their resistance could make too much of an impact. Ingo Focke, a German engineer from the famous Focke aviation-dynasty, turned into an opponent of nuclear energy when he could no longer accept the incorrect incidents in his company, a supplier for atomic plants. After that, reports Jungk, the cars of Focke and other nuclear energy opponents were manipulated.   Worse than those incidents that ended well was “the case Karen Silkwood”. The 28-year old lab assistant who worked at the Cimarron plutonium factory belonging to the KerrMcGee group was killed in a car accident. According to official data, she fell asleep after using a much too high dose of tranquilizers. Suspicion that there was something odd about the accident was aroused “when two men, who were waiting for her near the scene of the accident, noticed that an important dossier she wanted to hand to them was suddenly gone. One of these men was the famous New York Times reporter David Burnheim, the other one Stefan Wodka, the trade union secretary of the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers” (ibid. p. 83 f.). On 18 May 1979, after a lawsuit lasting for years, the parents of Karen Silkwood obtained damages worth 10.5 million dollars (although this certainly could not bring their daughter back to life). The health authority closed the plutonium factory.

Jungk, who suggested “an aid fund for dissident researchers” at the “International Conference for a Non-Nuclear Future” in May 1977, reports similar incidents in this chapter. For example, the case of Leo Kowarski, a pioneer of the French atomic research, who had to fear for his life because he spoke out against the construction of fast breeding reactors. None of the cases depicted were to our knowledge sued for objection.

Chapter 5: “The distributors” – Danger of proliferation  

In the fifth chapter called “The distributors”, Jungk initially describes the euphoria of the U.S. to turn nuclear energy into the energy of the future for the whole world, publicised under the slogan “Atoms for peace”. An endeavour that was withdrawn after it became acquainted that the peaceful nuclear technology could very well be misused for military purposes. In September 1977, the U.S. successfully fired a bomb at the nuclear test site in Nevada that was only filled with plutonium “of normal reactor quality”. One of the main advisors in the White House, Albert Wohlstetter, therefore obtained, according to Jungk that the further development of fast breeding reactors and the construction and export of reprocessing plants was prohibited in the U.S. The expert explicitly warned that if Japan and German carried out their atomic plans, they would already have disposed of enough plutonium to manufacture nuclear warheads. The intense nuclear relations between Germany and Apartheid-South Africa as well as Germany and Argentina described by Jungk also fit the mould. In South Africa, a large-scale plant for the uranium enrichment was constructed in Pelindaba and in Argentina, Germany collaborated on a reprocessing plant.

About the political relations to South Africa Jungk writes, “In August 1973 as well as in August 1975, Gerhard Stoltenberg, known for his sympathies towards nuclear energy since his brisk intervention in Brokdorf, flew to the southern tip of the dark continent. Both times, he spent some time at the uranium enrichment plant in Pelindaba. Franz Josef Strauß was Germany’s first nuclear minister and from 1956 the minister of defence and therefore a committed representative of nuclear armament. Since 1971 he had been in South Africa at least four times and had received the representatives of the South African nuclear authorities on several occasions” (ibid. p. 110 f.). The visits became suspicious due to the secretiveness, Jungk says, since there had never been prove that Germany had actually acquired plutonium for their nuclear missiles. The prolonged conflict with the Iranian nuclear programme, which the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) tries to resolve, proves that the problem of proliferation is not off the table yet.

Chapter 6: “Nuclear terrorists” – Plutonium smuggling

The sixth chapter called “Nuclear terrorists” describes nuclear explosive getting into the hands of terrorists, which is still a current issue today. It will never be fully possible to solve where all the missing fissile material went that gets lost in nukes all around the world. Studies quoted by Jungk show concerns that workers in the atomic plants could turn into uranium and plutonium smugglers themselves in order to make money. In an article from the US Office of Technology Assessment it says, “If every worker of a reprocessing plant smuggled only one gram of plutonium per day, an amount presumably too small to be detected, he could earn 5000 dollars or a multiple thereof per year” (see p. 132). Even in the course of the breakup of the Soviet Union and the partly desolate conditions in the successor army of the nuclear power Russia, enough fissile material could have been released.

Chapter 7: “The monitored” – Civil rights and liberties

In the seventh chapter called “The monitored”, Jungk finally depicts the fundamental danger of limitations of civil rights and liberties resulting from political terrorism becoming acute back then [“German Autumn” 1977, RAF = left-wing extremist terror organisation “Rote Armee Fraktion” in Germany] and from increasing safety hazards of the quickly multiplying atomic plants. Quote: “The doubled impulse of fear of terror and fear of atoms will prompt the industrial countries, if required, to interconnect all insights about the civic collected in the various public and private data bases into one single warning and control system of unimaginable density” (p. 141).

In this section, Jungk also reports acts of censorship for the media. In the 1950s, for example, the Daily Express was hindered from publishing an article about the construction mistakes and defaults of the reprocessing plant Windscale in Great Britain.

Outlook: “The gentle way”

In the book’s outlook titled “The gentle way”, Jungk reflects about his fundamental beliefs again. Resistance against atomic plants make clear that the nuclear issue has become the trigger for a debate that extends beyond the immediate cause. Quote: “Not only the future energy supply is open to debate, but also the control. There is not only a conflict about certain technologies, but about all manifestations and power influences of major industrial technologies.” It continues, “Behind lies the more extensive question whether the previous direction of the scientific-technological progress aimed at submission and exploitation is still suitable for humankind” (both quotes p. 147).

Jungk, nevertheless, speaks out optimistically about the further growth of the citizens’ movements. “All those who only link the notions of protests and violence to movements against atomic plants should understand that those people are not just opponents, they first and foremost campaign for something,” he writes. “The farmers of Wyhl, Saint Laurent, Kalkar and Brokdorf demonstrated for the preservation of their endangered existence. The workers of La Hague came out into the streets for their health. The construction site in Seabrook, U.S. was squatted for the preservation of the environment; Japanese, Basks, Italians and Dutch went on hunger strike for their descendants and the endangered future of coming generations; the Australian dockers took industrial action when uranium mining threatened the native inhabitants of their country. In Gösgen, Barsebeck and Zwentendorf nuclear opponents fought for their democratic codetermination in the preparation of technological major projects mostly funded by tax money” (ibid. p. 148 ff.). [Note: Zwentendorf is Austria’s only atomic plant and it never went into operation. In the light of the massive expansion of nuclear energy in Czechia (Temelin) and Slovakia (Mohovce), which led to an anti-nuclear movement in those countries, the book “The Nuclear State” was translated into Czech in 1994.]

Jungk justifiably points out that different energy politics without risk technologies would require a different lifestyle and conscience. Even here he is optimistic and talks about a new Internationale in the making, whose mind-set is contingent on a “creed for a more modest life”. The new Internationale has grown out of the finding that “the material fundamentals of humankind are finite and that the previous waste economy of the industrial countries has to stop.” For “not a future of infinite wealth” is in front of us, “but a future of scarcity”. With those words, Jungk takes up on what the Club of Rome formulated in “The Limits to Growth” for the first time in 1972. It also refers to the ideas of the sustainability discourse going on since the 1990s.

Strongly linked to this new way of thinking is according to Jungk, “the aspiration for justice”. An Internationale that takes solidarity seriously has to take the immense differences in economic status between the developed and less developed countries more seriously than ever before (all quotes, ibid. p. 150).

Jungk was right with both observations, but he was so far mistaken with the Internationale becoming a determining factor of historical impact.