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Twemlow, S.W. (2004). Psychoanalytic Understanding of Terrorism and Massive Social Trauma. J. Amer. Psychoanal. Assn., 52(3):709-716.

(2004). Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 52(3):709-716

Psychoanalytic Understanding of Terrorism and Massive Social Trauma

Stuart W. Twemlow

In a speech delivered in India in 1963, Erik Erikson assessed the historical situation: “Man's socio-genetic evolution is about to reach a crisis in the full sense of the word, a crossroads offering one path to fatality, and one to recovery and further growth. Artful perverter of joy and keen exploiter of strength, man is the animal that has learned to survive ‘in a fashion,’ to multiply without food for the multitudes, to grow up healthy without reaching personal maturity, to live well but without purpose, to invent ingeniously without aim, and to kill grandiosely without need” (Erikson 1964, p. 227). Forty years later, humankind seems stalled at that crossroads, with the the technology in place, now greatly refined, to eliminate millions with ease and to terrorize entire populations with the threat of annihilation. Indeed, the contributions of modern science and technology have opened the abyss, in Nietzsche's sense, so that we now look into it without choice.

In this issue of JAPA, six works reflect that abyss, as well as the way, as Nietzsche noted, that the abyss often looks back into the individual. Our consideration of terrorism begins with a questionnaire survey by Deborah Cabaniss, Nicholas Forand, and Stephen Roose of how analysts responded in their clinical work to the destruction of the World Trade Center. It is followed by three papers that look at severe social trauma: a sensitive description of how a team of analytically sympathetic individuals, led by Mary Ann Levy, worked to help the community of survivors of the Columbine massacre; the observations of Ilany Kogan, an analyst working under siege in Israel; and the reflections of Alexander Stein on his own experience close to the epicenter of 9/11.

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