Obituary: Robert Jungk
Monday 18 July 1994
ROBERT JUNGK's career had a strange logic to it, each turn of events in his personal circumstances or in world history leading to a new direction in his activity. His life was like Goethe's concept of the Bildungsroman where character is shaped by experience until at the end of one's life, one is complete. He was a gentle, lovable man who could be very determined when his mind was set on a goal and equally fierce in achieving it.
He described himself as a scientific journalist, but he will be remembered as much as a teacher and as a political activist: his name as a speaker would ensure a large attendance at a rally, especially among the young and the environmentally minded; he led, and to a great extent masterminded, the Austrian anti-nuclear movement so successfully, that that country, having built nuclear reactors, was never allowed by the electorate to use them: his arguments convinced a majority of the voters when the first referendum was held and on each subsequent one. And Jungk can fairly be considered the father of what is now called futurology, the science of examining the world of tomorrow.
Born in Berlin in 1913, Robert was the son of the well-known German actor Max Jung. He added a 'k' to his name out of respect for his father and to escape from the aura of his fame. He studied at the University of Berlin in 1932 and 1933 and then, being Jewish, and because of his and the family's reaction to Hitler, attended the Sorbonne from 1933 to 1935 and then went to Zurich where he obtained his doctorate in Philology. He remained in Zurich until 1944 when he moved to the United States and began his career as a writer on current affairs and especially on science, writing for American and European newspapers. His first book, The Future Has Begun, appeared in 1952.
While working on a documentary about the atomic bomb and interviewing the physicists and scientists who had created it, Jungk realised that not only what is created, but the use that is made of the results of human cleverness, is closely linked to the personalities and breadth of understanding of the individuals involved. His resulting book, Brighter Than A Thousand Suns (1956), which became a world best-seller, and is still read and much quoted today, is not only about how the bomb was made, but even more about the men and women who made it: it reads and entertains like a novel and enables the reader to understand the ethical and political arguments that were part of the scientific process itself and of the decision made by President Harry Truman to drop the first bomb. His subsequent writings on human inventions and institutions always stressed the human factor and tried to see the end results of new scientific or institutional inventions. His writings turned him into an influential speaker and a non-party political activist.
Creation and Human Will appeared in 1957, The Radiation of the Ashes in 1959 and History and Rebirth the same year. By now Jungk was an international figure, much in demand at conferences, a prominent speaker at anti-nuclear meetings and closely involved with Bertrand Russell in CND and the 'Committee of a Hundred'. The Enormous Machine, a study of bureaucracy, military power and the growth of state planning appeared in 1966 and Man in the Year 2000 in 1961. Many more books, articles and pamphlets, some of them transcriptions of speeches, all increasingly asked where mankind was going, pointing out the dangers of uncontrolled research made for military or economic reasons. He emphasised how little many scientists know of world history, ethics and human irresponsibility in both political and economic spheres. The Nuclear State (1970), was a devastating indictment of the nuclear industry. Jungk made a promotional tour when the translation appeared in Britain, receiving a sympathetic press and a large turnout wherever he lectured, especially in areas threatened with the imposition of a nuclear station or waste dump. Towards the end of that visit, Three Mile Island had its major nuclear accident, proving the possibility of what Jungk's critics insisted was impossible. The press began to discover, largely because of Jungk's book, the long history of nuclear spillages, emissions, accidents and near melt-downs that had occurred in Britain.
Jungk was a strong supporter of alternative, replaceable, non-
threatening forms of energy. The Nuclear State exposed the commercial lobbies that stop these forms being developed and the political pressure put on governments by the nuclear lobby.
Robert Jungk's development of futurology as a new form of study has been taken up in many countries, especially Germany, Scandinavia and Japan. His later writings envisaged new social institutions to promote compatibility and understanding between generations, peoples and nations, moving away from high technology to simpler life styles. He made notable contributions to major conferences on the future of mankind in Berlin, Oslo, Kyoto and Bucharest in the Sixties. Since 1964 he has been President of Mankind 2000 and director of the Institute of Future Studies in Berlin. In 1986 he set up the International Futures Library in Salzburg. His courses at Berlin's Technological University, where he was a visiting professor, were always packed and his students would often follow him abroad on his speaking engagements, setting up tents outside the hotel or institution where he was staying. He was prominent at the 1962 Writers Conference in Edinburgh and the Conference on Science and the Future held at Harrogate in 1965: on the latter occasion his students and their tents provoked comment.
Jungk lived for many years in Salzburg with his wife, the former actress Ruth Suschitzky. His son Peter is now a well-known photographer and cineaste. As head of the Austrian Anti-Nuclear and Ecological movement, Robert Jungk's efforts were decisive in keeping that country nuclear-free, even though he was less successful in his opposition to Kurt Waldheim as President. In 1992, Jungk was the Green candidate for president in the elections won by Thomas Klestil.
In personality Jungk was excitable, hyperactive, untidy in appearance and working habits, effusive and voluble, a good listener as well as a good talker. Master of many languages, he remained very German, almost a caricature of the German professor, with a manic and compulsive love of the printed word that made him buy every book and newspaper that came within reach. In short, a great eccentric who did more for the future of the world he loved than any man should have to do.
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