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Aum Shinrikyo, Apocalyptic Violence, and the New Global Terrorism

Destroying the World to Save It : Aum Shinrikyo, Apocalyptic Violence, and the New Global Terrorism
by Robert Jay Lifton
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Paperback - (October 2000) 376 pages

Editorial Reviews
The premise of Destroying the World to Save It is terrifying: after studying the history of the Japanese cult Aum Shinrikyo (instigators of a 1995 nerve gas attack on a Tokyo subway), the author believes them to be only one group in a "loosely connected, still-developing global subculture of apocalyptic violence." We ignore this subculture, says National Book Award winner Robert Jay Lifton, at our future peril. In interviews with former Aum members once led by the guru figure Shoko Asahara, it is their "familiar ordinariness" that most disturbs Lifton. Drawing parallels to his studies of Nazi psychology, he notes that--just as in Germany--practicing doctors and trained scientists were persuaded to join Aum and offer their specialized knowledge in the service of the cult's plans. The story of Aum, says Lifton, has for the first time shown the world that not only other states but more elusive groups less open to diplomacy may be able to gain control of weapons of mass destruction.

While Destroying the World to Save It is a deeply researched and intelligent psychological analysis, Lifton's conclusion is nevertheless unsatisfying. While surmising that those who next attempt to carry out an apocalyptic plan may be more powerful and competent than Aum, he does not really present a good suggestion for how to prevent their success, offering only a psychologist's "plea for awareness." One hopes his study will encourage activism against global terrorism as well. --Maria Dolan --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

The New York Times Book Review, Nicholas D. Kristof
Lifton is at his best in explaining the mixed-up feeling of Asahara's disciples, the confusion that led them to obey the guru or rationalize what he did. --This text refers to the
Hardcover edition.

The New York Times, Richard Bernstein
As with all of Lifton's reflections on politics and psychology, this one has many powerful and compelling insights. --This text refers to the
Hardcover edition.

From Booklist
From psychiatrist and National Book Award^-winner Lifton comes this astonishingly intimate portrait of Aum Shinrikyo, the Japanese cult that became world-famous when it released a nerve gas called sarin into the Tokyo subway. Lifton, who has written extensively both on Japan and on terrorism and genocide, interviewed former members of the cult, and his profile of Aum's leader, the charismatic con man Shoko Asahara, is extremely detailed and rather creepy. But the book is much more than a story of a single cult. It's an exploration of the idea of cults: how they grow, who joins them, who leads them. Drawing on his knowledge of Japan--both modern and historical--Lifton places Aum in the broader context of world history, comparing it to Jim Jones' Peoples Temple and the Nazi movement. An intelligent, ambitious exploration of the power of cults and a definite eye-opener. David Pitt --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Kirkus Reviews
A study of the historical and psychological origins and meanings of the Japanese cult Aum Shinriky, by the noted psychiatrist and author Lifton. On March 5, 1995, members of Aum, at the direction of their leader, Shk Asahara, released the lethal gas sarin onto five Tokyo subway trains. Eleven died, 5,000 were injured. Lifton has written often on the evil extremes of human actione.g., the Nazi Holocaust, Hiroshima (Hiroshima in America: 50 Years of Denial, 1995, etc.). Bringing his vast knowledge to bear on Aum, he finds much that is familiar, much that is unique. As with all cults, the members of Aum were fiercely dedicated to their leader, to the point of ''collective megalomania'': an unquestioned belief in the limitless power of the self. Add to this a belief in poa, altruistic murder, so that the victim might move to a higher level of being, and all bounds of behavior are removed. Aum was fascinated with Armageddon. a final cleansing of the world, but uniquely Aum had weapons at its disposal to at least plan such a cleansing. This is the new terrorism to which the title alludes. Lifton examines how cult members became indoctrinated, yet he has larger questions. Why such a group in the first place? Why in Japan? Can it happen elsewhere? Reaching back to Japanese history, the author searches for motivation: similar cults, Japan's failure to face its barbarous actions in WWII, the spiritual malaise of a rigid Japanese social system. Even Godzilla movies come into play. Beyond Aum, Lifton looks to the social situations that may lead to, and in fact have led to, similar cults in the US. Lifton is evocative and erudite as usual, yet the limits of his psychohistorical'' method remain. Understanding history through psychology suggests much and proves little. The history of Japan may have motivated Aum members, but precisely howhow history permeates the individualremains unclear. Nonetheless, this is a powerful book, suggesting how fragile both the human psyche and human decency may be. -- Copyright ©1999, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the
Hardcover edition.

Anthony Day, Los Angeles Times
"Disturbing...sounds somber warning bells."

Daniel Berger, The Philadelphia Inquirer
"A fascinating (if frightening) investigation...valuable...ingenious."

Book Description
Since earliest history, prophets and gurus have foretold the world's end, but only the nuclear age has enabled a megalomaniac guru with an apocalyptic vision to bring his prophecy to pass. Robert Jay Lifton offers a case in point in this chilling exploration of Aum Shinrikyo, the cult that released sarin nerve gas in the Tokyo subways.

With unprecedented access to former Aum members, Lifton has produced a pathbreaking study of the inner life of a millennial cult. He shows how Aum's guru created a religion from a global stew of new age thinking, ancient rituals, and science fiction, then recruited scientists to produce weapons of mass destruction. Also taking stock of Charles Manson, Heaven's Gate, and the Oklahoma City bombers, Lifton confronts the frightening possibility of a twenty-first century in which cults and terrorists are able to bring about their own holocausts.

About the Author
A distinguished professor of psychology and psychiatry at John Jay College and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, Robert Jay Lifton is the author of many important works, including The Nazis Doctors, winner of the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, and Death in Life, winner of a National Book Award.

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