‘Commandments in the Atomic Age’ by Günther Anders


Günther Anders’s essay “Commandments in the Atomic Age” was first published as “Gebote des Atomzeitalters” in the July 14, 1957 edition of Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. The original German text can be found at Texte und Thesen.

In 1959, Günther Anders’s third wife Charlotte Zelka translated the “Gebote des Atomzeitalters” in English so Anders could send the text to U.S. Army Air Forces pilot Claude Eatherly with whom he had just started a correspondence. This correspondence (including the original German version of the essay “Gebote des Atomzeitalters”) was first published in German in 1961 as Off limits für das Gewissen. Der Briefwechsel zwischen dem Hiroshima-Piloten Claude Eatherly und Günther Anders with a preface by Bertrand Russell and a foreword by Robert Junkt (author of Brighter than a Thousand Suns: A Personal History of the Atomic Scientists in 1958). The American edition appeared the next year under the title Burning Conscience: The Case of the Hiroshima Pilot Claude Eatherly, told in his Letters to Günther Anders 1961 with an added postscript “to the American readers” by Günther Anders himself.

The entirety of Anders’s correspondence with Eatherly ―including preface and foreword―was later included in Hiroshima ist überall (C. H. Beck, München, 1982; see page 191 of the 1995 German edition). The collection was translated in French as Hiroshima est partout (Seuil, 2008): this is where French readers should look for a French version of Anders’s “Commandments in the Atomic Age”.

Günther Anders (1902–92) is undoubtedly one of the most interesting, ignored, oppositional, radical, and nearly forgotten philosophers of the twentieth century. Having grown up in Germany, Anders (whose real name was Stern) and his wife Hannah Arendt had to flee the country in 1933. Via Paris, now divorced, Anders came to the United States, where he never really found his place; red-baiting and propaganda against the left made it difficult for him to find a job. In 1950 he decided to return to Europe, where he lived for the rest of his life in Vienna.

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