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Dr. Charlie Williams, Postdoctoral Researcher
Corresponding author.

You are watching: Research revealed that the pows of the korean war were brainwashed through the tactic of


In 1950, a brand-new word ‘brainwashing’ gotten in the English language. Despite its meaning was constantly ambiguous and continuously evolving, it captured various concerns around the future supplies of psychology in warfare and domestic life and the potential for new technologies to control and manipulate human being minds. Current scholarship ~ above what historians have dubbed the ‘Cold battle brainwashing scare’ has tended to treat brainwashing as a Cold battle paranoia or fantasy that not just was never ever to be, however was never really sustained by scientific research. Drawing on current scholarship and also my own research, this document examines several of the interactions in between experts and popular discourses ~ above brainwashing. For numerous experts, the Cold battle brainwashing scare offered an opportunity to communicate the public with modern psychological theory and research. But it was by no method a discussion over which they had complete control. It will certainly be said that the well-known debate around brainwashing was not only a concern of taking care of scientific ‘facts‘, but existed in a much more diverse imaginary concerned as much with existing realities, together it was v future possibilities. Lot in the same means that stories around artificial intelligence are reported today, discussions of methods of brainwashing were often accompanied by speculation both wild and also grounded about how brand-new technology might be provided in the future and also by whom. This document covers 3 examples: oriental War armed forces psychiatrists, the renowned theories of william Sargant and also the field of speculative research known generally as sensory deprivation. The concludes with some observations about current concerns around psychological manipulation in the digital age and the function psychology expertise plays in navigating this concerns.


The psychologist can hardly perform anything without realising the for that the salvation of expertise opens up the many terrifying prospects of managing what civilization do and also how they think and how castle behave and how they feel


(Oppenheimer, 1956, p.128).

Or so stated the an excellent physicist Robert Oppenheimer once addressing attendees at the yearly Meeting of the American psychological Association in 1955. Those who had actually gathered in ~ the conference may have felt this was somewhat rich comes from the mastermind that the atomic bomb. In 1955 the prospect of thermonuclear apocalypse to be hardly laying easy on the imaginations of many Americans, nor to be the different of a perpetual stalemate of cold warfare, or in the indigenous of George Orwell, a ‘peace that is no peace’ (Orwell, 1945). Nonetheless, Oppenheimer continued…

…as the corpus of psychology gains in certitude and subtlety and also skill, I can see the the physicist’s pleas the what the discovers be used with humanity… will seem quite trivial contrasted to those which friend will have to make and also for which girlfriend will have to be responsible


(Oppenheimer, 1956, p.128).

Whilst Oppenheimer may have actually been attempting come deflect few of the flak command at physicists in the early Cold War, his concerns about the future usage of emotional research to be hardly unique. Together historians have shown, visions of psychological expertise supplied to manipulate, control or ‘brainwash’ the general public were widespread in Cold War renowned culture, prompting concern around the future uses and abuses that psychology. Undoubtedly, the root of such pertains to extend past the Cold War and also can be traced alongside many 20th-century developments, consisting of the development of what the sociologist Nikolas Rose has labelled the ‘psy-disciplines’ and also their influence, either real or imagined, on the increase of totalitarianism, the use of propaganda, massive media and also mass culture1. Yet, as several historians have actually argued, there to be unique conditions of Cold war that accentuated the moral panic about hidden mental influencers (Carruthers, 2009; Dunne, 2013; Melley, 2011).

To begin with, the psy techniques experienced a period of rapid expansion mid-century in which castle developed partnerships within both government and also industry. As the historian Ellen Herman argues in The romantic of American Psychology (1995), it was throughout the 2nd World war in certain that psychologists forged an alliance with the federal federal government by demonstrating just how their expertise could be to work in the national interest to handle a hold of valuable problems. These professionals were called upon to decide just how to recruit, combine morale, advice employee and also public opinion, architecture propaganda campaigns and also of food to conduct their primary service of treating mental health. Together tensions in between the communist and also non-communist human beings compounded in the so late 1940s and also 1950s, the function of psychology in war was provided renewed emphasis, as global leaders declared that the Cold battle was not just a struggle for are or military dominance, but likewise an ideological struggle. This suggest was made explicit through Dwight Eisenhower in a presidential project speech in 1952, as soon as he stated that the target of the Cold war was no ‘the conquering of territory or subjugation by force’, yet rather to guide the people to believe the fact (or at least an American version of it). Eisenhower continues, ‘the means we shall employ to spread out this fact are often dubbed ‘psychological’. Don’t be fear of that term just because it’s a five-dollar, five-syllable word. ‘Psychological warfare’ is the battle for the minds and wills that men’ (Stonor Saunders, 1999, p.148).

The Cold war ‘battle for the mind’2 of food took various forms, yet perhaps no word caught psychological war at its many sensational than ‘brainwashing’, a term very first popularised by a journalist called Edward Hunter in a 1950 write-up for the Miami News (see additionally Holmes, 2017). Here and also in later on works, Hunter claimed that Chinese and also Soviet secret police had actually developed an effective techniques for manipulating minds. Though it resonated v anti-communist emotion at the time, brainwashing would perhaps never have acquired so lot traction if it wasn’t for a collection of scandals involving collaboration in between American detainees of battle (POWs) and also their Chinese captors during the oriental War. In 1952, Colonel open minded Schwable and 35 other recorded Air pressure personnel publicly confessed come committing crimes of germ warfare versus North Korea. Other accounts of POW collaboration, consisting of making windy anti-war and anti-McCarthy broadcasts, received widespread attention. Perhaps many controversially, ~ a long-awaited armistice deal was i agree in 1953 – one British and 21 American soldiers refused to be repatriated come their nation of origin, choosing to relocate come communist China rather (Carruthers, 2009, pp.174–216; Pasley, 1955). The case in north Korea led climate director the the CIA, Allen Dulles, to declare the the communist opponent was waging a new type of ‘brain warfare’ in i m sorry the mind becomes something choose a ‘phonograph playing a disc put on that is spindle by an external genius over which it had no control’ (Killen, 2011, p.51).

If brainwashing started life together a term associated with paranoia around the growing global influence and imagined psychological arsenals of communist regimes, the concept was conveniently inverted as a critique versus multiple creates of domestic control, feeding right into debates around the role of brand-new media, parenting, declaring and huge business3. Classic texts such together William Whyte’s The organization Man (1956) and Vance Packard’s Hidden Persuaders (1957) also warned about the significantly pervasive duty psychologists had to pat in American life. In The company Man, Whyte lamented the usage of psychological testing and also profiling in corporate management, composing that whilst employers can demand superlative work in exchange of an employee’s salary, lock ‘should no ask because that his psyche together well’ (p.201). Packard’s Hidden Persuaders warned of the methods in which proclaiming gurus or ‘depth men’ supplied psychoanalytic concept to target consumer’s unconscious desires. Throughout the 1950s and also 1960s, Hollywood too confirmed to it is in a popular stage for trying out such concerns. In maybe the many iconic brainwashing film of that is era, man Frankenheimer’s The Manchurian Candidate, brainwashing appears in assorted guises: A communist plot to brainwash one American POW, the consistent presence that media and television, a belligerent McCarthy-like senator and also an overbearing mother. It also tapped into postwar concerns about an emasculated generation that young American males (Carruthers, 1998).

Whilst countless of the claims made about psychological warfare appear sensational in hindsight, castle nonetheless had actually real civilization effects, not least within the human being sciences, together military and also government funding for research regarded mind manage pushed the objectives of tendency psychology and also psychiatry in assorted directions. In the 1950s and 1960s the united state military and intelligence complex funded many leading researchers and also research organizations in phibìc America working through drugs, hypnosis, sensory deprivation and also other mindbending approaches (Lutz, 1997; McCoy, 2007). The most well-known and controversial example was the CIA’s MKULTRA project (Marks, 1978). A study programme, i m sorry in the words of its previous director Sidney Gottlieb, aimed come ‘investigate whether and also how the was feasible to modify behaviour by surprise means’ (Marks, 1978, p.57). What began as a reasonably small surprise investigation right into techniques of interrogation, quickly expanded right into a substantial research and breakthrough effort involving drugs, hypnosis and also various creates of physical and also emotional deprivation. But, even for those many intimately linked with the project, the CIA’s attempt to ‘control person behaviour’ was largely seen together a failure. In 1977, one psychologist who worked on the programme testified in congress stating the by the 1960s ‘it to be at the very least proved to my satisfaction the brainwashing – so-called – as some type of one esoteric maker where medicine or mind changing kinds that conditions and so forth to be used, did not exist.’ Gittinger even argued he and his colleagues had been captured up in the panic surrounding brainwashing and that movies such together the Manchurian Candidate had actually ‘made something impossible look plausible’ (US House, select Committee ~ above Intelligence, 1977, p.596). In spite of such claims, numerous critics have argued nonetheless the MKULTRA research aided establish and also justify power of so referred to as ‘psychological torture’ and also ‘enhanced interrogation’ quiet in use now (Cobain, 2012; McCoy, 2006; see additionally Rejali, 2007).

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Given that ambiguity and sci-fi aesthetic, Cold battle scholars have often argued that the brainwashing panic was a renowned fantasy, one i beg your pardon said more about various anxieties and insecurities in write-up war popular society than the did about the fact of any serious mental threats to the mind. In The surprise Sphere (2014), literary scholar Timothy Melley makes this suggest explicit once he describes brainwashing together a ‘strategic fiction’, shaped by famous fascination and also speculation around the research study and breakthrough capabilities of the hidden state. Yet, also if numerous of the concerns about ‘brainwashing’ voiced throughout the Cold War show up unfounded today, psychologists and research scientists nonetheless played crucial role in shaping windy debates. Illustration on current scholarship and my own research, this paper examines some of the interactions in between experts and also popular discourses on brainwashing. For numerous experts, the Cold battle brainwashing scare offered an opportunity to connect the windy with modern psychological theory and research, however it to be by no method a conversation over which lock had finish control. It will be suggested that the famous debate about brainwashing to be not only a inquiry of taking care of scientific ‘facts’, but existed in a an ext diverse imaginary pertained to as much with existing realities together it was with future possibilities. Lot in the same means that stories around artificial knowledge are report today, discussions of methods of brainwashing were often accompanied by speculation both wild and also grounded around how new technology may be offered in the future and by whom. This paper covers three examples: korean War military psychiatrists, the physical psychiatry of william Sargant and the field of speculative research known broadly as sensory deprivation. The concludes through some observations around current concerns about psychological manipulation in the digital age and the role psychology expertise plays in navigating these concerns.