A Cold War State of Mind

A Cold War State of Mind: Brainwashing and Postwar American Society

Matthew W. Dunne
Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 296
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  • Book Info
    A Cold War State of Mind
    Book Description:

    First popularized during the 1950s, the concept of “brainwashing” is often viewed as an example of Cold War paranoia, an amusing relic of a bygone era. Yet as Matthew W. Dunne shows in this study, over time brainwashing came to connote much more than a sinister form of Communist mind control, taking on broader cultural and political meanings. Moving beyond wellknown debates over Korean War POWs and iconic cultural texts like The Manchurian Candidate, Dunne explores the impact of the idea of brainwashing on popular concerns about freedom, individualism, loyalty, and trust in authority. By the late 1950s the concept had been appropriated into critiques of various aspects of American life such as an insistence on conformity, the alleged “softening” of American men, and rampant consumerism fueled by corporate advertising that used “hidden” or “subliminal” forms of persuasion. Because of these associations and growing anxieties about the potential misuse of psychology, concerns about brainwashing contributed to a new emphasis on individuality and skepticism toward authority in the 1960s. The notion even played an unusual role in the 1968 presidential race, when Republican frontrunner George Romney’s claim that he had been “brainwashed” about the Vietnam War by the Johnson administration effectively destroyed his campaign. In addition to analyzing the evolving meaning of brainwashing over an extended period of time, A Cold War State of Mind explores the class and gender implications of the idea, such as the assumption that workingclass POWs were more susceptible to mind control and that women were more easily taken in by the manipulations of advertisers.

    eISBN: 978-1-61376-281-3
    Subjects: Sociology, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-10)

    When the director Jonathan Demme remadeThe Manchurian Candidatein 2004 he updated several aspects of John Frankenheimer’s classic psychological thriller from the 1960s for a contemporary audience. Among the more noteworthy changes, Demme shifted the setting from the Cold War to the war on terror, completely abandoned the McCarthy-esque character Senator Johnny Iselin, and transformed the Communist enemy from the original into America’s own corporate allies. As one critic observed, “What was a thriller set in the deepest, darkest paranoid waters of the Cold War has become a sort of post–Gulf war Halliburton-dunit.”¹ But notably the original film’s...

  5. Part I. “There Is No ‘Behind the Lines’ Any Longer”

    • 1 The Origins of Brainwashing
      (pp. 13-51)

      On Friday, April 10, 1953, two months after being appointed director of the CIA, Allen Dulles stood before a gathering of the Alumni Conference for Princeton University in hot Springs, Virginia. In less than two weeks the first exchange of prisoners of war (POWs) between the United States and North Korea, popularly known as Operation Little Switch, would take place.¹ The exchange would mark the beginning of the end of the Korean War, but as that war reached its final resolution in the fall of 1953 the Cold War continued unabated. As Dulles addressed the crowd it was clear that...

    • 2 The Many Faces of the Communist Enemy
      (pp. 52-80)

      Two weeks before the presidential election of 1952, Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower appeared before nearly one hundred thousand enthusiastic Bostonians on Boston Common to highlight his case for the presidency. Addressing the largest crowd of his presidential campaign, Eisenhower began his speech by differentiating himself from the Democratic nominee, Adlai Stevenson. Telling the crowd he could not “dress up . . . [his] ideas in witty and pretty talk,” Eisenhower clearly and simply articulated his qualifications for the presidency, claiming that the main reason the United States needed new leadership was because it faced an enemy that represented “a definite...

    • 3 Korean War POWs and a Reevaluation of the National Character
      (pp. 81-115)

      After the Korean Armistice Agreement was signed on July 26, 1953, there was a palpable sense of relief that American boys were coming home. The majority of the returning POWs received warm homecomings. As a group, they benefited from largely positive and sympathetic press coverage in the fall and winter of 1953, and the highest-ranking American POW, Gen. William F. Dean, was graced with a ticker-tape parade in New York City. Over time, however, these initial good feelings were overshadowed by critics who questioned the mental fortitude and patriotism of the men who had served in Korea.¹ As the first...

    • 4 Motherhood and Male Autonomy during the Cold War
      (pp. 116-146)

      In the fall of 1953 Portia Howe became a minor cause célèbre and a short-lived media sensation when it was revealed that her son, Pvt. Richard R. Tenneson, was one of the twenty-three American POWs in Korea who planned to remain with his Communist captors and refuse repatriation to the United States. Part of the publicity was owing to Tenneson’s age: he was only seventeen when he enlisted in the army in 1950 and was one of the youngest Americans to decide not to come home. But what really captured the public imagination was Howe’s response to the news. Instead...

  6. Part II. “A Disquieting Invasion of Our Mental Domain”

    • 5 Hidden Persuaders on the Home Front
      (pp. 149-180)

      A B-movie released in the fall of 1958 illustrates just how far brainwashing had come by the end of the decade. Directed by Jacques Tournier and starring Dana Andrews as Alan Eaton, a former POW in North Korea,The Fearmakersopens with a scene that evokes many of the Korean War POW films that had come before it. As the title sequence rolls and ominous music plays in the background, a haggard-looking Eaton is repeatedly struck across the face by his Communist captors, shoved into a prison cell, and finally released at a United Nations compound with other prisoners. In...

    • 6 The Limits of Individuality in Postwar America
      (pp. 181-210)

      In his commencement address at Smith College in 1955, Adlai Stevenson warned the graduating class of the small women’s liberal arts college in Northampton, Massachusetts, about the growing trends of specialization and conformity within American society that were threatening to dehumanize the “typical Western man, or typical Western husband.” in Stevenson’s view these new trends were part of a historic crisis between collectivism and individualism, and even though he derisively informed the audience that, whether they liked it or not, the majority of them would go on to fulfill “the humble role of the house-wife,” he avowed that nonetheless they...

    • 7 The Legacy of Brain Warfare
      (pp. 211-236)

      The man who coined the termbrainwashing,Edward Hunter, continued to resurface periodically in the national spotlight until the early 1960s. An appearance before members of the house Committee on Un-American Activities in 1958 outlined how his thinking on brainwashing had evolved since he had first published on the topic, and he frankly told the assembled congressmen that “the Communist hierarchy well knows that its brainwashing is only skin deep in the overwhelming number of cases.” The admission represented a stark departure from many of his earlier comments about the long-lasting effects of brainwashing. Despite his reversal, Hunter still viewed...

  7. Notes
    (pp. 237-270)
  8. Index
    (pp. 271-281)
  9. Back Matter
    (pp. 282-284)