a technique to achive one of two goals, part of which is that the victim is left in the dark as to which of the two is the one aimed for.
brainwashing can either aim to extract information from someone, or alternatively make him switch sides, often working as a double agent after his release or (fabricated) escape.
Another overused word. To my understanding, brainwashing is a term that first came into use during the Korean War, when captive American soldiers denounced their government and its intentions.

The process is not as casual as the current use of the term would lead one to believe, but involved deprivation (for example, locking the prisoner in a completely dark room for days, denial of food, water, and sanitary facilities) in addition to psychological techniques based on Pavlov's work on the conditioned response.

Although effective brainwashing is a complex and difficult process, it can be summarized in two basic steps:

First, weaken or lessen the victims willpower through physical discomfort/pain, repetitive boring tasks, sleep deprivation, undernourishment (sometimes disguised as "religious fasting") or trance-like meditation.
Then, imprint the desired ideal upon the victim in an appropriately "traumatic" manner (the "trauma" may come in the form of emotional stress, fear, release from hardship, or some significant event).

For great examples of efficient brainwashing in action, refer to The United States Military, Organized Religion, Scientology, and Corporate America. Dick Sutphen wrote an excellent essay called "The Battle for your Mind", in which he describes how many of the above organizations utilize neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) to brainwash prospective members.

In recent times, with all the emphasis on individuality and self-awareness, "brainwashing" has taken on a decidedly derogatory meaning. The fact of the matter is, in order to become a great soldier, a great accountant, or great at swindling old people out of their pensions, you need to have been "brainwashed" to some small degree. What makes this a good or a bad thing is the quality of the message that has been imprinted on you when all has been said and done.

The first use of the term 'brainwashing' in print was in a Miami News article by Edward Hunter: 'Brain-Washing' Tactics Force Chinese into Ranks of Communist Party. (Miami News, 24 Sept, 1950). He adapted the Chinese term: hsi-nao ("to clean the mind") which at the time was devoid of political or sinister meanings in China. Hunter was a British journalist who was employed by the CIA. He went on to publish several more articles on the topic, including a book, Brainwashing in Red China in 1951.

The image which Hunter (and, no doubt, his employers) wished to create in the minds of his readers, was that the Chinese were using some radical, fiendish, new technology in order to conduct their political indoctrination, a technology of control whose power to alter the consciousness, thought processes and beliefs of the victim was well-nigh irresistible and irreversible.

The term struck a chord in the popular mind, and with the pseudo-scientific associations provided by Hunter (he made ample references to the work of Russian scientist Ivan Pavlov, implying a precise, evil, science of behaviour modification, and hinting at darker, more secret techniques of persuasion) it quickly became part of the public mythos of 'the Red Menace', which was being hyped beyond all sanity by politicians and media pundits throughout 'the Free World' at the time.

The mysterious 'brainwashing' process was readily jumped on as an explanation of the Soviet authorities' remarkable success in extracting confessions from the political dissidents whose ideas and activities they disapproved, and of the sometimes 'drugged' or strongly subdued appearance of these when reciting their preposterous confessions at the famous "show trials" which were then taking place (a famous such case being the 'confession' of the Hungarian activist Josef Cardinal Mindszenty.)

During the Korean War, the Chinese (who were holding some of the prisoners captured by the Koreans) showed remarkable success in extracting remorse and confessions from American prisoners. In contrast to British and Australian (and other UN) prisoners, 70% of the Americans 'confessed' or signed petitions calling for the end of the war, with only 5% resisting totally - much less than the resistance figure for other nationalities. Strangely, many of the Americans stuck to their new beliefs when they returned home after the war. This was taken by intelligence chiefs and politicians as an indication that the Chinese had utilized some arcane methodology of the type hinted at by Hunter to effect these dramatic changes. Conservative politicians even hinted at satanic forces at work - appealing to their more religious constituents.

The question became a matter of some controversy (and importance) within the CIA, and the then Director of Central Intelligence, Allen W. Dulles charged the eminent neurologist Dr. Harold Wolff - a personal friend who had treated Dulles' son for a head wound acquired during the Korean War - with the task of a scientific investigation of the methods used in Communist brainwashing. Perhaps the fact that Wolff was primarily an expert in the field of neurological damage indicates that Dulles suspected brainwashing was a neural pathology induced by the communists on their victims.

Wolff, together with his fellow at Cornell University Medical College, Lawrence Hinkle, conducted a careful study, submitted to the Technical Services Division of the CIA in 1956, and published, in declassified form, as Communist Interrogation and Indoctrination of "Enemies of the State": Analysis of Methods Used by the Communist State Police (A Special Report) in the prestigious psychiatry journal Archives of Neurology and Psychiatry later the same year.

In contrast to the pseudo-scientific and sensationalist rhetoric of Edward Hunter, and his kind, they concluded that there was "no evidence that psychologists, neurophysiologists, or other scientists participated" in the development of the techniques used, and that, while these were based on a skilled application of a sound understanding of human nature and mental and behavioural traits, they were essentially no different from police interrogation techniques and political indoctrination methods used around the world since the dawn of history. Their paper was very much in line with the process later described in fictional form by Alexander Solzhenitzyn in his novel The Gulag Archipelago.

The response of the CIA (and to a lesser extent other U.S. intelligence agencies) to this scholarly dismantling of the wild fantasies then in circulation was ironically bivalent. On the one hand, there was no let-up in the continuous propagandizing (dare we call it brainwashing?) publicly re-inforcing the image neologized by Hunter of an ungodly and malign secret superscience of mind-control at work behind the Iron Curtain, while the other hand was busy with a massive covert program (including the infamous MKULTRA project - an umbrella name for literally hundreds of separate studies) to create that very satanic technology for their own use!

Information from Chapter 8 of John Marks' The search for the Manchurian Candidate, currently online at

Information and quote from:

Let's start with the assumption that the human mind operates on physical laws just like the rest of the universe. As a result, it is a logical machine - it is this same property that makes it susceptible to both propaganda and counter-propaganda. Here are two ways to build up beliefs: 1) Proof (deduction) from axioms, and 2) Propaganda tricks.
The following is something of a recipe for building up beliefs using the second method, the most effective probably being #3 and #6:

1. Name calling - labeling ideas or people with words that have negative connotations.
2. Glittering generalities - associating things with poorly defined concepts such as freedom or evil; associating beliefs or actions to a larger, containing group such as "Americans are killing innocent people."
3. Transference - using authority or prestige to promote statements.
4. Testimonials - endorsements from celebrities or the use of other anecdotal reasoning.
5. Plain folks - ascribing opinions to someone who is supposed to represent the average person.
6. Card stacking - presenting facts that support only one side of the argument, interspersed with straw man arguments, leaving out facts for the other side(s) whenever they are uncomfortable.
7. Band wagon - arguing for correctness based on the number of people believing it, such as "everybody is doing it," or "we're united."

This happens in all nations - including your own, no matter where you happen to be reading this. Card stacking is particularly common in debates.

However, the problem with the second type of belief is that it is a shell of a belief structure. There isn't the same underlying support holding up the person's logic as there is in the first case: proof from axioms. During the Korean War, certain people in the intelligence community were amazed by the fact that captured American soldiers were "brainwashed" so much that even when they returned to the U.S. they continued to spout communist propaganda.

I think we can honestly admit that the soldiers in almost any military organization are indoctrinated (simply because it is easier to do so), not by proof from axioms, but by a thin shell of propaganda tricks like transference and card stacking. This is weak. The counter-propaganda tricks used on the captured soldiers probably didn't have to dig very deep before the soldiers' own logical thinking process started to kick in. Granted, one-sided stacking of arguments from the opposing side was probably still used. However, even if the deeper axioms the soldiers agreed to were not very deep, it still serves as a firmer foundation to counter the more superficial methods used in traditional propaganda.

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