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
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
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