Remembering Brainwashing

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In the early 1950s, American troops were being killed and captured by the thousands in Korea. Panic spread that China’s Communists had learned how to penetrate and control the minds of American prisoners of war.

The technique was called “brainwashing.” And suddenly it’s worth recalling what brainwashing was about. Because now we know, from an article in The New York Times last week, that in a new time of anxiety America’s own interrogators drew lessons from China’s treatment of American prisoners of war for their treatment of prisoners in the war on terror.

The concept of brainwashing was the brainchild of Edward Hunter, a newspaperman born in 1902, who had covered the rise of fascism in Europe before joining the Office of Strategic Services, the forerunner to the Central Intelligence Agency, during World War II. The Korean War had just begun in 1950 when The Miami News published his article, “ ‘Brain-Washing’ Tactics Force Chinese Into Ranks of Communist Party.”

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