THE RAPE OF THE MIND: The Psychology of Thought Control, Menticide, and Brainwashing, by Joost A. M. Meerloo, M.D., Instructor in Psychiatry, Columbia University Lecturer in Social Psychology, New School for Social Research, Former Chief, Psychological Department, Netherlands Forces, published in 1956, World Publishing Company. (Out of Print)
IN SEARCH OF DEFENSES
THE MOMENT WE BECOME AWARE THAT SPECIAL POLITICAL PHENOMENA ARE A THREAT TO OUR EXISTENCE, CORRESPONDING INNER DEFENSES DEVELOP AUTOMATICALLY. WE FEEL REASSURED AS WE DISCOVER WAYS TO FACE THE PROBLEMS. THE CLOSING CHAPTERS OF THIS BOOK DEAL FIRST WITH SOME OF THE OFFICIAL ATTITUDES AND WITH THE CODE CREATED TO ENCOUNTER BRAINWASHING, A DANGER WHICH HAS APPEARED RATHER RECENTLY IN HISTORY. THE FINAL CHAPTER SEARCHES MORE ELABORATELY FOR THE INSPIRING VALUES WHICH CHARACTERIZE FREEDOM AND DEMOCRACY. THE QUESTION OF HOW BEST TO BUILD UP MILITARY AND CIVILIAN MORALE BECOMES MORE COMPELLING BECAUSE OF THE TREMENDOUS MENTAL PRESSURES MODERN CIVILIZATION IMPOSES ON MAN.
Training Against Mental Torture The U. S. Code for Resisting Brainwashing
By executive order of President Eisenhower on August 17, 1955, a new code of chivalry was made up governing conduct of American fighting men in combat and captivity.* Six precepts of conduct for combatants were enunciated:
1. I am an American fighting man. I serve in the forces which guard my country and our way of life. I am prepared to give my life in their defense.
2. I will never surrender of my own free will. If in command, I will never surrender my men while they still have the means to resist.
3. If I am captured, I will continue to resist by all means available. I will make every effort to escape and aid others to escape. I will accept neither parole nor special favors from the enemy.
4. If I become a prisoner of war, I will keep faith with my fellow prisoners. I will give no information or take part in any action which might be harmful to my comrades. If I am senior, I will take command. If not, I will obey the lawful orders of those appointed over me, and will back them up in every way.
5. When questioned, should I become a prisoner of war, I am bound to give only name, rank, service number, and date of birth. I will evade answering further questions to the utmost of my ability. I will make no oral or written statement disloyal to my country and its allies, or harmful to their cause.
6. I will never forget that I am an American fighting man, responsible for my actions, and dedicated to the principles which made my country free. I will trust in my God and in the United States of America.
* Full report in The New York Times, August 18, 1955.
In the additional report about the recommendations by the Secretary of Defense, it is acknowledged that modern warfare has brought the challenge to the doorstep of every citizen, and that the final front of the cold-war line is in every citizen’s mind.
At the same time, a clearly defined code is given telling U.S. prisoners of war how to behave after capture. Although there was a lack of such a code previously, the report states that “American troops have demonstrated through all wars that they do not surrender easily, they have never surrendered in large bodies, and they have in general performed admirably in their country’s cause as prisoners of war.”
After describing physical attacks on prisoners-death marches, hunger, squalor, cold, torture, disease, and total degradation-the report gives extended attention to all the forms of mental coercion intended to extract false confessions or military information from the soldiers, and to infect them with totalitarian thinking. First, the enemy aimed at the breakdown of the leaders, at confusion of the officers, who so easily influence their soldiers. Then gradually everybody had to undergo the ordeal by indoctrination. The enemy propaganda barrage started full speed. This suggestive attack reached minds not used to highly specialized discussion, minds not informed and rather confused about Communism and its tactics. Inner discrepancies in the reasoning of the man could easily be attacked and reduce him to docile submission.
The report pleads for more extended, skillful training of the soldier (and the citizen) in our basic beliefs and responsibilities, a mental mobilization for the future clash of “ideas” and “wills.”
There was a considerable conflict of opinion in the advisory committee to the Secretary of Defense that drafted the code between the hard Spartan view and the more lenient let-them-talk view. The first group maintained that every soldier has to resist to the end;the latter believed that in the end anybody could be brought into submission.
Nevertheless, all soldiers have to be trained especially to resist and not to be made disloyal to their country, their services, and their comrades. That was the principal reason why this final code of high standards was made up, even though it is recognized that coercion is possible beyond the ability to resist. Yet the psychologist here adds the additional question, Who will judge what is beyond the ability to resist?
The report ends by underlining the fact that the total war for the minds of men is continually going on. The home front is just an extension of the fighting front!
An important point made by the code is that it asks that attention be given to a far more extensive mental battle front. By making it known that the coercive methods of the Communists are well understood by us, the impact and meaning of their cold-war strategy are partly taken away. Finally nobody in the outside world believes them, even though their totalitarian methods may be of use to them for internal propaganda in their own countries. However, we cannot fight indoctrination with mere counterindoctrination.
Letting soldiers sign a declaration that they will never yield to brainwashing has the advantage of at least informing them of what to expect. Yet this knowledge does not protect them against the subtle conditioning by an inquisitor who knows how to circumvent mental obstacles. Time and subtle suggestive penetration can break men’s resistance.
Psychologically, a loyalty oath compulsion and a signed declaration do not mean anything in themselves. Only a profound education in mental freedom and democratic awareness can help as a countertoxic. The authorities who ask for signed declarations of loyalty are not enough aware of how much propaganda and persuasive brainwashing and other forms of mental seduction are going on right here in our own society; they are substituting the social and national responsibility for an individual one. It is the moral and political atmosphere behind the man in the hinterland that supplies his mental stamina. The nation is responsible for the mental backbone it trains and transfers to its soldiers in a cold war!
Several P.O.W: s felt misled by their own government. They had been badly informed about the enemy, in too simple terms of black and white. By showing his good side, the captor could easily arouse suspicion about the honesty of the prisoner’s leaders.
From a psychiatric standpoint, it needs to be said again that everybody can be brought to a breaking point regardless of how well-informed and counterindoctrinated he may be. When the enemy wants to persist in his demoralizing methods, he has the means. Alas, the report did not emphasize enough the difficult dialectic dilemma into which many a simple soldier is thrown. For years he has been trained in a society or military group where obedience to the law and conformity to community habits were imprinted on him. Suddenly he has to select and test his own individuality and critical defenses. A cold war asks for a high level of political awareness. This brings the problem back again to the problem of individual mental vulnerability of persons and to the general problem of morale. Mental courage cannot be cultivated by physical training only. It requires training in mental stamina, in understanding of basic beliefs, and even in nonconformistic thinking. We have to believe deeply in the cause for which we are fighting in order to resist the standpoint of the enemy. It is the strength of conviction that gives moral power!
Indoctrination Against Indoctrination?
An educational concept exists to the effect that conditioning to physical torture will help soldiers to be more immune to brainwashing. In one of the air force bases, airmen had to go through a
“school of torture,” euphemistically called the School of Survival, in which some of the barbarous and cruel Communist methods of handling prisoners were initiated in order to harden the men against future brutality.** Time, September 19, 1955. The trainees could stand the ghoulish exercises rather well. However, such a training can condition men to take over, unwittingly, the methods of totalitarianism. It may give a semiofficial green light to enemy tactics by implying that we can do the same. Moreover, such methods may stimulate hidden sadistic tendencies in both trainer and trainee. Under the disguise of an earnest training need, American youth may be educated in the same sadistic view as their enemies.
The important psychological implication of every form of harsh compulsive training and indoctrination is that it fits into the totalitarian pattern. Moreover, the totalitarian inquisitors don’t need to use physical torture in order to uncover the secrets of man’s mind, although they may use these methods for their private pleasure. On the contrary, the enemy counted just as much on friendly gestures and special privileges to seduce the hungry, weakened P.O.W.’s into confession. What the inquisitors especially require in order to succeed is that the enemy have a weak personality, that he be a dumbbell with a soldier’s need to conform, that he be ridden with anxiety and lacking in patience. The brainwashing inquisitor doesn’t need torture. Physical torture will often strengthen resistance against the inquisitor, while isolation alone can accomplish his objectives. The school that teaches only torture and evasion techniques can even arouse latent anxieties and thus, paradoxically, make it easier for the soldier-weakened by his fantastic anticipations-to surrender to brainwashing. The hero at school can become a weakling as soon as he is faced with the real challenge.
It is not so important what the trainee accomplishes during his physical training but what he stands for mentally and spiritually. Does he have a mental backbone? Only this will stand him in good stead during the challenge of prisonership.
The Psychiatric Report About Brainwashing and Menticide In every report on brainwashing of prisoners of war, several factors that may lead to the accusation of “collaboration with the enemy” have to be taken into account to determine the psychological responsibility of the accused.
Did he surrender mentally under a kind of hypnosis? Can he be made responsible at all; was there a conscious and voluntary collaboration that turned the man into a traitor? Was there cowardice or only spiritual weakness?
Because these questions are so new in our history and often so subtle in relation to the circumstances, it is well to enumerate the fields of interest to be analyzed:
1. The Accusation. The psychologist has to study the incriminating facts. We often can see, for instance, in the phrasing of the signed confessions, evidence that the signature was enforced. Some cliche phrases of the enemy can be looked at as gradually wangled out of the head of the victim. For one of the courts I was able to make an analysis of a written confession that was composed of such heterogeneous elements that the process of mental wrestling and gradual giving in of the prisoner could easily be discerned in the papers.
2. Rumor and mass psychology. Not all the accusations against a prisoner of war made by fellow prisoners-even when the majority constantly repeat them-may be taken at face value. Under the impact of terror and fear, rumors about special persons are easily communicated. There are personalities who, on the basis of their special character structure, easily become the focal point of rumors. The withdrawn intellectual, for instance, is often accused of consorting with the enemy. When he speaks the enemy’s language and can communicate with them, accusations against him can become like a huge mass hallucination.
The investigator has to make a survey of group relations in the P.O.W. camp. The brainwashing enemy tries first to attack the leaders, in order to attack the morale of the remainder of the P.O.W.’ s; then he tries to select specially vulnerable personalities for his strategy of mental pressure and ideological conversion.
3. The personality structure of the accused. Certain persons, on the basis of their weak ego or their underlying neurotic anxieties, are predestined to give in earlier to mental pressures. To obtain a fair estimate of the individual, intelligence tests and the Rorschach test have to be given, the family background and the religious and ideological foundations of the person have to be studied.
4. Was the brainwashee well trained to stand the treatment? What kind of information had been given to the prisoner of war during his training? Did he know enough about the ideological war and the word barrage he might be exposed to? Was he only prepared for discipline and submission, or also for freedom and nonconforming discussions? Was he only physically trained or also mentally?
5. The facts of torture. How long did it take before the prisoner gave in? Did he get drugs? How much isolation? How many hours of interrogation? Were there symptoms of pain and physical illness? Can these facts be verified?
This is only a short survey of viewpoints to be taken into account. They serve to show that with the phenomenon of systematic brainwashing and thought control something is brought before the court that is judicially new. The traditional attitudes toward personal competence, responsibility, and accountability cannot be applied.
The state (the totalitarian system of the enemy) has, in the case of successful brainwashing, taken over, even taken possession of, all psychological responsibility for the obedient acts of persons. Our criminal courts and military courts will have to find new rules of judging those who fell into the hands of such a criminalizing system.
Education for Discipline or Higher Morale
The Role of Education
The child’s formative years are spent under the guidance of first parents and then teachers; jointly they influence his future behavior. The educational system can either reinforce or correct parental errors and attitudes, either strengthen the child’s desire to grow toward freedom and maturity or stifle his need to develop and twist it into the need to resign himself to permanent childishness and dependence.
Since the Renaissance, the ideal of universal scholastic training has made steady gains. But today we unwittingly tend to mold minds into a prefabricated pattern and to give our students the illusion that they know or have to know all the answers. The fallacy of such half-education is that the so-called alphabetics-in contrast to those who cannot read-may become better followers and worse thinkers. The totalitarians, for example, are not against schools; on the contrary, for the more you overburden the mind with facts, the more passive it may become. Intellectual erudition and booklearning alone do not make strong personalities, and in our passion for factual education and the quiz type of examination there lies hidden a form of mental pressure. The awe with which we regard the accumulation of school facts may inhibit the mind so that it cannot think for itself. We must become more aware of the involuntary pressures an educational system can impose on us, and their possibly dangerous effects on the future of our democratic society. The actual strategy of keeping people as permanent students under prolonged supervision is a help to totalitarian indoctrination. For instance, somewhere along the line in some administrative minds, there sprang up the idea that repeated, comparative examinations would increase the quality of the corps of administrators. Instead, infantile anxieties developed related to the fear of this infantile tool of measurement and evaluation: the examination. There is now hardly any administrator who dares to look at reality as the best test of human capacity and human endurance.
The form of education which sets a premium on dependency, which overcontrols the child, which makes a moral appeal through punishment and provoking a sense of guilt, which overrates mechanical skills and automatic learning, this form of education kneads the brain into a pattern of conformity which can easily be turned into totalitarian channels. This is even more the case in regard to the disciplinary training of soldiers. Such rigid education glorifies good behavior far too much; imitation and conformity are approved at the expense of spontaneous creativity, thinking for oneself, and the free expression and discussion of dissenting ideas. Our examination mania forces students into mental pathways of automatic thinking. Our intellectual and so-called objective education overrates rationalism and technical know-how under the delusion that this will keep emotional errors under control. What it does instead, of course, is to train children into automatic patterns of thinking and acting, which are closer to the pattern of conditioned reflexes, of which Pavlovian students are so fond, than they are to the free, exploratory, creative pattern toward which democratic education should be oriented.
Totalitarianism is well aware that youth has a sensitive period during which Pavlovian conditioning may be established without difficulty. Early teachings form nearly indestructible patterns in the child’s mind and eventually replace innate instinctual precision. This early Pavlovian automatization of life may itself develop almost the force of an innate instinct. Indeed this is precisely what happens in Totalitaria. Dictators especially organize youth and press them to join disciplinary youth movements.
The paradox of universal literacy is that it may create a race of men and women who have become (just because of this new intellectual approach to life) much more receptive to the indocrination of their teachers or leaders. Do we need conditioned adepts or freethinking students? Beyond this, our technical means of communication have caught up with our literacy. The eye that can read is immediately caught by advertising and propaganda. This is the tremendous dilemma of our epoch.
In many of our primary schools students are taught in an atmosphere of compulsive regimentation and are imprinted with a sense of dependency and awe of authority which lasts throughout their lives. They never really learn to think for themselves. The scholastic fact-factories, the schools, keep many pupils too busy to think; they may instead educate them into progressive immaturity. As long as people can quote one another and the available “expert” opinion, they are considered well-informed and intellectual. Many schools emphasize what we could call a quotation mania, making; the ability to quote the epitome of all wisdom. Yet anyone with an apparently unanswerable logic, anyone who can back up his position with authoritative statements and quotations, can have a strong impact on such a mind, for it can readily be caught and conditioned by emotionally attractive pseudo-intellectual currents. As a matter of fact, in the process of brainwashing the inquisitor makes. use of the feeling of confusion his victim gets when he is shown that his facts don’t fit and that there are flaws in his concepts. The man who doesn’t know the tricks of argument will break down sooner.
I like to distinguish among the intellectuals quantellectuals and. quintellectuals. The former aim for quantity of knowledge and easily yield to any kind of new conditioning. To the quintellectuals,, on the other hand, intellect is a quality of personal integrity. Facts. are not consumed passively but are weighed and verified. This kind of intellect has a potentiality independent of school education and often school can spoil it.
One of the most amazing cases I ever treated was a typical quantellectual, a doctor of psychology who had just completed his university education with a dissertation on a psychotechnical subject. He came to me because he was a complete failure in all his relationships with girls. He wanted this “impotence” to be treated medically, and at first he rejected any kind of psychotherapy because he “knew all that stuff.” In the course of our conversation it became apparent that his entire scholastic education had bypassed him. He had gotten A’s at school, but the very essence of what he had studied had eluded him. He had grasped literally nothing about psychology. He had memorized everything and had understood nothing. He could quote from every page of the book but explain none. Every time he had to work out a test or give practical advice, he went into a panic. It took years of treatment to break through his rigid, compulsive habits, and to bring him to a point where he was able to think and feel as a human being rather than as a machine. At the end of his treatment he started to learn all over again, reading with greed and fervor what had before been empty facts.
But he was not the only walking fact-collection I have met. Another one of my patients was a young man who was obsessed with the desire to accumulate all the learned degrees his university could deliver. At the time I met him he was a member of a Nazi organization. (Here is an example of the fact that many a pedant has an affinity with an authoritarian political system.) Even in this group he provoked hostility because of his search for facts and more facts, facts only for the sake of facts. His compulsions became too much for even his totalitarian fellows. He had delusions of grandeur and had absolutely no emotional relationships at all; both signs that a psychotic process was going on. But his intellectual capacity was intact. The son of a scholar, he had lived in constant competition with his father; early in youth he started to read the encyclopedia, and later, in grade school and high school, he was cheered because of his phenomenal “knowledge.” Indeed, he did know the facts, but he knew nothing else. He knew neither how to get along with himself nor with anyone else.
These two cases serve to demonstrate how a mechanized educational system, failing to detect even an urgent need for emotional relationships and a sense of belonging, and placing its emphasis on learning instead of living, can produce adults who are totally unequipped to meet the problems of life, who are themselves only half alive and completely incapable of meeting the challenges of reality. Such men and women do not make good democratic citizens.
One of the most essential tasks of education for mental freedom is to prepare the child for mature adulthood by teaching him to see the essentials and by teaching him to think for himself. There are several fields of interest through which the capacity to think for oneself may be developed-for instance, the field of communication and the science of abstraction. A child’s awareness of his own language, of the words he himself uses, as an expressive tool rather than as a set of grammatical rules can lead him to inquisitiveness about other languages and other ways of thinking, and thus may lead him to the ability to think abstractly and to understand relationships. The child’s period of greatest sensitivity to foreign languages is when he is about ten-much younger than the age at which we normally teach foreign languages. At this age, too, the child begins to have an active personal interest in words and selfexpression. This interest can be used to make language an exciting adventurous exploration instead of a cut-and-dried process of memorization.
Our schools must stimulate inventiveness and self-activity too, through such subjects as carpentry and designing. Creative play with concrete objects also develops the child’s capacity to abstract and to generalize, making it easier for him to absorb the abstractions which underlie all mathematics. If, instead of throwing the child into the sea of abstractions he finds in the daily arithmetic drill, we brought him to an understanding of the process of abstraction by carefully graded steps, he would absorb and assimilate what he learned, not merely parrot what he was told. We tend, for instance, to teach mathematical abstractions at too early an age, just as we wait too long to teach language and verbal expression.
History is a subject which is not learned by memorizing facts and dates but through mutual discussion. It has to start with the concept of personal lifetimes and personal history. It is better to give a child a printed report of the history of yesterday and ask for his comments and opinions on it, or better to promote individual thought by letting him search for background information in a library or museum, than to ask him to memorize facts. In this way the learning of history can become an adventure.
We can also revise the system that risks so easily rearing mediocre people who fit into a pattern of mediocrity. Different children must be trained and educated differently. Each one has his own internal timetable; each one will have his own life adjustments. Why should we compulsively do to our children what we would never do to the flowers in our gardens? Every plant is allowed to attain its own natural size. Our current scholastic practice stimulates ambition in a few children, but stifles it in others. Instead of promoting cheating by our rigid examination rules, why do we not allow children to help one another in the solution of common problems? Very often children can teach each other what the teacher cannot.
Think for a moment of the child especially sensitive to the boredom of some of our contemporary schools. He becomes either a conformist-full of good marks and no original thoughts-or a rebel-ripe for the child-guidance clinic of today and possibly for the totalitarian state of tomorrow.
Discipline and Morale
While good morale implies inner strength and self-discipline, it may not necessarily imply a set group discipline in a political or military sense. Good personal morale and backbone were two of the needed qualifications for taking part successfully in the underground during the last war. The partisans, working secretly-now here, now there-relied, in their lonely combat, on their individual initiative and morale as much as, if not more than, on distant leadership and discipline. This is just the opposite of a kind of stand-by morale impelled by blind fear and maintained from a distance, the kind which is obtained in jails or concentration camps, or in a tribe with extreme emphasis on common participation. In the first groups, there was morale without discipline; in the second, discipline without morale. In the same way, there are some officers who can only develop discipline without morale.
Nevertheless, there is usually an inner relation between discipline and morale. Only when a certain amount of initial disciplinary training is given to youngsters or soldiers are they well conditioned for that personal inner strength which is based on self-confidence and trust in the group as a whole, together with confidence in the authorities. Emergency discipline is resorted to during times of stress when there is usually lack of time, with the result that there is not a sufficient period for self-control and adjustment to the group. Only a self-chosen discipline which develops gradually can lay the basis for inner freedom and morale. This rule has been forgotten by many educators. Only this basis of initial, conditioned patterns gives us the confidence to stand on our own.
We all start by introjecting and taking over our morale from others-our parents and educators. The basis of our personal morale is what we internalized from them. The subtle mutual relation between discipline and freedom starts in the cradle under the care of loving and interested and consistent parents. The parents are the first to build morale. The conflict between discipline and morale in a group usually arises when the members are held together by compulsion or necessity. Here the inner coherence will be completely different from that of a situation in which there is a spontaneous loyalty to the group. The aim of all discipline is to develop a better adjustment to the group. In turn, success in identifying with the group develops a stronger ego. From this point on, freedom begins.
A further understanding of these morale-building principles is important for an evaluation of the inner strength or vulnerability of the various cultural groups. We may expect, according to our experiences in psychotherapy, that where too much discipline, or even slavery, prevails, the inner cohesion of the group will be very different from that of a group respecting and holding the individual in high esteem. Yet we have found men even in the armies of totalitarian systems who exemplify high morale. I call to mind those Japanese soldiers who-without any tie with the mother country-stuck to their lonely posts for years after the war, as though the emperor and his generals were still looking at them. This tells us something about the consistent love, security, and dedication they received in the first six years of life.
Discipline and Brainwashing
When we want to train a soldier to resist brainwashing, we have to give him antidotes against mass suggestion. We have to teach him to make up his own answers and to criticize his teachers. We must train him in negative suggestibility and emphasize the courage to reject emotionally pleasant reasoning when it does not seem truthful. Above all, we have to repeat such lessons many times to make a self-confident individual out of a recruit. Against the daily barrage of suggestions, we have to provoke individual criticism. All this has to be done in addition to making the soldier familiar with the concept and implications of brainwashing. In so doing, he will learn, unconsciously, to judge what propaganda is or what it is not-as we all partially do when listening to advertising over the radio. Psychological experience tells us that part of propagandistic suggestions can leak through even alert mental defenses and penetrate our opinions. Anti-brainwashing training has to be done thoroughly and repeatedly. It may appear to be in conflict with rigid discipline; when the teacher and officer knows enough about the subject, however, the student’s self-respect is enhanced through identification with the leading officer. True, we see here a change of disciplinary relations, but it offers the real test of discipline in a free, democratic community. A man who has been taught self-esteem and knowledge will stand to the end when the hour of challenge comes.
The change of the war of weapons into a mental cold war requires a change of discipline. The soldier has to know not only his rifle, but even more the sense of his mission and the nonsense of the enemy.
The Quality of the Group and the Influence of the Leader In every group situation, morale refers to the degree of cohesive strength of the members and to the amount of loyalty toward the group and its goals. Morale may, or may not, imply an understanding of the goals. In Western culture with its subtle pros and cons, a much deeper need for awareness, understanding, and consideration of goals is implied than is called for in a totalitarian state.
In the totalitarian state with its veneration for the strong leader; the threatening loss of coherence-when the dictator or leading group fails-would have a much more disintegrating effect than such failure in a democratic society, whose members usually have reached a higher degree of self-determination and governmental skill. A democracy always finds new leaders ready to take responsibility.
Morale includes the question of how much people can endure physically and mentally, and for how long. Under different kinds of regimentation the limit of endurance will be different. Stand-by morale, based on fear as in prisons, may disintegrate at the least sign of weakness in leader or guard, or when the individuals have not as yet been sufficiently disciplined.
The kamikazes, the pilots educated for suicide, were thoroughly indoctrinated with the self-offering ideology; and their morale, as shown in the war with Japan, might be said to have been highin an Oriental sense. Here discipline and allegiance had become so automatic that life was of no importance either to the individual or to the group. The only thought was to keep going and beat the enemy. This kind of morale is often dependent on obtaining a frenzied desperation-a kind of collective suicidal rage-in pursuit of the national goal.
We are becoming more and more aware of how important leadership is in boosting morale. The leader is the embodiment of the valued human relationships for which we are willing to offer our energy and even, when needed, our lives. Through identification with him we borrow his fortitude. It is not always the official leader who has charge of lifting the morale. Sometimes a sergeant or a soldier may take over this function.
The official leader himself is in a more difficult position. He must be many things that may seem to contradict one another. He must represent paternal authority as well as our ego, our conscience, and our ideals. He must relieve us of our sense of guilt and anxiety, and he must be able to absorb our needs for strength, affection, and dedication-our transference needs, as expressed in psychological terms. He must be able to create group action and motivation and at the same time increase the individual’s self-esteem. His doubts may become our doubts; his loss of confidence makes us lose our self-confidence. At times we may want him to be a tyrant so that we can be relieved of our personal resentments and responsibilities. Sometimes we want to compete with him as we competed with our fathers. At other times we want affection from him. The leader must be both a scapegoat and a giant. Our own inner strength will grow, depending on the leader’s inspiring and guiding personality. While we may never love him completely, we will use him to grow or decline in our morale.
Yet the individual not only borrows strength from the group and its leader, he also brings his own spirit to it. Even when he is used as a scapegoat to release group hostility, the individual-when he takes it with humor and philosophy-may unwittingly boost the morale of the group. He communicates, as it were, his personal tolerance to others. The black sheep in a platoon is often as much accepted as the beloved sports hero.
In the same way, the group communicates all kinds of feelings to the individual; the process of morale contagion is continually going on. Its quality depends on mutual acceptance, friendships, the amount of contagious fear in the group, the quality of interpersonal processes, resistance-provoking qualities in the few, and so on.
Let us not forget that the best morale booster for ourselves is to help to lift the morale of others. When interhuman contact is not allowed, morale is soon lacking. For instance, we heard from several escaped people from behind the iron curtain that their most prominent complaint in the totalitarian system was the feeling of mental isolation. The individual feels alone and continually on the alert. There is only mutual suspicion. The new gospel for those escapees was the ready humane acceptance and contact they experienced in the democratic group, because here was spontaneous enthusiasm and mutual acceptance-even when there was disagreement.
Enumeration of Some Factors Influencing Group Morale The following factors resulting mostly from military experience may endanger morale:
1. Wrong anticipation of danger; myths and rumors about the enemy.
2. Severe stress; battle fatigue.
3. Poor physical and mental health (flu!).
4. Lack of food, lack of sleep; cold and dirt.
5. Bad leadership.
6. Poor training; lack of skill; overtraining.
7. Poor communication and poor information.
8. Destruction of basic values, lack of faith.
9. Confusion of activities, strife in politics, wrong selection of government.
10. Authoritarian and undemocratic behavior; humiliation.
11. Tyranny; too rigid discipline, also lack of discipline.
12. Homesickness and feelings of estrangement.
13. Internal hostilities, prejudices, persecution of minorities. 14. Thought control and menticide; no right to be an individual, no justice, no right to appeal.
15. No function in the social setting, no duties. 16. Alcohol and sedatives.
The following factors may boost morale:
1. Sound democratic leadership.
2. Well-planned organization with the freedom of improvisation; minimum of red tape.
3. Democratic self-discipline. Do we have faith in our own institutions ?
4. Information and unhampered communication.
5. Freedom of religion; moral integrity.
6. Mutual loyalty and mature responsibility; team spirit.
7. Mental alertness; the important psychology of awareness of the problems of our own epoch.
8. A sense of belonging and being accepted. g. A sense of justice, freedom, and privacy.
10. Confidence in experts ready to give first aid (mental hygiene experts, clergy, Red Cross, Civil Defense, medical first aid).
The Breaking Point and Our Capacity for Frustration
What is the straw that breaks the camel’s back? This is a key question in the problem of personal morale. During the Second World War, I treated a fighter pilot who was unafraid of his dangerous work but who felt unhappy about his personal relationships. Suddenly during an air-raid alert in London, where he was on furlough, he was struck by utter panic. In normal life he had been a rather shy and withdrawn young man. Unexpectedly he found himself in a shelter with a frightened group about him, and he became contaminated by the fear of other people. The strange situation found him unprepared and so he broke down. I mention this point to show again how contagious the atmosphere in a P.O.W. camp can be.
No one can really tell how he will behave in times of great danger until it comes to actually facing the test. The true test of reality is solved in different ways. Many accept the challenge. Some overdefensive, compulsive individuals even welcome the danger. Still others-who were already unstable-misuse the new situation as an excuse to break down and let their emotions go. Segal calls the last group frustrated big-dealers, seclusives, dupes, scared kids, praise-starved egotists-all having egos that could easily be boosted by a flattering inquisitor.
In psychology we are aware of the fact that there are two sets of determinants which bring on mental breakdown: one set consisting of long-term considerations which cause a gradual breakdown of inner defenses, the other consisting of short-term factors, the triggers or provoking factors causing a sudden collapse of the mental and physical integration. To the first set of factors may belong chronic disease or the many chronic irritations of life. The second operates by means of a sudden symbolic impact on hidden sensitivities. A mouse appearing in a girls’ class doesn’t arouse panic because of its objective danger. Modern psychopathology has studied the manifold sensitizing occurrences, experienced in early life, which make people subject to unknown trigger reactions.
Yet, trauma and frustration are emphasized too much as weakeners of the personality during its development. As a matter of fact, the opposite is true. Challenge and resistance to unfavorable influences make the personality. In order to develop greater inner strength and better ego defenses, the individual has to expose and traumatize himself. What else is “fair” sport and “fair” competition but repeated training in morale? Physical training doesn’t have to be “soft.” The self-traumatization by trial and error, to which we unconsciously expose ourselves in encounters during sports, is part of a spontaneous effort toward self-discipline. When the person cannot find strength within himself, he must borrow it from his neighbor and look for strength by proxy. Too great emphasis on dependence or leadership increases this proxy mechanism. Leadership is not exclusively the secret of morale. Identification with the leader may sometimes fortify the person’s inner strength, but it may also frustrate his capacity to grapple with his own problems. A frustrating leader may decrease our capacity to tolerate frustration.
Living under too soft circumstances is probably a weakening factor; a recent publication (Richter) on experiences with men under combat stress, and later with rats in the laboratory, have proven that luxury in general influences negatively man’s capacity to endure.
Somewhere along the line, good morale means no longer being afraid to die; it means solving that mythological anxiety about death being something dark and obscure; and it means the willingness to accept fate. Accepting fate and duty and responsibility is living in a different way: it is living with the moral courage to stand for moral principles that you have gathered in your life and without which life is not worth living.
The anticipation of bad occurrences can have a paralyzing effect. If one expects people to break down, they may either give in more easily to these false prophets, or, out of hostility, feel boosted in their morale. The press, the radio, television have to be aware of their subtle responsibility as morale-influencing mediums.
It is important to realize that mental prophets expect more panic in others when they themselves feel jittery and insecure. In the last war, there were many sensational forecasts of panic that, happily enough, did not materialize, such as Dunkerque. Man is often mentally much stronger than we expect him to be. Of all the animals, he can suffer most and take danger best-provided he does not weaken himself by his belief in supernatural terror stories nor become unnerved in a cold war.
From Old to New Courage Who Resists Longer and Why?
What then can give a man strength to resist a menticidal assault? What made it possible for so many thousands to survive mentally and physically the horrors of the Nazi concentration camps and the Communist P.O.W. camps?
The answer is essentially simple. Men yield primarily because at some point they are overwhelmed by their unconscious conflicts. These conflicts, kept under control in normal circumstances, come to the surface under the strain of menticidal pressure. The stronger the inner conflicts and the greater the pressure, the greater the tendency to yield. Men withstand pressure when these conflicts cannot be so easily aroused or have been inwardly overcome.
This simple answer itself contains a clinical paradox. One of the characteristics of severe neurosis, and of some cases of pathological character structure, is that unconscious conflicts are so severe that they are either repressed so deeply that the sufferer is not even vaguely aware of their existence or they are transformed into a set of overt attitudes which are more acceptable to the individual, and therefore easier to handle. If the severe neurotic permitted himself to feel his real conflicts, they would dominate his life completely; consequently he exerts tremendous force to hold down this explosive material. The man who is always rebellious, never growing from healthy rebellion into healthy maturity, may have trans-
formed some basic and profound conflict in his own personality into a chronic resistance against any kind of social demand. Psychiatric examination of returned P.O.W.’s from Korea showed that many of the men who resisted enemy propaganda most strongly were those with a history of lifelong rebellion against all authority -from parents through teachers to army superiors. They were troublemakers wherever they were, among their friends as well as among their enemies (Segal).
This negative side of the coin is only part of the picture. A man with deep self-knowledge, aware of his own inner conflicts and aware, too, of what the enemy is trying to do to him is prepared to meet and resist the attack. I interrogated many people who went through the tortures of Nazi prison and concentration camps. Some were ordinary folk with no political affiliations, some were members of the resistance, a few were psychologists and psychoanalysts. Those who understood themselves, who were willing to accept danger and challenge, and who realized, even faintly, how bestial man can be, were able to stand the harrowing concentration-camp experience. They were not defeated by their own innocent perplexity and lack of insight into themselves and others, but were protected by their knowledge and inquisitive alertness.
There are other factors which play an important role too. My investigations have made it abundantly clear to me that those who can resist, who can maintain their strength under marginal circumstances, never feel that they are alone. As long as they can think of their loved ones at home, as long as they can look forward to seeing them again, as long as they know their families are faithfully waiting for them, they can maintain their strength and keep the unconscious drive to give in from taking over their lives. The love and affection we get and gather in our hearts is the greatest stimulus to endurance. Not only does it provide a goal toward which we can direct our lives, it also gives us an inner assurance and a sense of worth that make it possible for us to keep in check the self-destroying conflicts.
This knowledge of loving and being loved is not limited to love of family or friends. People in whom a religious faith or a political conviction is a deeply rooted, living thing have this same sense of belonging, of being needed, of being loved. Their allegiance is to a
whole group or to a set of ideals rather than to individuals. To such people, beliefs are real and concrete, as real and concrete as people or objects. They provide a bulwark against loneliness, terror, fantasies conjured up by the unconscious, and the unleashing of deepseated conflicts, a bulwark that is as strong as the memory of love. Yet, such mentally strong people form a minority in our conflictridden society.
Experience has shown that robust athletes cannot withstand the concentration-camp or the P.O.W. camp experiences any better than can their physically weaker brothers. Nor is intellect alone any real help in fending off the daily assaults on the will. On the contrary, it can provide useful rationalization for surrender. Mental backbone and moral courage go deeper than the intellect. Fortitude is not a physical or intellectual quality; it is something we get from the cradle, from the consistency of our parents’ behavior, and from their beliefs and faith. It has become increasingly rare in a world of changing values and little faith.
The Myth of Courage
There is something in the glorious myth of strength and courage that confuses all of us. Physical strength is too frequently confused with spiritual strength. Bravery and heroism are, indeed, needed qualities in battle. Yet analysis of soldiers in combat shows that each one of them has to conduct a constant battle against his own fears. The brave are the ones who can check their fears, who can cope with the paralyzing fantasies that fear creates, and who can control the desire to regress into childish escapism. A man cannot be forced to become a hero, and it is ridiculous to punish him if he is not. It is as pointless as punishing him for bleeding or fainting.
The hero, the man who offers himself up to death for the sake of others, is found more in mythology than in reality. Psychology and anthropology have shown that the hero myth is related to eternal dream images. The hero symbolizes the rebellious new generation, the strong son becoming stronger than the father. He symbolizes, too, our wish to be mature and to take responsibility into our own hands.
We need the myth for the inspiration it offers us. We commemorate with posthumour glorification the heroic feats of the few who have, throughout history, offered themselves up as sacrifices to their comrades or to society. Yet what do we know of their real motives?
During the Second World War, I gave psychiatric treatment to many soldiers. As I spoke and worked with them, I became increasingly conscious of how dangerous it is to stick the simple label “hero” or “coward” on any man. One of my patients, for example, was a boy who had received a high military decoration because he had stuck to a lonely place with his machine gun, firing automatically until the enemy was forced to withdraw. In the course of his treatment, the boy confessed that his apparent heroism was really the result of a paralyzing fear, which had made it impossible for him to follow his commander’s order to retreat.
No one can really tell how he will behave in times of danger. Each person will solve the frightening test that reality confronts him with in his own way. Several will accept the challenge and stand up to it. Some overdefensive, compulsive individuals may even welcome this burden as a test of their strength. Still otherswhose instability has deep roots in the past-will unconsciously take advantage of a perilous situation to break down completely and let their tears and emotions go.
Freud has directed our attention to the peculiar interplay between external and internal dangers, between frightening reality and equally frightening fantasy. Objective, recognizable dangers often stimulate the mind to alertness and encourage it to set up its inner defenses. But there are subjective panic-creators too-frustration, feeling of guilt, infantile horror fantasies-and these can often be so terrorizing in their effects that all our cultural defenses collapse. Many men who face the test of reality with stalwart courage can be brought to collapse by apparent trivia which somehow touch them in a vulnerable spot.
Another of my wartime patients mentioned previously showed such a pattern. The young fighter pilot, who had flown forty combat missions without any sign of fear or panic, suddenly broke down completely in an air-raid shelter in London. In the course of treatment, it became apparent that this young man was bitterly unhappy about his personal relationships. He did not get along
with his commanding officer; he had had a serious quarrel with his girl friend the night before his breakdown. A shy and withdrawn person, when he suddenly found himself in the shelter with a frightened group about him, he became contaminated by the fear in the atmosphere. Weakened by recent unhappiness, he found himself completely unable to put up the inner defenses that had served him so well under the frightening experiences of active war.
Are we to say that he was less of a hero than the much-decorated machine-gunner?
There still lives in all of us an admiration for bravado, for the theatrical display of courage, for the devil-may-care invitation to destruction. We are beginning to recognize now that real courage is different; it is at one and the same time an expression of faith in life and a resignation to death. Courage is not something that can be forced on a man from the outside. It has to come from inside him.
In the reality of modern war-the impersonal Moloch-a man can be easily reduced to a feeling of helplessness and dependency. Personal courage can turn the tide of battle in a hand-to-hand encounter, but personal courage is no defense against bombs and machine guns. Today, reckless courage, as we have glorified it, is less important than personal morale, faith, conviction, knowledge, and adequate preparation.
A boy of seventeen years of age is drafted into the army. He has spent his entire life in a small town in Texas. He receives training in the routine of army life and the use of his weapons. Soon thereafter he is sent to Korea, and almost immediately he is taken prisoner. Now this child has to defend himself against the propaganda barrage which well-trained Communist theoreticians daily hurl at him. His education is limited, his background narrow, his political training inadequate. He even tries to escape from his prison camp but is caught. As a result, the enemy’s mental hold on him increases. His great disappointment makes him feel trapped. Finally he surrenders and collaborates. How can a military court hold him responsible, and even punishable, for the fact that he finally gave in to enemy propaganda?
This is part of the story of Corporal Claude Batchelor, recently sentenced to twenty years imprisonment for collaboration with the enemy. I would venture to guess that it could have been the story of nearly any American boy of similar background.
After the Second World War, several European countries had to face the difficult problem of how to treat those members of the underground who, after torture by the Nazis, had confessed and betrayed their compatriots. In Holland a Court of Honor was established to judge these special cases. This court reached the following conclusions:
No man can possibly vouch for it that under no circumstances will he `confess,’ `cooperate,’ or `betray’ his country. No man who has not himself gone through the hell which Communists and Nazis have been so able to organize has any right to judge the conduct of a man who did.
Psychological torture is more effective in many cases than physical torture. This is all the more true of the victim who has above average intellectual background. It seems that intelligence makes physical torture more easily bearable but at the same time exposes one more to the impact of mental torture. Anyone who `submitted’ under such circumstances to the enemy after having given proof of his loyalty, patriotism and courage will suffer terribly because his condemnation of himself will always be more severe than that of any judge.
There is, however, not the slightest reason for shame, nor for considering such a person incapacitated for giving leadership. On the contrary, more than outsiders he will know what superhuman strength is required to resist the subtle methods of mental torture, and more than outsiders he can be helpful to others to prepare themselves for the ordeal as far as that is at all possible.*
The Morale-Boosting Idea
When we look at the varieties of human behavior under extreme and pressing circumstances, we see how easily man can be subdued, and at the same time we see that certain factors seem to *From a letter written by G. Van Heuven Goedhart, U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, President of the Dutch Court of Honor, which appeared in The New York Times, March 15, 1954.
have a positive effect on his morale, keeping him from despair and collapse. When these factors are operative, the spirit revives and people are enabled to live with integrity In spite of dangerous circumstances. There are many such morale boosters-religious faith or a political ideology are among them. Perhaps the most effective is the sense of having some mission and inner goal. This ideal with which a man identifies can be love of the native land, love of freedom or justice, or even the thought of hate and revenge. Whatever it is, at the moment of calamity a guiding idea is as much needed as mere physical strength and endurance. In every case where the individual has learned to withstand danger and to maintain at least some of his normal esprit under circumstances of deprivation, want, and brutality, one or more of the morale-boosting factors must have been present.
I do not believe that the inner search for the morale-boosting regenerative idea is a conscious function of the mind. Such psychological regeneration is comparable with the physical regenerative processes we see in the body. The body hardly ever gives up its regenerative capacities. Even when a man is dying of cancer, his surgical wounds still heal, the local regenerating forces are still there. The same thing seems to operate on a mental level; in times of confusion, pressure, and exhaustion, man’s psychological healing and regenerating forces are still in action. This applies as much to large groups of people as it does to the individual, though in the former, restraining forces remain in action because of intricate interpersonal relationships.
My experiences with people living in the utmost dangerous circumstances showed that very soon after an initial bewilderment the individuals develop an inner need for what we might call mental budgeting. They all display observable clinical symptoms indicating that this process of regaining their self-assertive resistance is going on. When they first come to the prison camps, for instance, they show complete passivity, surrender, and depersonalization, but soon a guiding idea begins to grow out of their need to understand fate, their need for protective intercommunication and adherence to some common faith, for building something for the self. We can detect this favorable change in mood by the way every prisoner makes his own corner a place of security, even when it is only a dirty wooden bunk. He begins to rearrange the few things he has; he builds his own nest, and from it he begins to look out into his miserable marginal world.
When the prison-camp inmate finds friends whose faith and strength of character are greater than his, his life becomes more bearable to him. Through mere association with others he can better face the horrors without. Mutual love and common hate, both may be equally stimulating. Renewed human contact changes his inherent fear into confidence in at least one other person. When this grows into some identity with an active, working team, the temporary loss of inner strength is gone. When he does not find such a group or personality to identify with, the prison guard and his foreign ideology may take over.
It must be said that the stimulating morale-boosting idea is nearly always a moral idea, an ethical evaluation-faith in goodness, justice, freedom, peace, and future harmony. Even the most cynical dictator needs the help of moral ideas to raise the morale of those submissive to his regime. If he cannot give them at least the illusion of peace and freedom in addition to prospects for future wealth, he reduces them to dull apathetic followers. At the entrance of the Nazi concentration camps were large signs bearing the cynical slogan: Arbeit macht frei (“Work makes man free”). This may not have fooled the inmates, but it gave the German people outside the camps a way of justifying their inhuman behavior. The need for moral justification, which is felt by even the most ruthless tyrants, proves how deeply alive these ideas of morality are in man. The more a man lives in marginal and torturous situations, the greater is his need for supportive moral values and their stimulating action.
In general we may say that there are three influences under which the unbearable becomes bearable. Again, in the first place, one must have faith; this can be simple faith in religious or ethical values, or faith in humanity, or faith in the stability of one’s own society, or faith in one’s own goals. In the second place, the victim must feel that in spite of the disaster which has overtaken him and turned him into an outcast, he is wanted and needed somewhere on this earth. In the third place, there must be understanding, not sophisticated book knowledge but simple, even intuitive, psychological understanding of the motivations of the enemy and his deluded
drives. Those who cannot understand and are too perplexed break down first.
Anti-brainwashing training has to be done very thoroughly. It is true that inner defenses can be built against thought control and against the daily barrage of suggestions. With the help of good and repeated instruction, people can be made familiar with the concepts. Perceptual defenses are then built up; we learn to detect the false propaganda and we do not listen to it. Even though part of the propagandistic suggestions leak through these perceptual defenses and creep unobtrusively into our opinions (all advertising is based on this leakage), it cannot be stressed enough that full knowledge of the enemy’s methods gives us more strength to resist.
Several psychologists have told me how, under the frightful circumstances of life in the Nazi concentration camps, they felt sustained by their science. It gave them perspective and made it possible for them to see their own suffering from a greater distance. It was the philosophical attitude of the inquisitive mind that fortified their inner strength.
Still, there are only a few stories of those who could not be broken down by the process of Communist brainwashing. Such a hard-boiled revolutionary as the Spaniard El Campesino, for one, was able to stand it (Gonzales and Gorkin). He knew the tricks of the totalitarians. It is also possible that they might not have thought him important enough to waste too much time and effort on him; after all, he could always be sent to a concentration camp to waste away.
It must be repeated that any kind of illicit group formation in the camps-no matter how dangerous-immediately gave the individual a sense of being protected. Most of those who resisted cooperation and group membership and worked on their own succumbed to despair and defeat. Those who betrayed their comrades. usually did so after they had gone through a long period of isolation, not necessarily enforced, but often caused by their own peculiar character structure.
Human contact with a trusted source is needed more than bread to keep the spirit of freedom and belonging alive. During the Second World War the anti-Nazi underground lived on the daily radio news from free England. Even now there are people in enslavement and distress who live on the few communications we are able to transmit to them. The Voice of America and Radio Free Europe have a tremendous morale-boosting function in countries where the totalitarian air leads to despair.
In our present-day fight against brainwashing, intelligent preparation for what the prisoner has to expect and simple understanding of the enemy’s tactics are the greatest aid. In the first place, this will undermine the enemy’s political strategy; nobody will believe his deceitful accusations. In the second place, victims of brainwashing will no longer suffer from the paralyzing bewilderment of those who are suddenly caught by an unfamiliar situation. Perhaps, too, we should advise our soldiers under duress to confess too much, to confuse the inquisitor and to take over the enemy’s strategy of confusion, lying, and deceit to bring him to frustration. This suggestion was also made by Rear Admiral D. V. Gallery of the United States Navy.* In cases where victims of menticide have done this, the inquisitors have often begged their victims to become rational again; the torturer himself was disturbed and upset by the feigned craziness of his victim. Of the greatest importance is the victim’s awareness that other people know and understand what is happening, that there is a home front that is acquainted with his lonely struggle and torture.
If he does succumb, he should know that others understand that he cannot be held completely responsible for his behavior. His brain wanted to resist, his mind wanted to say no, but in the end everything in his body acted against him. It is an eerie and strange experience-awareness of the fact that against one’s will, one has lost the freedom of mental action. It is an experience which enough pressure can make familiar to most men:
Are the effects of brainwashing only temporary? There is a difference between young people whose thoughts are still likely to be molded into permanent patterns of thinking and adults whose patterns are already formed by a free education. In mature people, brainwashing is an artificial nightmare they can often shed the moment they return to free territory. In some, it may leave longlasting scars of depression and humiliation, but gradually the spell subsides in an atmosphere where freedom reigns.
* The Saturday Evening Post, January 22, 1955.
During and directly after the Second World War, those members of the resistance who had lost their bearings under the influence of the Nazi terror made it necessary for psychiatrists to face a new problem, that of a temporarily changed personality. Obviously the terror in prisons and concentration camps had not only made meek collaborators of a certain few, but they came out of their ordeal as lost souls, full of guilt and remorse and unable to face themselves as valid citizens. Even the honorable official exoneration of responsibility granted to them by a special court was not always able to repair their self-esteem. Before accepting themselves they had to go through a slow and difficult psychological process of undoing the nightmarish mental confusion into which they were thrown. During psychotherapy several of them had to recall and experience once more the terror they had suffered: their initial struggle to resist the mental dinning of their inquisitors, the gradual paralysis of will, their final surrender. It was a subtle inner battle between their feelings of guilt and the wish to reassert themselves. Emotional outbursts were followed by thoughts of suicide as a final flight from their shame. After they had vented their pent-up emotions, the therapist was able to convince them that everybody has his physical and psychological limits of endurance. From this point on, they could express themselves freely as independent human beings with a mixture of both negative and positive qualities.
In one case of a young man who had spent years in a concentration camp after a thorough brainwashing by the Nazis, the process of rehabilitation lasted nearly two years. The victim emerged from it without mental scars, and was even strengthened by his bitter experience.
I am convinced that in the case of prisoners who were for years in a totalitarian prison and were consequently politically conditioned, a cathartic, psychotherapeutic approach will help them to find their old inner selves once more. Threats and aggressive discussions would only be a continuation of the same coercive brainwashing process their jailors used. The best therapy for them is the daily contact and exchange with the free, democratic world, as we have seen proven in so many cases of ex-prisoners of the totalitarian machine. Free air is for them the best therapy!
For the millions of children who from the cradle are pressed into
the framework of mental automatization, no such option for freedom exists. For them there is no other world, there are no other beliefs; there is only the all-consuming totalitarian Moloch, in whose service every means and every deed is justified.
Brainwashers are very naive in thinking that the enforced reformation of the mind-the transformation of capitalist prisoners into Communist propagandists-will be permanent. For the first few weeks after their return to a normal environment, the ex-prisoner will speak the language he has been “taught.” He will recite his piece, but then, and often suddenly and surprisingly, his old self comes back. If the victim has a chance to investigate and examine the Communist propaganda and accusations, the whole artificial nightmare will fall away. For this reason, the jailers are careful not to dismiss all their converts at once. A few must stay behind as hostages to assure that those who are released will not expose the whole plot and thus endanger their friends in jail. Those who do tell the truth on their return home feel guilty because their revelations may expose the hostages to even greater torture.
I have been fascinated by a peculiar character trait that makes for courage and endurance. I called it in my study on the problem of time the sense of continuity, the awareness that our experiences now are not only chained to our experiences from the past, but also to our image and fantasy of a future. We live in a world where we accept too much of the actual occurrences, without asking why and for what all this happens. Those who think of planning for the future are sneeringly called utopianists, as if the idea of Utopia had not always sprung from human yearning. Our ancestors believed in the future, the coming of Christ, the coming of the messiahs, the Kingdom of God. They anticipated and worked for a better epoch. The people in the concentration camps who believed in a future, who believed in a plan, who could see their actual calamity as a small chain between past and future, could endure better their temporary suffering.
I had the privilege of knowing people who belonged to the few kernels of strength and who were able to do more than exist passively and borrow strength from others. They were able to live courageously under the extreme stress of the Nazi concentration camp. They accepted the camp and the persecution as a challenge
to their minds. Physical pain did not touch them. The abnormal circumstances stimulated their spirit; they lived beyond the circumstances. The morale of these people inspired others; they lived by fortifying and helping others. They accepted the Spinozistic amor f fati, the love and acceptance of fate. They are a living proof that the mind can be stronger than the body.
The New Courage
Philosophy and psychology have made us aware of new challenges and new courage. Socrates, over two thousand years ago, considered bravery a spiritual courage which goes far beyond the courage of physical battle. A soldier can be aggressive and have contempt for death without being brave. His rashness can be a suicidal foolhardiness inspired by a collective elan. This may be the panicky courage of the unaware primitive infant in us.
There is also a spiritual bravery, a mental courage that goes beyond the self. It serves an idea. It asks not only what the price of life is, but also for what that price is being asked. It asks for a hyperconsciousness of the self as a thinking spiritual being.
It is only comparatively recently that spiritual courage has been esteemed. Socrates’ notion has taken a long time to seep into our thinking. It was only after the Reformation that the heroic struggle of the lonely battling personality gained value. To defend your own dissenting opinion courageously, even against the pressure of a majority opinion, acquired a heroic color-especially where nonconformism and heresy were forbidden. Gandhi’s quiet and stubborn campaign of passive resistance is today considered more courageous than the bravery of the soldier who throws himself into the ecstasy of battle. Spiritual bravery is not found among the conformists or among those who preach uniformity or among those who plead for smooth social adjustment. It requires continual mental alertness and spiritual strength to resist the dragging current of conformist thought. Man has to be stronger than the mere will for self-protection and self-assertion; he has to be able to go beyond himself in the service of an idea and has to be able to acknowledge loyally that he has been wrong when higher values are found. Indeed, there is a spiritual courage that goes beyond all automatic
reflex action. Man is not only a mass, a piece of kneaded dough; he is also a personality. He dares to confront the human masses as he confronts the entire world-as a thinking human being. Consciousness, alert awareness are themselves a form of courage, a lonely exploration and a confrontation of values. Such courage dares to break through old traditions, taboos, prejudices and dares to doubt dogma. The heroes of the mind do not know the fanfare, the pathetic show, the pseudo-courage of exaltation and glory; these brave heroes fight their inner battle against rigidity, cowardice, and the wish to surrender conviction for the sake of ease. This courage is like remaining awake when others want to soothe themselves with sleep and oblivion. Totalitarian ideology is able to blackmail man through his inner cowardice. It threatens him into surrendering his innermost convictions in exchange for glamour and acceptance, for hero worship, for honor and acknowledgment. Yet the true hero is true to his ideals.
Only when people have learned to accept individual responsibility can the world be helped by the combined efforts of many individuals. Don’t imitate the master, don’t merely identify with the leader, but if you do conform, accept his lead with the full recognition of your own responsibility. Such heroism of the spirit is only possible if you are the master of your emotions and in full control of your aggressions.
The new hero will not be recognized because of his muscles or aggressive power, but because of his character, his wisdom, and his mental proportions.
Intimate knowledge of bravery dethrones most of the popular notions about it as an exalted fascination. Psychological knowledge fosters new forms of courage, demanding exhausting labor, the labor of thought rather than the easy work of recklessness.
I cannot take any other option than for this enduring courage of life, courage that no longer embodies the magic attraction of suicide and decline. Courage should be the vivid faith in, and the alert awareness and the sound consideration of, all that moves life.
Such courage accepts the great fear behind all the mysteries of life and dares to live with it.
The Nazis were very much aware of the existence of unbendable heroes among their victims, whose faces could not be changed,
whose minds could not be coerced. They called their calmness and stubborn will physiognomic insubordination, and they tried to kill these heroes as soon as they were discovered. Happily, the jailers had many blind spots when it came to detecting spiritual greatness.
When the war was over, most of these heroes disappeared modestly into the crowd after their mission was fulfilled, leaving leadership to the more s sophisticated politicians.
CHAPTER EIGHTEEN Freedom-Our Mental Backbone
The totalitarian state is continually driving out man’s private opinions and convictions. For the police state, thinking is already acting. The inner preparation for action as expressed in trial action -thought-is not accepted. Innate doubt and the trials and tribulations of thought adaptation are denied. Inbreeding destructive thought is one way to undermine the community. Not trusting the liberty of thought and free expression of opinion is even more dangerous; the natural destructive desires are repressed to that uncontrollable realm of the mind that may explode more easily into action. The verbal expression of a destructive thought however often partly conquers that thought, and renders it less potent. Here lies the actual paradox! Condemning antisocial thought-thought not yet put into action-provokes a short circuit of explosive action!
Every piece of logic may have its dangerous implications: inquisitional murder took place in the service of high ideals. If we cannot gamble with the innate good sense of man, a free and peaceful society are impossible, a democracy is impossible. Moral culture begins and ends with the individual. Only the cult of individual freedom, individual possession, and individual creativity makes man willing to curb instinctual desires and to repress destructivity. Man is not only a social being. Somewhere away from the crowd and the noise, he has to come to grips with himself and conform. his
God and nature. In order to grow, he needs reserve and isolation and silence. In addition to his mechanical devices and machines, he needs to get back to nature, to camp out-of-doors by himself. Somewhere along the line, he has to be the maker of some of his own tools, as a shoemaker or a healer or a teacher. Without being thrown on his own and knowing loneliness, man is dwarfed, he is lost among the waves of overpowering human influence and a sea of coercive probabilities.
The Democratizing Action of Psychology
The deepest conviction of the power of psychological understanding came to me in my protracted mental struggles with a man who held membership in a totalitarian organization. He came to me for psychological advice during the Nazi occupation of Holland, and I knew that I had to be careful to avoid discussing politics with him; in those days free expression of opinion could be severely punished, and my patient would have reported me if I had said anything “suspicious.” ‘
However, as my therapy of passive listening liberated him from his personal tensions, the patient became more humane. He developed an increasing respect for the individual personality as such, and sometimes grew very critical of the Nazis’ callous treatment of human life and human dignity. As time passed, he dissociated himself more and more from his totalitarian political friends. This was indeed courageous, for, especially at that time, the turn from collaboration toward nonconformism was usually interpreted as high treason. In his last visits before we agreed that he was cured, we spoke of our mutual faith in the dignity of the individual and our confidence in the decisions of the mature adult as to the path of his own interests.
Does psychology really exert a democratizing influence on the authoritarian and totalitarian spirit? The case I have just cited would seem to indicate that it does. On the other hand, we know that Goebbels’s propaganda machine applied psychological principles to hypnotize the German people into submission. Hitler, too, laid down his psychological artillery barrage to spread panic throughout Europe.
In Nazi Germany, all psychoanalytic treatment was controlled by psychology’s own Fuhrer, Goering’s brother. Certainly the science of suggestion, hypnosis, and Pavlovian training can be used to enlist cowardly, submissive followers for a program of despotism. These uses of psychological knowledge are perversions of both the principles and the purposes of psychology. Intrinsic in the psychological approach, and above all in psychoanalytic treatment, is an important element that fosters an attitude diametrically opposite to the totalitarian one.
The true purpose of psychology, and especially of its mental health branch, is to free man from his internal tensions by helping him to understand what causes them. Psychology seeks to liberate the human spirit from its dependency on immature thinking so that each man can realize his own potentialities. It seeks to help man to face reality with its many problems, and to recognize his own limitations as well as his possibilities for growth. It is dedicated to the development of mature individuals who are capable of living in freedom and of voluntarily restricting their freedom, when it is indicated, for the larger good. It is based on the premise that when man understands himself, he can begin to be the master of his own life, rather than merely the puppet either of his own unconscious drives or of a tyrant with a perverted lust for power.
As we have said earlier, every man passes through a stage in his own development of greater susceptibility to totalitarianism. This usually occurs during adolescence when the pubescent becomes aware of his own personality-the authority within himself. In not accepting this responsibility, he may look for a strong leader outside the home. At an earlier age-in infancy-the more unconscious patterns of compulsion and automatic obedience are laid. With the advent of his new sense of selfhood, the youth begins to oppose the adult authorities who previously directed his life.
Becoming conscious of the entity we call ego or self or I is a painful mental process. It is not a matter of chance that the feeling of endless longing, of Weltschmerz, is traditionally connected with adolescence. The process of becoming an autonomous and selfgrowing individual involves separation from the security of the family. To achieve internal democracy, the adolescent must separate himself from his protective environment. In so doing he is not
merely intoxicated with his sense of growth and emancipation, he is also filled with a sense of fear and loneliness. He is entering a new world in which he must henceforth assume mature responsibility for his actions. At that time he may become an easy prey for totalitarian propaganda. A personal grudge against growing up may lead him to forsake the struggle for personal maturity.
This problem is particularly acute in Western society not only because of the real ideological-political battle we have to face, but also because our ways of raising children may emphasize this problem. Whereas primitive groups impose some measure of social responsibility upon the child early in life and increase it gradually, our middle-class culture segregates him completely in the world of childhood, nursery, and schoolroom, and then plunges him precipitously into adulthood to sink or swim. At this turning point, many young people shrink from such a test. Many do not want a freedom that carries with it so many burdens, so much loneliness. They are willing to hand back their freedom in return for continued parental protection, or to surrender it to political or economic ideologies which are in fact displaced parental images.
Alas, the youth’s surrender of individuality is no guarantee against fear and loneliness. The real outside world is in no way altered by his inner choice. Therefore the youth who relinquishes his freedom to new parent figures develops a curious, dual feeling of love and hate toward all authority. Docility and rebellion, submission and hate live side by side within him. Sometimes he bows completely to authority or tyranny; at other times, often unpredict ably, everything in him revolts against his chosen leader. This duality is an endless one, for one side of his nature continually seeks to overstep the limits which his other, submissive side has imposed. The man who fails to achieve freedom knows only two extremes: unquestioning submission and impulsive rebellion.
Conversely, the individual who is strong enough to embrace mature adulthood enters into a new kind of freedom. True, this freedom is an ambiguous concept since it involves the responsibility of making new decisions and confronting new uncertainties. The frontiers of freedom are anarchy and caprice on the one side and regimentation and suffocation by rules on the other.
If only we could find an easy formula for the mature attitude
toward life! Even if we call it the democratic spirit, we can still explain more easily what democracy is not, than what it is. We can say that our individualizing democracy is the enemy of blind authority. If we wish a more detailed, psychological explanation, we must contrast it with totalitarianism. Our democracy is against the total regimentation and equalization of its individuals. It does not ask for homogeneous integration and smooth social adjustment. Democracy, in comparison with these aims, implies a confidence in spontaneity and individual growth. It is able to postulate progress and the correction of evil. It guards the community against human error without resorting to intimidation. Democracy provides redress for its own errors; totalitarianism considers itself infallible. Whereas totalitarianism controls by whim and manipulated public opinion, democracy undertakes to regulate society by law, to respect human nature, and to guard its citizens against the tyranny of a single individual on the one hand and a power-crazy majority on the other. Democracy always fights a dual battle. On the one hand, it must limit the resurgence of asocial inner impulses in the individual; on the other, it must guard the individual against external forces and ideologies hostile to the democratic way of life.
The Battle on Two Fronts
The inner harmony between social adaptation and selfassertion has to be re-formed in every new environment. Each individual has to fight over and over again the same subtle battle that started during infancy and babyhood. The ego, the self, forms itself through confrontation with reality. Compliance battles with originality, dependence with independence, outer discipline with inner morale. No culture can escape this inner human battle, though there is a difference in emphasis in every culture and society and in every family.
The combination of internal and external struggle, of a mental conflict on two fronts, renders the Western ideal of an individualized democracy highly vulnerable, particularly when its adherents are unaware of this inherent contradiction. Democracy, by its very nature will always have to fight against dictatorship from without and destructiveness from within. Democratic freedom has to battle against both the individual’s inner will to power and his urge to submit to other people. It also has to battle against the contagious drive for power intruding from over the frontiers and so often backed up by armies.
The freedom toward which democracy strives is not the romantic freedom of adolescent dreams; it is one of mature stature. Democracy insists on sacrifices which are necessary to maintain freedom. It tries to combat the fears that attack men when they are faced with democracy’s apparently unlimited freedom. Such lack of limitations can be misused to satisfy mere instinctual drives. However, because democracy does not exploit man by myth, primitive magic, mass hypnotism, or other psychological means of seduction, it is less fascinating to the immature individual than is dictatorial control. Democracy, when it is not involved in a dramatic struggle for survival, may appear quite drab and uninspiring. It simply demands that men shall think and judge for themselves; that each individual shall exercise his full conscious ability in adapting to a changing world; and that genuine public opinion shall mold the laws that govern the community. Essentially, democracy means the right to develop yourself and not to be developed by others. Yet this right like every other, has to be balanced by a duty. The right to develop yourself is impossible without the duty of giving your energy and attention to the development of others. Democracy is rooted not only in the personal rights of the common man, but even more in the personal interests and responsibilities of the common man. When he loses this interest in politics and government, he helps to pave the road to power politics. Democracy demands mental activity of a rather high level from the common man.
What the general public digests and assimilates in its mind is, in our new era of mass communication, just as important as the dictates of the experts. If the latter formulate and communicate ideas beyond the common grasp, they will talk into a vacuum. Thus they may permit a more simple and even an untrue ideology to slip in. It is not enough that an idea is only formulated and printed; we have to take care that the public can participate in the new concept.
The mystery of freedom is the existence of that great love of freedom! Those who have tasted it will not waver. Man revolts against unfair pressure. While the pressure accumulates he revolts silently, but at some critical moment it bursts into open revolt. For those who have lived through such an outburst, freedom is life itself. We have learned this especially in the days of persecution and occupation, in the underground, in the camps, and under the threat of demagoguery. We can even discover it in the totalitarian countries where nonetheless the terror, the resistance goes on.
Freedom and respect for the individual are rooted in the Old Testament, which convinced man that he makes his own history, that he is responsible for his history. Such freedom implies that a man throws off his inertia, that he does not cling arbitrarily to tradition, that he strives for knowledge and accepts moral responsibility. The fear of freedom is the fear of assuming responsibility.
Freedom can never be completely safeguarded by rules and laws. It is as much dependent on the courage, integrity, and responsibility of each of us as it is on these qualities in those who govern. Every trait in us and our leaders which points to passive submission to mere power betrays democratic freedom. In our American system of democratic government, three different powerful branches serve to check each other, the executive, the legislative, and the judiciary. Yet when there is no will to prevent encroachment of the power of one by any of the others, this system of checks, too, can degenerate.
Like adolescents who try to hide behind the aprons of parental authority rather than face mature adulthood, the individual members of a democratic state may shrink from the mental activity it imposes. They long to take flight into a condition of thoughtless security. Often they would prefer the government, or some individual personification of the state, to solve their problems for them. It is this desire that makes totalitarians and conformists. Like an infant the conformist can sleep quietly and transfer all his worries to Father State. When the intellectuals lose their self-control and courage and are possessed only by their fears and emotions, the power of those with prejudice and stupidity gains.
Since within each of us lie the seeds of both democracy and totalitarianism, the struggle between the democratic and the totalitarian attitude is fought repeatedly by each individual during his lifetime. His particular view of himself and of his fellow men will determine his political creed. Coexisting with man’s wish for liberty and maturity are destructiveness, hate, the desire for power, resistance to independence, and the wish to retreat into irresponsible childhood. Democracy appeals only to the adult side of man; fascism and totalitarianism tempt his infantile desires.
Totalitarianism is based on a mechanized narrow view of mankind. It denies the complexity of the individual, and the struggle between his conscious and unconscious motivations. It denies doubt, ambivalence, and contradiction of feelings. It simplifies man, making him into a machine that can be put to work by governmental oil.
In every psychoanalytic treatment there comes the moment when the patient has to decide whether or not he will grow up. The knowledge and insight he has gained have to be translated into action. By this time he knows more about himself; his life has become an open book to him. Although he understands himself better, he finds it difficult to leave the dreamland of childhood, with its fantasies, hero-worship, and happy endings. But, fortified with a deeper understanding of his inner motivation, he steps over into the world of self-chosen responsibility and limited freedom. Because his image of the world is no longer distorted by immature longings, he is now able to function in it as a mature adult.
Systematic education toward freedom is possible. Freedom grows as the control over destructive inner drives become internalized and no longer depend on control from the outside, on control by parents and authorities.
It is the building up of our personality and our conscience-ego and superego-that is important. Nor can this development be brought about in an enforced and compulsive way as tyrants and dictators try to do. We must develop it through free acceptance or rejection of existing moral values until the inner moral person in us is so strong that he is able to go beyond existing values and can stand on his own moral grounds. The choice in favor of freedom lies between self-chosen limitation-the liberation from chaos-and the pseudo-freedom of unconscious chaos. To many people freedom is an emotional concept of letting themselves go, which really means a dictatorship by dark, instinctual drives. There is also an intellectual concept of freedom, meaning a limiting of bondage and unfreedom.
In order to become free, certain outside conditions must be prevented from hampering this moral development of self-control. We have to become increasingly aware of the internal dangers of democracy: laxity, laziness, and unawareness. People have to be aware of the tendency of technology to automatize their minds. They have to become aware of the fact that mass media and modern communication are able to imprint all kinds of suggestions on our brains. They have to know that education can turn us either into weak fact-factories or strong personalities. A free democracy has to fight against mediocrity in order not to be smothered by mere numbers of automatic votes. Democratic freedom requires a highly intelligent appraisal and understanding of the democratic system itself. This very fact makes it difficult for us to advertise or “promote” it. Furthermore, inculcating democracy is just as dangerous as inculcating totalitarianism. It is the essence of democracy that it must be self-chosen, it cannot be imposed.
The Paradox of Freedom
Freedom and planning present no essential contrasts. In order to let freedom grow, we have to plan our controls over the forces that limit freedom. Beyond this, we must have the passion and the inner freedom to prosecute those who abuse freedom. We must have the vitality to attack those who commit mental suicide and psychic murder through abuse of liberties, dragging down other persons in their wake. Suicidal submission is a kind of subversion from within; it is passive surrender to a mechanized world without personalities; it is the denial of personality. We must have the fervor to stand firmly for freedom of the individual, for mutual tolerance and dignity, and we must learn not to tolerate the destruction of these values. We must not tolerate those who make use of worthy ideas and values only to destroy them as soon as they are in power. We must be intolerant of these abuses as long as the battle for mental life or death goes on.
It cannot be emphasized too strongly that liberty is only possible with a strong set of beliefs and moral standards. This means that man has to adhere to self-restrictive rules-moral rules-in order to keep his freedom. When there is lack of such internal checks,owing to lack of education or to stereotyped education, then external pressure or even tyranny becomes necessary to check unsocial drives. Then freedom becomes the victim of man’s inability to live in freedom and self-control.
Mankind should be guaranteed the right not to hear and not to conform and the right to defense against psychological attack and against intervention in the form of perverted mass propaganda, totalitarian pressure, and mental torture. No compromise or appeasement is possible in dealing with such attitudes. We have to watch carefully lest our own mistakes in attacking personal freedom become grist for the totalitarian’s mill. Even our denunciation may have a paradoxical effect. Fear and hysteria further totalitarianism. What we need is careful analysis and understanding of such phenomena. Democracy is the regime of the dignity of man and his right to think for himself, the right to have his own opinionmore than that, the right to assert his own opinion and to protect himself against mental invasion and coercion.
When the United Nations has devised rules curtailing menticide and psychological intrusion, it will have insured a human right as precious as physical existence, the right of the nonconforming free individual-the right to dissent, the right to be oneself. Tolerance of criticism and heresy is one of the conditions of freedom.
Here we touch on another crucial point related to the technique of governing people. There is a relationship between overcentralization of government, mass participation, and totalitarianism.
Mass participation in government, without the decentralization that emphasizes the value of variation and individuality and without the possibility of sound selection of leaders, facilitates the creation of the dictatorial leader. The masses then transfer their desire for power to him. The slave participates in a magic way in the glory of the master.
Democratic self-government is determined by restraint and selflimitations, by sportsmanship and fairness, by voluntary observance of the rules of society and by cooperation. These qualities come through training. In a democratic government those who have been elected to responsible positions request controls and limitations against themselves, knowing that no one is without fault. Democracy is not a fight for independence but a mutually regulated interdependence. Democracy means checking man’s tendency to gather unlimited power unto himself. It means checking the faults in each of us. It minimizes the consequences of man’s limitations.
The Future Age of Psychology
Let me repeat what I said at the very beginning of this book. The modern techniques of brainwashing and menticide-those perversions of psychology-can bring almost any man into submission
and surrender. Many of the victims of thought control, brainwashing, and menticide that we have talked about were strong men whose minds and wills were broken and degraded. But although the totalitarians use their knowledge of the mind for vicious and unscrupulous purposes, our democratic society can and must use its knowledge to help man to grow, to guard his freedom, and to understand himself.
Psychological knowledge and psychological treatment may in themselves generate the democratic attitude; for psychology is essentially the science of the juste milieu, of free choice within the framework of man’s personal and social limitations. Compared with the million-year span of human existence and evolution, civilization is still in its infancy. Despite historical reversals, man continues to grow, and psychology-no matter how imperfect now-will become one of man’s most powerful tools in his struggle for freedom and maturity.
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