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)


The first part of this book is devoted to various techniques used to make man a meek conformist. In addition to actual political occurrences, attention is called to some ideas born in the laboratory and to the drug techniques that facilitate brainwashing. The last chapter deals with the subtle psychological mechanisms of mental submission.


A fantastic thing is happening in our world. Today a man is no longer punished only for the crimes he has in fact committed. Now he may be compelled to confess to crimes that have been conjured up by his judges, who use his confession for political purposes. It is not enough for us to damn as evil those who sit in judgment. We must understand what impels the false admission of guilt; we must take another look at the human mind in all its frailty and vulnerability.

The Enforced Confession

During the Korean War, an officer of the United States Marine Corps, Colonel Frank H. Schwable, was taken prisoner by the Chinese Communists. After months of intense psychological pressure and physical degradation, he signed a well documented “confession” that the United States was carrying on bacteriological warfare against the enemy. The confession named names, cited missions, described meetings and strategy conferences. This was a tremendously valuable propaganda tool for the totalitarians. They cabled the news all over the world: “The United States of America is fighting the peace loving people of China by dropping bombs loaded with disease spreading bacteria, in violation of international law.”

After his repatriation, Colonel Schwable issued a sworn statement repudiating his confession, and describing his long months of imprisonment. Later, he was brought before a military court of inquiry. He testified in his own defense before that court: “I was never convinced in my own mind that we in the First Marine Air Wing had used bug warfare. I knew we hadn’t, but the rest of it was real to me the conferences, the planes, and how they would go about their missions.”

“The words were mine,” the Colonel continued, “but the thoughts were theirs. That is the hardest thing I have to explain: how a man can sit down and write something he knows is false, and yet, to sense it, to feel it, to make it seem real.”

This is the way Dr. Charles W. Mayo, a leading American physician and government representative, explained brainwashig in an official statement before the United Nations: “…the tortures used…although they include many brutal physical injuries, are not like the medieval torture of the rack and the thumb screw. They are subtler, more prolonged, and intended to be more terrible in their effect. They are calculated to disintegrate the mind of an intelligent victim, to distort his sense of values, to a point where he will not simply cry out ‘I did it!’ but will become a seemingly willing accomplice to the complete disintegration of his integrity and the production of an elaborate fiction.”

The Schwable case is but one example of a defenseless prisoner being compelled to tell a big lie. If we are to survive as free men, we must face up to this problem of politically inspired mental coercion, with all its ramifications.

It is more than twenty years [in 1956] since psychologists first began to suspect that the human mind can easily fall prey to dictatorial powers. In 1933, the German Reichstag building was burned to the ground. The Nazis arrested a Dutchman, Marinus Van der Lubbe, and accused him of the crime. Van der Lubbe was known by Dutch psychiatrists to be mentally unstable. He had been a patient in a mental institution in Holland. And his weakness and lack of mental balance became apparent to the world when he appeared before the court. Wherever news of the trial reached, men wondered: “Can that foolish little fellow be a heroic revolutionary, a man who is willing to sacrifice his life to an ideal?”

During the court sessions Van der Lubbe was evasive, dull, and apathetic. Yet the reports of the Dutch psychiatrists described him as a gay, alert, unstable character, a man whose moods changed rapidly, who liked to vagabond around, and who had all kinds of fantasies about changing the world.

On the forty second day of the trial, Van der Lubbe’s behavior changed dramatically. His apathy disappeared. It became apparent that he had been quite aware of everything that had gone on during the previous sessions. He criticized the slow course of the procedure. He demanded punishment either by imprisonment or death. He spoke about his “inner voices.” He insisted that he had his moods in check. Then he fell back into apathy. We now recognize these symptoms as a combination of behavior forms which we can call a confession syndrome. In 1933 this type of behavior was unknown to psychiatrists. Unfortunately, it is very familiar today and is frequently met in cases of extreme mental coercion.

Van der Lubbe was subsequently convicted and executed. When the trial was over, the world began to realize that he had merely been a scapegoat. The Nazis themselves had burned down the Reichstag building and had staged the crime and the trial so that they could take over Germany. Still later we realized that Van der Lubbe was the victim of a diabolically clever misuse of medical knowledge and psychologic technique, through which he had been transformed into a useful, passive, meek automaton, who replied merely yes or no to his interrogators during most of the court sessions. In a few moments he threatened to jump out of his enforced role. Even at that time there were rumors that the man had been drugged into submission, though we never became sure of that.

[NOTE: The psychiatric report about the case of Van der Lubbe is published by Bonhoeffer and Zutt. Though they were unfamiliar with the “menticide syndrome,” and not briefed by their political fuehrers, they give a good description about the pathologic, apathetic behavior, and his tremendous change of moods. They deny the use of drugs.]

Between 1936 and 1938 the world became more conscious of the very real danger of systematized mental coercion in the field of politics. This was the period of the well remembered Moscow purge trials. It was almost impossible to believe that dedicated old Bolsheviks, who had given their lives to a revolutionary movement, had suddenly turned into dastardly traitors. When, one after another, everyone of the accused confessed and beat his breast, the general reaction was that this was a great show of deception, intended only as a propaganda move for the non Communist world. Then it became apparent that a much worse tragedy was being enacted. The men on trial had once been human beings. Now they were being systematically changed into puppets. Their puppeteers called the tune, manipulated their actions. When, from time to time, news came through showing how hard, rigid revolutionaries could be changed into meek, self accusing sheep, all over the world the last remnants of the belief in the free community presumably being built in Soviet Russia began to crumble.

In recent years, the spectacle of confession to uncommitted crimes has become more and more common. The list ranges from Communist through non Communist to anti Communist, and includes men of such different types as the Czech Bolshevik Rudolf Slansky and the Hungarian cardinal, Joseph Mindszenty.

Mental Coercion and Enemy Occupation

Those of us who lived in the Nazi occupied countries during the Second World War learned to understand only too well how people could be forced into false confessions, and into betrayals of those they loved. I myself was born in the Netherlands and lived there until the Nazi occupation forced me to flee. In the early days of the occupation, when we heard the first eyewitness descriptions of what happened during Nazi interrogations of captured resistance workers, we were frightened and alarmed.

The first aim of the Gestapo was to force prisoners under torture to betray their friends and to report new victims for further torture. The Brown Shirts demanded names and more names, not bothering to ascertain whether or not they were given falsely under the stress of terror. I remember very clearly one meeting held by a small group of resisters to discuss the growing fear and insecurity. Everybody at that meeting could expect to be mentioned and picked up by the Gestapo at some time. Should we be able to stand the Nazi treatment, or would we also be forced to become informers? This question was being asked by anti Nazis in all the occupied countries.

During the second year of the occupation we realized that it was better not to be in touch with one another. More than two contacts were unsafe. We tried to find medical and psychiatric preventives to harden us against the Nazi torture we expected. As a matter of fact, I myself conducted some experiments to determine whether or not narcotics would harden us against pain. However, the results were paradoxical. Narcotics can create pain insensitivity, but their dulling action at the same time makes people more vulnerable to mental pressure. Even at that time we knew, as did the Nazis themselves, that it was not the direct physical pain that broke people, but the continuous humiliation and mental torture. One of my patients, who was subjected to such an interrogation, managed to remain silent. He refused to answer a single question, and finally the Nazis dismissed him. But he never recovered from this terrifying experience. He hardly spoken even when he returned home. He simply sat bitter, full of indignation and in a few weeks he died. It was not his physical wounds that had killed him; it was the combination of fear and wounded pride.

We held many discussions about ways of strengthening our captured underground workers or preventing them from final self betrayal. Should some of our people be given suicide capsules? That could only be a last resort. Narcotics like morphine give only a temporary anesthesia and relief; moreover, the enemy would certainly find the capsules and take them away.

We had heard about German attempts to give cocaine and amphetamine to their air pilots for use in combat exhaustion, but neither medicament was reliable. Those drugs might revive the body by making it less sensitive to pain, but at the same time they dulled the mind. If captured members of the underground were to take them, as experiments had shown, their bodies might not feel the effects of phyiscal torture, but their hazy minds might turn them into easier dupes of the Nazis.

We also tried systematic exercises in mental relaxation and auto hypnosis (comparable with Yogi exercises) in order to make the body more insensitive to hunger and pain. If an individual’s attention is fixed on the development of conscious awareness of automatic body functions, such a breathing, the alert functioning of the brain cortex can be reduced, and awareness of pain will diminish. This state of pain insensitivity can sometimes be achieved through autohypnotic exercises. But very few of our people were able to bring themselves into such anesthesia.

Finally we evolved this simple psychological trick: when you can no longer outwit the enemy or resist talking, the best thing to do is to talk too much. This was the idea: keep yourself sullen and act the fool; play the coward and confess more than there is to confess. Later we were able to verify that this method was successful in several cases. Scatterbrained simpletons confused the enemy much more than silent heroes whose stamina was finally undermined in spite of everything.

I had to flee Holland after a policeman warned me that my name had been mentioned in an interrogation. I had twice been questioned by the Nazis on minor matters and without bodily torture. When they later caught up with me in Blegium, probably as the result of a betrayal, I had to undergo a long initial examination in which I was beaten, fortunately not too seriously. The interview had started pleasantly enough. Apparently, the Nazi officer in charge thought he would be able to get information out of me through friendly methods. Indeed, we even had a discussion (since I am a psychiatrist) about the methods used in interrogation. But the officer’s mood changed, and he behaved with all the sadistic characteristics we had come to expect from his type. Happily, I managed to escape from Belgium that very night before a more systematic and more torturous investigation could begin.

Arriving at the London headquarters after an adventurous trip through France and Spain, I became Chief of the Psychological Department of the Netherlands Forces in England. In this official position I was able to gather data on what was happening to the millions of victims of Nazi terror and torture. Later on I questioned and treated several escapees from internment and concentration camps. These people had become real experts in suffering. The variety of human reactions under those infernal circumstances taught us an ugly truth: the spirit of most men can be broken, men can be reduced to the level of animal behavior. Both torturer and victim finally lose all human dignity.

My government gave me the power to investigate a group of traitors and I also interrogated imprisoned Nazis. When I reveiw all these wartime experiences, all the confusion about courage and cowardice, treason, morale, and mental fortitude, I must confess that my eyes were only really opened after a study of the Nuremberg trials of the Nazi leaders. These trials gave us the real story of the systematic coercive methods used by the Nazis. At about the same time we began to learn more about the perverted psychological strategy Russia and her satellites were using.

Witchcraft and Torture

The specific techniques used in the modern world to break man’s mind and will to extort confessions for political propaganda purposes are relatively new [in 1956] and highly refined. Yet enforced confession itself is nothing new. From time immemorial tyrants and dictators have needed these “voluntary” confessions to justify their own evil deeds. The knowledge that the human mind can be influenced, tamed, and broken down into servility is far older than the modern dictatorial concept of enforced indoctrination. The primative shaman used awe inspiring ritual to bring his victim into such a state of fright hypnosis that he yielded to all suggestions. The native on whom a spell of doom has been cast by the medicine man may become so hypnotized by his own fear that he simply sits down, accepts his fate, and dies (Malinowski).

Throughout history men have had an intuitive understanding that the mind can be manipulated. Elaborate strategies have been worked out to achieve this end. Ecstasy rituals, frightening masks, loud noises, eerie chants all have been used to compel the crowd to accept the beliefs of their leaders. Even if an ordinary man at first resists a cruel shaman or medicine man, the hypnotizing ritual gradually breaks his will.

More painful methods are not new either. When we study the old reports of the Inquisition, or of the many witch trials, both in Europe and America, we learn a great deal about these methods. The floating test is one example. Those accused of witchcraft were thrown into the river, their feet and hands tied together. If the body did not sink, the victim was immediately pulled out of the water and burned at the stake. The fact that he did not sink was proof positive of his guilt. If, on the other hand, the accused obeyed the law of gravity and sank to the bottom of the river, the drowned body was ceremoniously removed from the river and proclaimed innocent. Not much choice was left to the victim!

Man has been tremendously inventive in developing means for inflicting suffering on his fellow man. With refined passion he has devised techniques which provoke the most exquisite pain in the most vulnerable parts of the human body. The rack and the thumbscrew are age old instruments and have been used not only by primitive judges but also by so called civilized dictators and tyrants.

In order better to understand modern mental torture, we must constantly keep in mind the fact that from the earliest days bodily anguish and the rack were never meant merely to inflict pain on the victim. They may not have expressed their understanding in sophisticated terms, but the medieval judge and hangman were nevertheless aware that there is a peculiar spiritual relationship and mental interplay between the victim and the rest of the community. Much painful turture and hanging had to be done as public demonstrations. After suffering the most intense pain, the witch would not only confess to shocking sexual debaucheries with the devil, but would herself gradually come to believe the stories she had invented and would die convinced of her guilt. The whole ritual of interrogation and torture finally compelled her to yield to the fantasies of her judges and accusers. In the end she even yearned for death. She wanted to be burned at the stake in order to exorcise the devil and expiate her sins.

These same judges and hangman realized, too, that their witch trials were intended not only to torture the witches, but even more to torture the bystanders, who, albeit unconsciously, identified themselves with the victims. This is, of course, one of the reasons burnings and hangings were held in public and became the occasion for great pageants. Terror thus became widespread, and many judges spoke euphemistically of the preventive action of such torture. Psychologically, we can see this entire device as a blackmailing of human sympathy and the general tendency to identify with others.

As far back as 1563 the courageous Dutch physician Johannes Wier published his masterwork, _De_Praestigiis_Daemonum_ — (_On_the_Delusions_About_Demons_) in which he states that the collective and voluntary self acusation of older women through which they exposed themselves to torture and death by their inquisitors was in itself an act inspired by the devil, a trick of demons, whose aim it was to doom not only the innocent women but also their reckless judges. Wier was the first medical man to introduce what became the psychiatric concept of DELUSION and mental blindness. Wherever his book had influence, the persecution of witches ceased, in some countries more than one hundred and fifty years before it was finally brought to an end throughout the civilized world. His work and his insights became one of the main instruments for fighting the witch delusion and physical torture (Baschwitz). Wier realized even then that witches were scapegoats for the inner confusion and desperation of their judges and of the “Zeitgeist” in general.

The Refinement of the Rack

All knowledge can be used either for good or for evil, and psychology is not immune to this general law. Psychology has delivered up to man new means of torture and intrusion into the mind. We must be more and more aware of what these methods and techniques are if we are successfully to fight them. They can often be more painful and mentally more paralyzing than the rack. Strong personalities can tolerate physical agony; often it serves to increase stubborn resistance. No matter what the constitution of the victim, physical torture finaly leads to a protective loss of consciousness. But to withstand mental torture leading to creeping mental breakdown demands an even stronger personality.

What we call brainwashing (a word derived from the Chinese “Hsi Nao”) is an elaborate ritual of systematic indoctrination, conversion, and self accusation used to change non Communists into submissive followers of the party (Hunter). “Menticide” is a word coined by me and derived from “mens”, the mind, and “caedere”, to kill.

[NOTE: Here I followed the etymology used by the United Nations to form the word “genocide,” meaning the systematic destruction of racial groups.]

Both words indicate the same perverted refinement of the rack, putting it on what appears to be a more acceptable level. But it is a thousand times worse and a thousand times more useful to the inquisitor.

Menticide is an old crime against the human mind and spirit but systematized anew. It is an organized system of psychological intervention and judicial perversion through which a powerful dictator can imprint his own opportunistic thoughts upon the minds of those he plans to use and destroy. The terrorized victims finally find themselves compelled to express complete conformity to the tyrant’s wishes. Through court procedures, at which the victim mechanically reels off an inner record which has been prepared by his inquisitors during a preceding period, public opinion is lulled and thrown off guard. “A real traitor has been punished,” people think. “The man has confessed!” His confession can be used for propaganda, for the cold war, to instill fear and terror, to accuse the enemy falsely, or to exercise a constant mental pressure upon others.

One important result of this procedure is the great confusion it creates in the mind of every observer, friend or foe. In the end no one knows how to distinguish truth from falsehood. The totalitarian potentate, in order to break down the minds of men, first needs widespread mental chaos and verbal confusion, because both paralyze his opposition and cause the morale of the enemy to deteriorate unless his adversaries are aware of the dictator’s real aim. From then on he can start to build up his system of conformity.

In both the Mindszenty and the Schwable cases, we have documented reports of the techniques of menticide as it has been used to break the minds and wills of courageous men.

Let us look first at the case of Cardinal Mindszenty, accused of misleading the Hungarian people and collaboration with the enemies, the United States. In his expose’ on Cardinal Mindszenty’s imprisonment, Stephen K. Swift graphically describes three typical phases in the psychological “processing” of political prisoners. The first phase is directed toward extorting confession. The victim is bombarded with questions day and night. He is inadequately and irregularly fed. He is allowed almost no rest and remains in the interrogation chamber for hours on end while his inquisitors take turns with him. Hungry, exhuasted, his eyes blurred and aching under unshaded lamps, the prisoner becomes little more than a hounded animal.

  • “…when the Cardinal had been standing for sixty six hours [Swift reports], he closed his eyes and remained silent. He did not even reply to questions with denials. The colonel in charge of the shift tapped the Cardinal’s shoulder and asked why he did not respond. The Cardinal answered: ‘End it all. Kill me! I am ready to die!’ He was told that no harm would come to him; that he could end it all simply by answering certain questions.
  • “…By Saturday forenoon he could hardly be recognized. He asked for another drink and this time it was refused. His feet and legs had swollen to such proportions that they caused him intense pain; he fell down several times.”

To the horrors the accused victim suffers from without must be added the horrors from within. He is pursued by the unsteadiness of his own mind, which cannot always produce the same answer to a repeated question. As a human being with a conscience he is pursued by possible hidden guilt feelings, however pious he may have been, that undermine his rational awareness of innocence. The panic of the “brainwashee” is the total confusion he suffers about all concepts. His evaluations and norms are undermined. He cannot believe in anything objective any more except in the dictated and indoctrinated logic of those who are more powerful than he. The enemy knows that, far below the surface, human life is built up of inner contradictions. He uses this knowledge to defeat and confuse the brainwashee. The continual shift of interrogators makes it ever more impossible to believe in consecutive thinking. Hardly has the victim adjusted himself to one inquisitor when he has to change his focus of alertness to another one.

Yet, this inner clash of norms and concepts, this inner contradiction of ideologies and beliefs is part of the philosohpical sickenss of our time!

As a social being the Cardinal is pursued by the need for good human relationships and companionship. The constantly reiterated suggestion of his guilt urges him toward confession. As a suffering individual he is blackmailed by an inner need to be left alone and undisturbed, if only for a few minutes. From within and without he is inexorably driven toward signing the confession prepared by his persecutors. Why should he resist any longer? There are no visible witnesses to his heroism. He cannot prove his moral courage and rectitude after his death. The core of the strategy of menticide is the taking away of all hope, all anticipation, all belief in a future. It destroys the very elements which keep the mind alive. The victim is utterly alone.

[NOTE: This continual attack on human conscience and guilt by unconscious self accusations is brilliantly depicted by Franz Kafka in _The_Trial_. In this novel the victim never knows of what he is accused but his inner guilt leads him to conviction. Kafka anticipated the age of blackmailing into confession. His novel was written before the 1930s. The same theme has been treated from a psychological point of view by Theodor Reik in his _Confession_Compulsion_and_the_Need_for_Punishment_.]

If the prisoner’s mind proves too resistant, narcotics are given to confuse it: mescaline, marijuana, morphine, barbiturates, alcohol. If his body collapses before his mind capitulates, he receives stimulants: benzedrine, caffein, coramine, all of which help to preserve his consciousness until he confesses. Many of the narcotics and stimuli which ultimately help to induce mental dependency and enforced confusion can also create an amneisa, often a complete forgetting of the torture itself. The torture techniques achieve the desired effect, but the victim forgets what has actually happened during the interrogation. The clinicians who do therapeutic work with amphetamine derivatives, which when injected into the blood stream help patients to remember long frgotten experiences, are familiar with the drug’s ability to bring soothing forgetfulness of the period during which the patient was drugged and questioned.


Next the victim is trained to accept his own confession, much as an animal is trained to perform tricks. False admissions are reread, repeated, hammered into his brain. He is forced to reproduce in his memory again and again the fantasied offenses, fictitious details which ultimately convince him of his criminality. In the first stage he is forced into mental submissiveness by others. In the second stage he has entered a state of autohypnosis, convincing himself of fabricated crimes. According to Swift: “The questions during the interrogation now dealt with details of the Cardinal’s ‘confession.’ First his own statements were read to him; then statements of other prisoners accused of complicity with him; then elaborations of those statements. Sometimes the Cardinal was morose, sometimes greatly disturbed and excited. But he answered all questions willingly, repeated all sentences once, twice, or even three times when he was told to do so.” (Lassio)

In the third and final phase of interrogation and menticide the accused, now completely conditioned and accepting his own imposed guilt, is trained to bear false witness against himself and others. He doesn’t have to convince himself any more through autohypnosis; he only speaks “his master’s voice.” He is prepared for trial, softened completely; he becomes remorseful and willing to be sentenced. He is a baby in the hands of his inquisitors, fed as a baby and soothed by words as a baby.

[NOTE: A more extended survey of the different psychological stages in menticide and brainwashing will be given at the end of Chapter Four Why Do They Yield?: The Psychodynamics of False Confession.]

Menticide in Korea

Now let us take a look at the Schwable case. In its general outline it is simlar to the Mindszenty story; it differs only in details. As an officer of the United States Marine Corps, fighting with the United Nations in Korea, he is taken prisoner by the enemy. The colonel expects to be protected by international law and by the regulations regarding officer prisoners of war, which have been accepted by all countries. However, it slowly dawns on him that he is being subjected to a kind of treatment very different from what he expected. The enemy looks on him not as a prisoner of war, but as a victim who can be used for propaganda purposes.

He is subjected to slow but constant pressures devised to break him down mentally. Humiliation, rough, inhuman treatment, degradation, intimidation, hunger, exposure to extreme cold all have been used to crumble his will and to soften him. They need to wangle military secrets out of him and to use him as a tool in their propaganda machine. He feels completely alone. He is surrounded by filth and vermin. For hours on end he has to stand up and answer the questions his interrogators hurl at him. He develops arthritic backache and diarrhea. He is not allowed to wash or shave. He doesn’t know what will ahppen to him next. This treatment goes on for weeks.

Then the hours of systematic and repetitious interrogation and oppression increase. He no longer dares to trust his own memory. There are new teams of investigators every day, and each new team points out his increasing errors and mistakes. He cannot sleep any more. Daily his interrogators tell him they have plenty of time, and he realizes that in this respect at least they are telling the truth. He beings to doubt whether he can resist their seductive propositions. If he will just unburden himself of his guilt, they tell him, he will be better treated.

The inquisitor is treacherously kind and knows exactly what he wants. He wants the victim captured by the influence of a slowly induced hypnosis. He wants a well documented confession that the American army used bacteriological warfare, that the captive himself took part in such germ warfare. The inquisitor wants this confession in writing because it will make a convincing impression and will shock the world. China is plagued by hunger and epidemics; such a confession will explain the high disease rate and exculpate the Chinese government, whose popularity is at a low ebb. So the colonel has to be prepared for a systematic confession, made before an international group of Communist experts. Mentally and physically he is weakened, and every day the Communist “truths” are imprinted on his mind.

The colonel has in fact become hypnotized; he is now able to reproduce for his jailers bits and pieces of the confession they want from him. It is a well known scientific fact that the passive memory often remembers facts learned under hynosis better than those learned in a state of alert consciousness. He is even able to write some of it down. Eventually, all the little pieces fit, like a jigsaw puzzle, into a complete, well organized whole; they form part of a document which was in fact prepared beforehand by his captors. This document is placed in the colonel’s hands, and he is even allowed to make some minor changes in the phrasing before he signs it.

By now, the colonel has been completely broken. He has given in. All sense of reality is gone; identification with the enemy is complete. For weeks after signing the confession he is in a state of depression. His only wish is to sleep, to have rest from it all.

A man will often try to hold out beyond the limits of his endurance because he continues to believe that his tormentors have some basic morality, that they will finally realize the enormity of their crimes and will leave him alone. This is a delusion. The only way to strengthen one’s defenses against an organized attack on the mind and will is to understand better what the enemy is trying to do and to outwit him. Of course, one can vow to hold out until death, but even the relief of death is in the hands of the inquisitor. People can be brought to the threshold of death and then be stimulated into life again so that the torments can be renewed. Attempts at suicide are foreseen and can be forestalled.

In my opinion hardly anyone can resist such treatment. It all depends on the ego strength of the person and the exhaustive technique of the inquisitor. Each man has his own limit of endurance, but that this limit can nearly always be reached and even surpassed is supported by clinical evidence. Nobody can predict for himself how he will handle a situation when he is called to the test. The official United States report on brainwashing [See the “New York Times”, August 18, 1955] admits that “virtually all American P.O.W.s collaborated at one time or another in one degree or another, lost their identity as Americans…thousands lost their will to live,” and so forth. The British report [See the “New York Times”, February 27, 1955} gives a statistical survey about the abuse of the P.O.W.s. According to this report one third of the soldiers absorbed enough indoctrination to be classified as Communist sympathizers.

This same report describes in a more extended way some of the sadistic means used by the enemy:

“If a prisoner accepted Communist doctrines, his life became easier, according to the men’s stories. But if a prisoner resisted Communist doctrines, the Chinese considred him a criminal and reactionary deserving of any brutalitites. the tortures applied to the ‘reactionaries’ included:

  • “Making a prisoner stand at attention or sit with legs outstretched in complete silence from 4:30 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. and constantly waking him during the few hours allowed for sleep.
  • “Keeping prisoners in solitary confinement in boxes about five by three by two feet. A private of the Gloucester Regiment spent more than six months in one of these.
  • “Withholding liquids for days ‘to help self reflection’.
  • “Binding a prisoner with a rope passed over a beam, one end fixed as a hangman’s noose round his neck and the other end tied to his ankles. He was then told that if he slipped or bent his knees he would be committing suicide.
  • “Forcing a prisoner to kneel on jagged rocks and hold a large rock over his head with arms extended. It took a man who had undergone this treatment days to recover the ability to walk.
  • “At one camp North Korean jailers pushed a pencil like piece of wood or metal through a hole in the cell door and made the prisoner hold the inner end in his teeth. Without warning a sentry would knock the outer end sidewise, breaking the man’s teeth or splitting the sides of his mouth. Sometimes the rod was rammed inward against the back of the mouth or down the throat.
  • “Prisoners were marched barefooted to the frozen Yalu River, water was poured over their feet and they were kept for hours with their feet frozen to the ice to ‘reflect’ on their ‘crimes.'”

Time, fear, and continual pressure are known to create a menticidal hypnosis. The conscious part of the personality no longer takes part in the automatic confessions. The brainwashee lives in a trance, repeating the record grooved into him ind by somebody else. Fortunately, this, too, is known: as soon as the victim returns to normal circumstances, the panicky and hypnotic spell evaporates, and he again awakens into reality.

This is what happened to Colonel Schwable. True, he confessed to crimes he did not commit, but he repudiated his confession as soon as he was returned to a familiar environment.

When, during the military inquiry into the Schwable case, I was called upon to testify as an expert on menticide, I told the court of my deep conviction that nearly anybody subjected to the treatment meted out to Colonel Schwable could be forced to write and sign a similar confession.

“Anyone in this room, for instance?” the colonel’s attorney asked me, looking in turn at each of the officers sitting in judgment on this new and difficult case.

And in good conscience I could reply, firmly: “Anyone in this room.”

It is now technically possible to bring the human mind into a condition of enslavement and submission. The Schwable case and the cases of other prisoners of war are tragic examples of this, made even more tragic by our lack of understanding of the limits of heroism. We are just beginning to understand what these limits are, and how they are used, both politically and psycholgically, by the totalitarians. We have long since come to recognize the breast beating confession and the public recantation as propaganda tricks; now we are beginning to see ever more clearly how the totalitarians use menticide: deliberately, openly, unashamedly, as part of their oficial policy, as a means of consolidating and maintaining their power, though, of course, they give a different explanation to the whole procedure it’s all confessions of real and treacherous crimes.

This brutal totalitarian technique has at least one virtue, however. It is obvious and unmistakable, and we are learning to be on our guard against it, but as we shall see later, there are other subtler forms of mental intervention. They can be just as dangerous as the direct assault, precisely because they are more subtle and hence more difficult to detect. Often we are not aware of their action at all. They influence the mind so slowly and indirectly that we may not even realize what they have done to us.

Like totalitarian menticide, some of these less obvious forms of mental manipulation are political in purpose. Others are not. Even if they differ in intent, they can have the same consequences.

These subtle menticidal forces operate both within the mind and outside it. They have been strengthened in their effect by the growth in complexity of our civilization. The modern means of mass communication bring the entire world daily into each man’s home; the techniques of propaganda and salesmanship have been refined and systematized; there is scarcely any hiding place from the constant visual and verbal assault on the mind. The pressures of daily life impel more and more people to seek an easy escape from responsibility and maturity. Indeed, it is difficult to withstand these pressures; to many the offer of a political panacea is very tempting, to others the offer of escape through alcohol, drugs, or other artificial pleasures is irresistable.

Free men in a free society must learn not only to recognize this stealthy attack on mental integrity and fight it, but must learn also what there is in side man’s mind that makes him vulnerable to this attack, what it is that makes him, in many cases, actually long for a way out of the responsibilities that republican democracy and maturity place on him.


Before asking ourselves what the deeper mental mechanisms are of brainwashing, false confession, and conversion into a collaborator, let us try to see things from the standpoint of the totalitarian potentates. What is their aim? What terms do they use to describe the behavior of their prisoners? What do they want from the Schwables and the Midszentys?

The totalitarian jailers don’t speak of hypnosis or suggestion; they even deny the fact of imposed confession. They think about human behavior and human government in a much more mechanical way. In order to understand them we have to give more attention to their adoration of simplified Pavlovian concepts.

The Salivating Dog

In the latter part of the nineteenth century the Russian Nobel price winner Ivan Petrovich Pavlov conducted his famous experiments with a bell and a dog. He knew that salivation is associated with eating, and that if a dog was hungry, its mouth would water each time it saw food. Pavlov took advantage of this useful inborn reflex, which serves the digestive process, to develop in his experimental animal the salivating response in answer to a stimulus which would not ordinarily create it. Each time Pavlov fed the dog, he rang a bell, and at each feeding the dog’s mouth watered. Then after many repetitions of the combined food bell stimulus, Pavlov rang the bell but did not feed the dog. The animal reacted to the bell alone just as it had previously reacted to the sight of food its mouth watered. Thus the scientist had found out that the dog could be induced to salivate involuntarily in response to an arbitrary signal. It had been “conditioned” to respond to the ringing of the bell as if that sound were the smell and taste of food.

From this and other experiments, Pavlov developed his theory of the conditioned reflex, which explains learning and training as the building up of a mosaic of conditioned reflexes, each one based on the establishment of an association between different stimuli. The greater the number of learned complex resposnes also called patterns the greater the number of conditioned reflexes developed. Because man, of all the animals, has the greatest capacity for learning, he is the animal with the greatest capacity for such complicated conditioning.

Pavlov’s experiments were of great value in the study of animal and human behavior, and in the study of the development of neurotic symptoms. However, this knowledge of some of the mechanisms of the human mind can be used as we have seen already, like any other knowledge, either for good or for evil. And unfortunately, the totalitarians have used their knowledge of how the mind works for their own purposes. They have applied some of the Pavlovian findings, in a subtle and complicated way and sometimes in a grotesque way, to try to produce the reflex of mental and political conditioning and of submission in the human guinea pigs under their control.

Even though the Nazis employed these methods before the Second World War, they can be said to have reached their full flower in Soviet Russia. Through a continued repetition of indoctrination, bell ringing and feeding, the Soviet man is expected to become a conditioned reflex machine, reacting according to a prearranged pattern, as did the laboratory dogs. At least, such a simplfied concept is roaming around in the minds of some of the Soviet leaders and scientists (Dobrogaev).

In accordance with one of Stalin’s directives, Moscow maintains a special “Pavlovian Front” (Dobrogaev) and a “Scientific Council on Problems of Physiological Theory of the Academician I. P. Pavlov” (London). These institutions, part of the Academy of Science, are dedicated to the political application of the Pavlovian theory. They are under orders to emphasize the purely mechanical aspects of Pavlov’s findings. Such a theoretical view can reduce all human emotions to a simple, mechanistic system of conditioned reflexes. Both organizations are control agencies dealing in research problems, and the scientists who work on them explore the ways in which man can theoretically be conditioned and trained as animals are. Since Pavlovian theory is proclaimed by the obdurate totalitarian theoreticians as the gospel of animal and human behavior, we have to grapple with the facts they adduce to prove their point, and with their methods and theoretical explanations.

What the Pavlovian council tries to achieve is the result of an oversimplification of psychology. Their political task is to condition and mold man’s mind so that its comprehension is confined to a narrow totalitarian concept of the world. It is the idea that such a limitation of thinking to Lenin Marxist theoretical thinking must be possible for two reasons: first, if one repeats often enough its simplification, and second, if one withholds any other form of interpretation of reality.

This concept is based on the naive belief that one can permanently suppress any critical function and verification in human thinking. Yet, through taming and conditioning of people, during which period errors and deviations must continually be corrected, unwittingly a critical sense is built up. True, at the same time the danger of using this critical sense is brought home to the students. They know the dangers of any dissent, but even this promotes the development of a secondary and more refined critical sense. In the end, human rebellion and dissent cannot be suppressed; they await only one breath of freedom in order to awake once more. The idea that there exist other ways to truth than those he sees close at hand lives somewhere in everybody. One can narrow his pathways of research and expression, but a man’s belief in adventurous new roads elsewhere is ever present in the back of his mind.

The inquisitive human mind is never satisfied with a simple recital of facts. As soon as it observes a set of data, it jumps into the area of theory and offers explanations, but the way a man sees a set of facts, and the way he juggles them to build them into a theory is largely determined by his own biases and prejudices.

Let me be the first to confess that I am affected by my own subjectivities. Even the words we use are loaded with implications and suggestions. The word “reflex,” for example, so important in Pavlovian theory, is a perfect instance of this. It was first used by the seventeenth century philosopher Descartes, in whose philosophical system a parallel was made between the actions of the human body and those of a machine. For example, in the Caresian view, the automatic reaction of the body to certain painful stimuli (e.g., withdrawing the hand after it has come into contact with fire) is compared with the automatic physical reflection of light from a mirror. The nervous system, according to Descartes, reflects its response just as the mirror does. Such a simple explanation of behavior, and the very words used to describe it, immediately denies the whole organism taking part in that response.

Yet man is not only a mirror, but a thinking mirror. According to the old mechanical view, actions are associated only with the part of the body which performs them, and they have no relationship whatsoever to the purposeful behavior of the organism as a whole. But man is not a machine composed of independently functioning parts. He is a whole. His mind and body interact; he acts on the outside world and the outside world acts on him. The innate reflexes, of which this hand withdrawal is one example, are part of a whole system of adaptive responses which serve to help the individual, as an entity, to adjust to changed circumstances. They can be described as the result of an inborn adaptation tendency. The only real difference between the innate reflexes and the conditioned reflexes is that the former supposedly have developed in the entire race over the millions of years of the evolutionary process, while the latter are developed during the life span of the individual as a result of the gradual automatization of acquired responses.

If you analyze any one of the complicated actions you may perform during the course of a single day (driving an automobile, for example), you will see that it occurs outside your conscious management. And yet, before the process could be automatized, the actions, purposefully directed toward the satisfaction of some goal, had to be consciously learned and managed. You were not born with the innate reflex of jamming on the brake to stop a car quickly in an emergency. You had to learn to do it, and in the process of learning and driving, this response became automatic. If, after you have learned to drive, you see a child running across the path of your car, you put the brake on immediately, by reflex, without thinking.

The Conditioning of Man

Pavlov’s research on the machinery of the mind taught us how all the animals including man learn adjustment to existing limitations through linking the signs and signals of life to body reactions. The mind creates a relationship between repeated simultaneous occurrences, and the body reacts to the connections the mind forms. Thus the bell, rung each time the dog was fed, became a signal to the anmial to prepare for digestion, and the animal began to salivate.

Recent experiments conducted by Dr. Gregory Razran of Queens College show how men may develop these same kinds of responses. Dr. Razran treated a group of twenty college students to a series of free luncheons at which music was played or pictures shown. After the final luncheon, these twenty students were brought together with another group who had not been luncheon guests. At this meeting, as at the luncheons, music was played and pictures shown, and all the students were asked to tell what the music and pictures made them think of. The music and the pictures generally reminded the first group of something related to eating, but had no such associations for the second group. There was obviously a temporary connection in the minds of the luncheon guests between the music and the pictures on the one hand and eating on the other.

The Chinese did their mass conditioning in an even simpler way. After having taught the prisoners for days to write down all possible nonsense and political lies in an atmosphere of utter confusion and stress they were ripe to sign collectively the lie of having taken part in germ warfare (Winokur).

All conditioned reflexes are involuntary temporary adjustments to pressures which create an apparent connection between stimuli which may be in fact totally unrelated. For this reason, the conditioned reflex is not necessarily permanently imprinted on the individual, but can gradually disappear. If, after the dog’s conditioned reflex to the bell has been developed, the bell is rung over and over again and no food is presented to the animal, the salivating reflex disappears. Doubtless Dr. Razran’s students will not always think of food when they hear music.

We could describe the conditioned reflex another way: it is a selected response of the mind body unit to a given stimulus. The ways in which the stimulus and the response are connected vary considerably they may have been associated in time, in place, or by coincidence, or by a common aim and thus they may form a special conditioned complex in our mental and physical attitude. Some of these complex responses, or patterns are more autonomous than others, and will act like the innate patterns. Some are flexible and are continually changing. Analysis of some of the psychosomatic diseases, for example, shows us how our inner emotional attitudes can intensify or even change a conditional response. Stomach ulcers are considred an example of such a psychosomatic disease. The mother who puts her child on a too rigid feeding schedule may change the child’s favorable response to hunger into a stubborn reaction against feeding.

For our purpose we have to be aware that conditioning takes place throughout all our lives in the most subtle and in the most obvious ways. We discover that the molding of our personalities may occur in a thousandfold ways through such matters as these: the meal training given in early childhood; the harshness or the musical tone of the words spoken to us; the sense of haste in our surroundings; the steadiness of family habits or the chaos of neurotic parents; the noises of our machines; the reservedness of our friends; the discipline of our schools and the competitiveness of our clubs. We are even conditioned by such things as the frailty of our toys and the cosiness of our houses, the steadiness of traditions or the chaos of a revolution. The artist and the engineer, the teacher and the friend, the uncle or aunt they all give shape to our behavior.

Isolation and Other Factors in Conditioning

Pavlov made another significant discovery: the conditioned reflex could be developed most easily in a quiet laboratory with a minimum of disturbing stimuli. Every trainer of animals knows this from his own experience; isolation and the patient repetition of stimuli are required to tame wild animals. Pavlov formulated his findings into a general rule in which the speed of learning is positively correlated with quiet and isolation. The totalitarians have followed this rule. They know that they can condition their political victims most quickly if they are kept in islation. In the totalitarian technique of thought control, the same isolation applied to the individual is applied also to groups of people. This is the reason the civilian populations of the totalitarian countries are not permitted to travel freely and are kept away from mental and political contamination. It is the reason, to, for the solitary confinement cell and the prison camp.

Another of Pavlov’s findings was that some animals learn more quickly if they were rewarded (by affection, by food, by stroking) each time they showed the right response, while others learned more quickly when the penalty for not learning was a painful stimulus. In human terms, the latter animals could be described as learning in order to avoid punishment. These different reactions in animals may perhaps be related to an earlier conditioning by the parents, and they find their counterparts among human beings. In some people the strategy of reward and flattery is a stimulus to learning, while pain evokes all their resistance and rebellion; in others retribution and punishment for failure can be a means of training them into the desired pattern. Before he can do his job effectively, the brainwasher has to find out to which category his victim belongs. There are people more amenable to brainwashing than others. Part of the response may be innate or related to earlier conditioning to conformity.

Pavlov also distinguished between the weaker type of involuntary learning, in which the learned response was lost as soon as some disturbance occurred, and the stronger type, in which training was retained through all kinds of changed conditions. As a matter of fact, Pavlov described more types of learning than this, but for our purposes it is only important to know that there are some types of people who lose their conditioned learning easily, while others, the so called “stronger” types, retain it. This, by the way, is another example of how our choice of words reflects our bias. The descriptions “strong” and “weak” depend completely on the aim of the experimenter. For the totalitarian, the “weak” P.O.W. is the man who subbornly refuses to accept the new conditioning. His “weakness” may be, in fact, a resistance, the result of a previous strong conditioning to loyalty to anti totalitarian principles. We never know how strongly conditioning and initial learning are impressed on the personality. Rigid dogmatic behavior has its roots in early conditioning and so may submissiveness based on ignorance rather than knowledge.

Pavlov showed, too, how internal and external factors interact in the conditioning process. If, for example, a new laboratory assistant was brought in to work with the animals, all of their newly acquired patterns could easily be inhibited because of the animals’ emotional reactions to the newcomer. Pavlov explained this as a disruptive reaction caused by the animals’ investigatory reflexes, which led them to sniff around the stranger. Current psychology tends to interpret it as the result of the changed emotional rapport between the animal and its trainers. We can easily expand the implications of this more modern view into the field of human relations. It points up the fact that there are some persons who can create such immediate rapport with others that the latter will soon give up many old habits and ways of life to conform with new demands. There are inquisitors and investigators whose personalities so deeply affect their victims that the victims speedily yield their secrets and accept entirely new ways of thinking.

We can see the same thing in psychotherapy, where the development of an emotional rapport between doctor and patient is the most important factor leading to cure. In some cases rapport can be established immediately, in others rapport cannot be built up at all, in most cases it develops gradually during the course of the therapy. It is not difficult for a psychologist to test a man’s “softness” and willingness to be conditioned, and as a matter of fact the Pavlovians have developed simple questionnaires through which they can easily determine a given individual’s instability and adaptability to suggestion and brainwashing.

Pavlov found that all conditioning, no matter how strong it had been, became inhibited through boredom or through the repetition of too weak signals. The bell could no longer arouse salivation in the experimental dogs if it was repeated too often or its tone was too soft. A process of unlearning took place. The result of such internal inhibition of conditioning and the loss of conditioned reflex action is sleep. The inhibition spreads over the entire activity of the brain cortex; the organism falls into a hypnotic state. This explanation of the process of inhibition was one of the first acceptable theories of sleep. An interesting psychological question is whether too much official conditioning causes boredom and inhibition, and whether that is the reason why the Stakhanovite movement in Russia was necessary to counteract the loss of productivity of the people.

We can make a comparison with what happened to our prisoners of war in Korea. Under the daily signal of dulling routine questions for every word can act as a Pavlovian signal their minds went into a state of inhibition and diminished alertness. This made it possible for them to give up temporarily their former democratic conditioning and training. When they had unlearned and suppressed the democratic way, their inquisitors could start teaching them the totalitarian philosohpy. First the old patterns have to be broken down in order to build up new conditioned reflexes. We can imagine that boredom and repetition arouse the need to give in and to yield to the provoking words of the enemy. Later I shall come back to the system of negative stimuli used in conditioning for brainwashing.

Mass Conditioning Through Speech

According to official Pavlovian psychology, human speech is also a conditioned reflex activity. Pavlov distinguished between stimuli of the first order, which condition men and animals directly, and stimuli of the second order, with weaker and more complicated conditioning qualities. In this so called second signal system, verbal cues replace the original physical sound stimuli. Pavlov himself did not give much attention to this second signal system. It was especially after Stalin’s publication in 1950 on the significance of linguistics for mass indoctrination (as quoted by Dobrogaev) that the Russian psychologists began to do work in this area. In his letter, Stalin followed Engel’s theory that language is the characteristic human bit of adaptive equipment. That tone and sound in speech have a conditioning quality is something we can verify from our own experience in listening to or in giving commands, or in dealing with our pets. Even the symbolic and semantic meaning of words can acquire a conditioning quality. The word “traitor,” for example, provokes direct feelings and reactions in the minds of those who hear it spoken, even if this discriminatory label is being applied dishonestly.

Through an elaborate study on speech reflexes written by one of the leading Russian psychologists, Dobrogaev, we get a fairly good insight into the ways in which speech patterns and word signals are used in the service of mass conditioning, by means of propaganda and indoctrination. The basic problems for the man tamer are rather simple: Can man resist a government bent on conditioning him? What can the individual do to protect his mental integrity against the power of a forceful collectivity? Is it possible to do away with every vestige of inner resistance?

Pavlov had already explained that man’s relation to the external world, and to his fellow men, is dominated by secondary stimuli, the speech symbols. Man learns to think in words and in the speech figures given him, and these gradually condition his entire outlook on life and on the world. As Dobrogaev says, “Language is the means of man’s adaptation to his environment.” We could rephrase that statement in this way: man’s need for communication with his fellow men interferes with his relation to the outside world, because language and speech itself the verbal tools we use are variable and not objective. Dobrogaev continues: “Speech manifestations represent conditioned reflex functions of the human brain.” In a simpler way we may say: he who dictates and formulates the words and phrases we use, he who is master of the press and radio, is master of the mind.

In the Pavlovian strategy, terrorizing force can finally be replaced by a new organization of the means of communication. Ready made opinions can be distributed day by day through press, radio, and so on, again and again, till they reach the nerve cell and implant a fixed pattern of thought in the brain. Consequently, guided public opinion is the result, according to Pavlovian theoreticians, of good propaganda technique, and the polls a verification of the temporary successful action of the Pavlovian machinations on the mind. Yet, the polls may only count what people pretend to think and believe, because it is dangerous for them to do otherwise.

Such is the Pavlovian device: repeat mechanically your assumptions and suggestions, diminish the opportunity of communicating dissent and opposition. This is the simple formula for political conditioning of the masses. This is also the actual ideal of some of our public relation machines, who thus hope to manipulate the public into buying a special soap or voting for a special party.

The Pavlovian strategy in public relations has people conditioned more and more to ask themselves, “What do other people think?” As a result, a common delusion is created: people are incited to think what other people think, and thus public opinion may mushroom out into a mass prejudice.

Expressed in psychoanalytic terms, through daily propagandistic noise backed up by forceful verbal cues, people can more and more be forced to identify with the powerful noisemaker. Big Brother’s voice resounds in all the little brothers.

News from Red China, as reported by neutral Indian journalists [See the “New York Times”, November 27, 1954] tells us that the Chinese leaders are using this vocal conditioning of the public to strengthen their regime. Throughout the country, radios and loud speakers are broadcasting the official “truths.” The sugary voices take possession of people, the cultural tyranny traps their ears with loud speakers, telling them what they may and may not do. This microphone regimentation was foreseen by the French philosopher La Rochefoucauld, who, in the eighteenth century, said: “A man is like a rabbit, you catch him by the ears.”

During the Second World War the Nazis showed that they too were very much aware of this conditioning power of the word. I saw their strategy at work in Holland. The radio constantly spread political suggestions and propaganda, and people were obliged to listen because the simple act of turning off one’s radio was in itself suspicious. I remember one day during the occupation when I was taking a bicycle trp with some friends. We stopped off to rest at a cafe that, we later realized, was a true Nazi nest. When the radio, which had been on ever since we arrived, announced a speech by Hitler, everyone stood up in awe, and it was a must to take in the verbal conditioning by the Fuhrer. My friends and I had to stand up too, and were forced to listen to that raucous voice crackling in our ears and to summon all our resistance against that long, boring, repetitive attack on our eardrums and minds.

Throughout the occupation, the Nazis printed tons of propaganda, Big Lies, and distortions. They even went so far as to paint their slogans on the stoops of the houses and in the streets. Every week newly fabricated stereotypes ogled at us as if to convince us of the spelndor of the Third Reich. But the Nazis did not know the correct Pavlovian strategy. By satisfying their own need to discuss and to vary their arguments in order to make them seem more logical, they only increased the resistance of the Dutch people. This resistance was additionally fortified by the London radio, on which the Dutch could hear the sane voice of their own legal government. Had the Nazis not argued and justified so much, and had they been able to prevent all written, printed, or spoken communication, the long period of boredom would have inhibited our democratic conditioning, and we might well have been more seduced by the Nazi oversimplifications and slogans.

Political Conditioning

Political conditioning should not be confused with training or persuasion or even indoctrination. It is more than that. It is tampering. It is taking possession of both the simplest and the most complicated nervous patterns of man. It is the battle for the possession of the nerve cells. It is coercion and enforced conversion. Instead of conditioning man to an unbiased facing of reality, the seducer conditions him to catchwords, verbal stereotypes, slogans, formulas, symbols. Pavlovian strategy in the totalitarian sense means imprinting prescribed reflexes on a mind that has been broken down. The totalitarian wants first the required response from the nerve cells, then control of the individual, and finally control of the masses. The system starts with verbal conditioning and training by combining the required stereotypes with negative or positive stimuli: pain, or reward. In the P.O.W. camps in Korea where there was individual and mass brainwashing, the negative and positive conditioning stimuli were usually hunger and food. The moment the soldier conformed to the party line his food ration was improved: say yes, and I’ll give you a piece of candy!

The whole gamut of negative stimuli, as we saw them in the Schwable case, consists of physical pressure, moral pressure, fatigue, hunger, boring repetition, confusion by seemingly logical syllogisms. Many victims of totalitarianism have told me in interviews that the most upsetting experience they faced in the concentration camps was the feeling of loss of logic, the state of confusion into which they had been brought the state in which nothing had any validity. They had arrived at the Pavlovian state of inhibition, which psychiatrists call mental disintegration or depersonalization. It seemed as if they had unlearned all their former responses and had not yet adopted new ones. But in reality they simply did not know what was what.

The Pavlovian theory translated into a political method, as a way of leveling the mind (the Nazis called it “Gleichschaltung”) is the stock in trade of totalitarian countries. Some psychiatric points are of interest because we see that Pavlovian training can be used successfully only when special mental conditions prevail. In order to tame people into the desired pattern, victims must be brought to a point where they have lost their alert consciousness and mental awareness. Freedom of discussion and free intellectual exchange hinder conditioning. Feelings of terror, feelings of fear and hopelessness, of being alone, of standing with one’s back to the wall, must be instilled.

The treatment of American prisoners of war in the Korean P.O.W. camps followed just such a pattern. They were compelled to listen to lectures and other forms of daily word barrage. The very fact that they did not understand the lectures and were bored by the long sessions inhibited their democratic training, and conditioned them to swallow passively the bitter doctrinal diet, for the prisoners were subjectd not only to a political training program, but also to an involuntary taming program. To some degree the Communist propaganda lectures were directed toward retraining the prisoners’ minds. This training our soldiers could reject, but the endless repetitions and the constant sloganizing, together with the physical hardships and deprivations the prisoners suffered, caused an UNCONSCIOUS TAMING and conditioning, against which only previously built up inner strength and awareness could help.

There is still another reason why our soldiers were sometimes trapped by the Communist conditioning. Experiments with animals and experiences with human beings have taught us that threat, tension, and anxiety, in general, may accelerate the establishment of conditioned responses, particularly when those responses tend to diminish fear and panic (Spence and Farber). The emergency of prison camp life and mental torture provide ideal circumstances for such conditioning. The responses can develop even when the victim is completely unaware that he is being influenced. Thus, many of our soldiers developed automatic responses of which they remained completely unconscious (Segal). But this is only one side of the coin, for experience has also shown that people who know what to expect under conditions of mental pressure can develop a so called perceptual defense, which protects them from being influenced. This means that the more familiar people are with the concepts of thought control and menticide, the more they understand the nature of the propaganda barrage directed against them, the more inner resistance they can put up, even though inevitably some of the inquisitor’s suggestions will leak through the barrier of conscious mental defense.

Our understanding of the conditioning process leads us also to an understanding of some of the paradoxical reactions found among victims of concentration camps and other prisoners. Often those with a rigid, simple belief were better able to withstand the continual barrage against their minds than were the flexible, sophisticated ones, full of doubt and inner conflicts. The simple man with deep rooted, freely absorbed religious faith could exert a much greater inner resistance than could the complex, questioning intellectualist. The refined intellectual is much more handicapped by the internal pros and cons.

In totalitarian countries, where belief in Pavlovian strategy has assumed grotesque proportions, the self thinking, subjective man has disappeared. There is an utter rejection of any attempt at persuasion or discussion. Individual self expression is taboo. Private affection is taboo.

Peaceful exchange of free thoughts in free conversation will disturb the conditioned reflexes and is therefore taboo. No longer are there any brains, only conditioned patterns and educated muscles. In such a taming system neurotic compulsion is looked upon as a positive asset instead of something pathological. The mental automaton becomes the ideal of education.

Yet the Soviet theoreticians themselves are often unaware of this, and many of them do not realize the dire consequences of subjecting man to a completely mechanistic conditioning. They themselves are often just as frightened as we are by the picture of the perfectly functioning human robot. This is what one of their psychologists says: “The entire reactionary nature of this approach to man is completely clear. Man is an automaton who can be caused to act as one wills! This is the ideal of capitalism! Behold the dream of capitalism the world over a working class without consciousness, which cannot think for itself, whose actions can be trained according to the whim of the exploiter! This is the reason why it is in America, the bulwark of present day capitalism, that the theory of man as a robot has been so vigorously developed and so stubbornly held to.” (Bauer)

Western psychology and psychiatry, although acknowledging its debt to Pavlov as a great pioneer who made important contributions to our understanding of behavior, takes a much less mechanical view of man than do the Soviet Pavlovians. It is apparent to us that their simple explanation of training ignores and rejects the concept of purposeful adaptation and the question of the goals to which this training is directed. Western experimental psychologists tend to see the conditioned reflex as developing fully only in the service of gratifying basic instinctual needs or of avoiding pain, that is, only when the whole organism is concerned in the activity. In that complicated process of response to the world, conscious, and especially unconscious, drives and motivations play a role.

All training, of which the conditioned response is only one example, is an automatization of actions which were originally consciously learned and thought over. The ideal of Western democratic psychology is to train men into independence and maturity by enlisting their conscious aid, awareness, and volition in the learning process. The ideal of the totalitarian psychology, on the other hand, is to tame men, to make them willing tools in the hands of their leaders. Like training, taming has the purpose of making actions automatic; unlike training, it does not require the conscious participation of the learner. Both training and taming are energy and timesaving devices, and in both the mystery of the psyche is hidden in the purposefulness of the responses. The automatization of functions in man saves him expenditure of energy but can make him weaker when encountering new unexpected challenges.

Cultural routinization and habit formation by local rules and myths make of everybody a partial automaton. National and racial prejudices are acted out unwittingly. Group hatred often bursts out almost automatically when triggered by slogans and catchwords. In a totalitarian world, this narrow disciplinarian conditioning is done more “perfectly” and more “ad absurdum.”

The Urge to Be Conditioned

One suggestion this chapter is not intended to convey is that Pavlovian conditioning as such is something wrong. This kind of conditioning occurs everywhere where people are together in common interaction. The speaker influences the listener, but the listener also the speaker. Through the process of conditioning people often learn to like and to do what they are allowed to like and do. The more isolated the group, the stricter the conditioning that takes place in those belonging to the group. In some groups one finds people more capable than others of conveying suggestion and bringing about conditioning. Gradually one can discern the stronger ones, the better adjusted ones, the more experienced ones, and those noisier ones, whose ability to condition others is strongest. Every group, every club, every society has its leading Pavlovian Bell. This kind of person imprints his inner bell ringing on others. He can even develop a system of monolithic bell ringing: no other influential bell is allowed to compete with him.

Another subtler question belongs to these problems. Why is there in us so great an urge to be conditioned, the urge to learn, to imitate, to conform, and to follow the pattern of family and group? This urge to be conditioned, to submit to the communal pattern and the family pattern must be related to man’s dependency on parents and fellow men. Animals are not so dependent on one another. In the whole animal kingdom man is one of the most helpless and naked beings. But among the animals man has, relatively, the longest youth and time for learning.

Puzzlement and doubt, which inevitably arise in the training process, are the beginnings of mental freedom. Of course, the initial puzzlement and doubt is not enough. Behind that there has to be faith in our democratic freedoms and the will to fight for it. I hope to come back to this central problem of faith in moral freedom as differentiated from conditioned loyalty and servitude in the last chapter. Puzzlement and doubt are, however, already crimes in the totalitarian state. The mind that is open for qustions is open for dissent. In the totalitarian regime the doubting, inquisitive, and imaginative mind has to be suppressed. The totalitarian slave is only allowed to memorize, to salivate when the bell rings.

It is not my task here to elaborate on the subject of the biased use of Pavlovian rules by totalitarians, but without doubt part of the interpretation of any psychology is determined by the ways we think about our fellow human beings and man’s place in nature. If our ideal is to make conditioned zombies out of people, the current misuse of Pavlovianism will serve our purpose. But once we become even vaguely aware that in the totalitarian picture of man the characteristic human note is missing, and when see that in such a scheme man sacrifices his instinctual desires, his pleasures, his aims, his goals, his creativity, his instinct for freedom, his paradoxicality, we immediately turn against this political perversion of science. Such use of Pavlovian technique is aimed only at developing the automaton in man, not his free alert mind that is aware of moral goals and aims in life.

Even in laboratory animals we have found that affective goal directedness can spoil the Pavlovian experiment. When, during a bell food training session, the dog’s beloved master entered the room, the animal lost all its previous conditioning and began to bark excitedly. Here is a simple example of an age old truth: love and laughter break through all rigid conditioning. The rigid automaton cannot exist without spontaneous self expression. Apparently, the fact that the dog’s spontaneous affection for his master could ruin all the mechanical calculations and manipulations never occurred to Pavlov’s totalitarian students


As we have already seen in the preceding chapters, it is not only the political and Pavlovian pressure that may drag down man’s mind into servile submissiveness. There are many other human habits and actions which have a coercive influence.

All kinds of rumrs have been circulatd telling how brainwashees, before surrendering to their inquisitor, have been poisoned with mysterious drugs. This chapter aimes to describe what medical techniques — not only drugs — can do to reach behind man’s inner secrets. Actually the thought-control police no longer need drugs, though occasionally they have been used.

I will touch upon another side to this problem as well, namely, our dangeorus social dependence on various drugs, the problem of addiction, making it easier for us to slip into the pattern of submissiveness. The alcoholic has no mental backbone any more when you give him his drink. The same is true for the chronic user of sedatives or other pills. The use of alcohol or drugs may result in a chemical dependency, weakening our stamina under exceptional circumstances.

In the field of practical medicine, magic thinking is still rampant. Though we flatter ourselves that we are rational and logical in our choice of therapy, somewhere we know taht hidden feelings and unconscious motivations direct the prescribing hand. In spite of the therapeutic triumphs of the last fifty years [since 1900], the era of chemotherapy and antibiotics, let us not forget that the same means of medical victory can be used to defeat our purposes.

No day passes that the mail does not flood the doctor’s office with suggestions about what to use in his clinical practice. My desk overflows with gadgets and multicolored pills telling me that without them mankind cannot be happy. The propaganda campaign reaching our medical eyes and ears is often so laden with suggestions that we can be persuaded to distribute sedatives and stimulants where straight critical thinking would deter us and we would seek the deeper causes of the difficulties. This is true not only for modern pharmacotherapy; the same tendencies can also be shown in psychotherapeutic methods.

This chapter aims to approach the problem of mental coercion with the question: How compulsive can the use of medical drugs and medical and psychological methods become? In the former chapters on menticide I was able to describe political attempts to bring the human mind into submission and servility. Drugs and their psychological equivalents are also able to enslave people.

The Search for Ecstasy Through Drugs

Among drug addicts of all sorts we repeatedly encounter the yearning for a special ecstatic and euphoric mood, a feeling of living beyond everyday trouble. “Thou has the keys of Paradise, O just, subtle, and mighty opium!” Thomas De Quincey says, in his “Confessions of an English Opium-Eater.” Although the ecstatic state is different for each person who experiences it, the addict always tells us that the drug takes him to the lost paradise he is looking for; it brings him a feeling of eternal euphoria and free elation that takes him past the restrictions of life and time.

In the ecstatic state, man arranges the universe according to his own desires and, at the same time, seeks communion with the Higher Order of things. But the ecstatic state has its negative as well as its positive aspects. It may represent the Yogi’s mystic feeling of unity with the universe, but it may also mean the chronic intoxicated state of the drunkard or the passion of some manic psychotic states. The feeling may express the intensified spiritual experience of a dedicated study group, but, on the other hand, it may be encountered in the lynch mob and the riot. There are many kinds of ecstasy — esthetic ecstasy, mystic ecstasy, and sick, toxic ecstasy.

The search for ecstatic experience is not only an individual search, it often reaches out to encompass whole groups. When moral controls become too burdensome, whole civilizations may give themselves up to uncontrolled orgies such as we saw in the Greek Bacchanalia and the contagious dance-fury of the Middle Ages. In these mass orgies, artificial stimulants are not necessarily used. The hypnotic influence of being part of the crowd can induce the same loss of control and sense of union with the outside world that we associate with drugs. In the mass orgy the individual loses his conscience and self-control. His sexual inhibitions may disappear; he is temporarily relieved of his deep frustrations and the burden of unconscious guilt. He endeavors to experience the blissful sensations of utter yielding to his own body needs and desires.

The ecstatic participation in mass elation is the oldest psychodrama in the world. Taking part in some common action results in a tremendous emotional relief and catharsis for every individual in the group. This feeling of participation in the magic omnipotent group, of reunion and communion with the all-embracing forces in the world brings euphoria to the noraml person and feelings of pseudo-strength to the weak. The demagogue who is able to provide such ecstatic release in the masses can be sure of their yielding to his influence and power. Dictators love to organize such mass rituals in the service of their dictatorial aims.

Ever since man has been a conscious being, he has tried from time to time to break down the inevitable tension between himself and the outside world. When mental alertness cannot be relaxed now and then, when the world is too much and too constantly with him, man may try to lose himself in the deep waters of oblivion. Ecstasy, drugged sleep, and its fantasies and swoons of mental exaltation temporarily take him beyond the burdensome effort of keeping his senses and ego alert and intact. Drugs can bring him to this state, and any addiction may be explained as a continuing need to escape. The body cooperates with the mind in this search for an evasion of life, and drugs gradually become a body need as well as an emotional necessity.

In criminal circles addicting drugs like cocaine and heroin are often given to members of the gang in order to make them more submissive to the leader who distributes them. The man who provides the drug becomes almost a god to the members of the gang. They will go through hell in order to acquire the drug they so desperately need.

In the hands of a powerful tyrant, this medication into dependency can become extremely dangerous. It is not unthinkable that a diabolical dictator might want to use addiction as a means of bringing a rebellious people into submission. In May, 1954, during a discussion in the World Health Organization, the fact was disclosed that Communist China, while forbidding the use of opium in her own country, was smuggling and exporting it in great quantities to her neighbors, who have consequently been compelled to carry on a constant struggle against opium addiction among their own people and against the passivity which results from use of the drug.

At the same time, according to officials of Thailand who made the charge and requested U.N. aid, Communist China has been sending all kinds of subversive propagandists into Thailand. Thailand charged that the Chinese were using every device they know to infect the Siamese people with their ideology: brainweakening opium addiction, leaflets, radio, whispering campaigns, and so on.

The Nazis followed a similar strategy. During the occupation of Western Europe, they created an artificial shortage of normal medicaments by halting their usual export of healing drugs to the “inferior” countries. However, they made an exception in the case of barbiturates. In Holland, for example, these drugs were made readliy available in many drugstores without doctors’ prescriptions, a situation which was against customary Dutch law. Although the right therapeutic drugs were not made available for medical work, the drugs which created passivity, dependence, and lethargy were widely distributed.

The totalitarian dictator knows that drugs can be his helpers. It was Hitler’s intention, in his so-called biological warfare, to weaken and subdue the countries that surrounded the Third Reich, and to break their backbones for good. Hunger and addiction were among his most valuable tools.

What has all this to do with the growing addiction and alcoholism in our own country? I have already mentioned the alarming increases in death from barbiturates. But I would like to emphasize even more the psychological and political consequences. Democracy and freedom end where slavery and submission to drugs and alcohol begin. Democracy involves free, self-chosen activity and understanding; it means mature self-control and independence. Any man who escapes from reality through the use of alcohol and drugs is no longer a free agent; he is no longer able to exert any voluntary control over his mind and his actions. He is no longer a self-responsible individual. Alcoholism and drug addiction prepare the pattern of mental submission so beloved by the totalitarian brainwasher.

Hypnotism and Mental Coercion

From time immemorial those who wanted to know the inner workings of the other fellow’s mind in order to exert pressure on him have used artificial means to find the hidden pathways to his most private thoughts. Modern brainwashers, too, have tried all kinds of drugs to arrive at their devious objectives. The primitive medicine man had several methods of compelling his victim to lose his self-control and reserve. Alcoholic drinks, toxic ointments, or permeating holy smoke which had a narcotizing effect, as used by the Mayas, for example, were used to bring people into such a state of rapture that they lost their self-awareness and restraint. The victims, murmuring sacred words, often revealed their self-accusing fantasies or even their deepest secrets.

In the Middle Ages, so-called witch ointments were used either voluntarily or under pressure. These ointments were supposed to bring the anointed into touch with the devil. Since they contained opiates and belladonna in large quantities, which could have been absorbed by the skin, modern science can explain the ecstatic visions they evoked as the typical hallucination-provoking effect of these drugs.

One of the first useful techniques medicine delivered into the hands of the prierinto-souls was the knowledge of hypnosis, that intensified mental suggestion that makes people give up their own will and brings them into a strange dependency on the hypnotizer. The Egyptian doctors of three thousand years ago knew the technique of hypnosis, and ancient records tell us that they practiced it.

There are many quacks who practice hypnosis, not to cure their victims but to force them into submission, using the victim’s unconscious ties and dependency needs in a criminal, profitable way. One of the most absorbing aspects of this whole problem of hypnosis is the question of whether people can be forced to commit crimes, such as murder or treason, while under a hypnotic spell. Many psychologists would deny that such a thing could happen and would insist that no person can be compelled to do under hypnosis what he would refuse to do in a state of alert consciousness. But actually what a person can be compelled to do depends on the degree of dependency that hypnosis causes and the frequency of repetition of the so-called posthypnotic suggestions.

Actual psychoanalysis teaches that there even exist several other devices to live other people’s livse. True, no hypnotizer can take away a man’s conscience and inner resistance imediately, but he can arouse the latent murderous wishes which may become active in his victim’s unconscious by continual suggestion and continual playing upon those deeply repressed desires. Actual knowledge of methods used in brainwashing and menticide proves that all this can be done.

If the hypnotizer persists long enough and cleverly enough, he can be successful in his aim. There are many antisocial desires lying hidden in all people. The hypnotic technique, if cleverly enough applied, can bring them to the surface and cause them to be acted out in life. The mass criminality of the guards in concentration camps finds part of its explanation in the hypnotizing influence of the totalitarian state and its criminal dictator. Psychological study of criminals shows that their first violation of moral and legal codes often takes place under the strong influence and suggestion of other criminals. This we may look upon as an initial form of hypnosis, which is a more intensified form of suggestion.

True, the incitement to crime in a hypnotic state demands specially favorable conditions, but unfortunately these conditions can be found in the real and actual world.

Recently there has been much judicial discussion of the problem of the psychiatrist who uses his special knowledge of suggestion to force a confession from a defendant. Such a psychiatrist is going beyond the commonly accepted concepts of the limitations of psychiatry and beyond psychiatric ethics. He is misusing the patient’s trust in the medical confidant and therapist in order to provoke a confession, which will then be used against the patient temporarily in his care. In so doing, the doctor not only acts against his Hippocratic oath, in which he promised only to work for the good of his patients and never to disclose his professional secrets, he also violates the constitutional safeguards accorded a defendant by the Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution, which protects a man against self-incrimination.

What a defendant will reveal under hypnosis depends on his conscious and unconscious attitudes toward the entire question of magic influence and mental intrusion by another person. Pepole are usually less likely to stand on their legal rights in dealing with a doctor than in dealing with a lawyer or a policeman. They have a yielding attitude because they expect magic help.

An interesting example of this can be seen in a case that was recently decided by the Supreme Court. In 1950, Camilio Weston Leyra, a man in his fifties, was arrested and accused by the police of the brutal hammer murder of his aged parents in their Brooklyn flat (“People v. Leyra”). At first, under prolonged questioning by the police, Leyra denied any knowledge of the crime and stated that he had not even been at his parents’ home on the day of the murder. Later, after further interrogation by the police, he said he had been at their home that day, but he remained firm in his denial of the murder. He was detained in jail, and a psychiatrist was brought in to talk to him. Their conversation was recorded on tape. The psychiatrist told Leyra that he was “his doctor,” although in fact he was not. Under slght hypnosis and after continued suggestion that Leyra would be better off if he admitted to having committed the murder in a fit of passion, Leyra agreed to confess to the crime. The police were called back in, and the confession was taken down.

During his trial, Leyra repudiated the confession, insisting that he had been under hypnosis. He was convicted, but the conviction was set aside on the grounds that the confession had been wrested from him involuntarily, and that his constitutional safeguards had been denied him. Later, Leyra was brought to trial and convicted a second time. Finally his case was appealed to the Supreme Court, which reversed the conviction in June, 1954, on the grounds that mental pressure and coercive psychiatric techniques had been used to induce the confession. The Supreme Court gave its opinion here, indirectly, of the responsibility of the brainwashed P.O.W.

For us, the question of Leyra’s guilt or innocence is less important than the fact that under mental pressure he was induced to do what he would ordinarily have resisted doing, and that his confidence in the doctor, which led him to relax the defenses he would doubtless have put up against other investigators, was used to break him down.

Suggestion and hypnosis are considered by some to be a psychological blessing, but they can also be the beginning of terror. Mass hypnosis, for example, can have a dangerous influence on the individual. Psychiatrists have found several times that public demonstrations of mass hypnosis may provoke an increased hypnotic dependency and submissiveness in many members of the audience that can last for years. Largely for this reason Great Britain has passed a law making seances and mass hypnotism illegal. Hypnosis may act as a trigger mechanism for a repressed dependency need in the victim and turn him temporarily into a kind of waking sleep-walker and mental slave. The hypnotic command relieves him of his personal responsibility, and he surrenders much of his conscience to his hypnotizer. As we mentioned before, our own times have provided us with far too many examples of how political hypnosis, mob hypnosis, and even war hypnosis can turn civilized men into criminals.

Some personalities are more amenable to hypnosis than others. Strong egos can defend themselves for a long time against mental intrusion, but they too may have a point of surrender. There are overtly critical persons who are much less sensitive to suggestion from the outside than to images from within themselves. We can distinguish between heterosuggestive and autosuggestive personalities, although quite a variety of reactions to hypnosis and suggestion can be distinguished. But even these autosuggestive types, if subjected to enough pressure, will gradually build up internal justification for giving in to mental coercion.

Those “charming” characters who are easily able to influence others are often extremely susceptible to suggestion themselves. Some personalities with a tremendous gift for empathy and identification provoke in others the desire to yield up all their secrets; they seem somehow to be the Father Confessor by the grace of God. Other emphatic types, by reflecting their own deceitful inner world, can more easily provoke the hidden lies and fantasies in their victims. Still others make us close up completely. Why one man should inspire the desire to give in and another the desire to resist is one of the mysteries of human relationships and contact. Why do certain personalities complement and reinforce one another while others clash and destroy one another? Psychoanalysis has given new insight into those strange human relations and invovlements.

Needling for the Truth

During the Second World war, the technique of the so-called truth serum (the popular name for narco-analysis) was developed to help soldiers who had broken down under the strain of battle. Through narco-analysis by means of injections of sedatives, they could be brought to remember and reveal the hyper-emotional and traumatic moments of their war experiences that had driven thme into acute anxiety neurosis. Gradually a useful mental first-aid technique was developed which helped the unconscious to reveal its secrets while the patient was under the influence of the narcotic.

How does the truth serum work? The principle is simple: after an injection, the mind in a kind of half-sleep is unable to control its secrets, and it may let them slip from the hidden reservoirs of frustration and repression into the half-conscious mind. In certain acute anxiety cases, such enforced provocation may alleviate the anxieties and pressures that have led to breakdown. But narco-analysis often does not work. Sometimes the patient’s mind resents this chemical intrusion and enforced intervention, and such a situation often obstructs the way for deeper and more useful psychotherapy.

The fear of unexpected mental intrusion and coercion may be pathological in character. When I first published my concept of menticide and brainwashing, I received dozens of letters and phone calls from people who were convinced that some outside person was trying to influence them and direct their thoughts. This form of “mental intrusion delusion” may be the early stage of a serious psychosis in which the victim has already regressed to primitive magic feelings. In this state the whole outside world is seen and felt as participating in what is going on in the victim’s mind. There is, as it were, no real awareness of the frontiers between “I”, the person, and the world. Such fear-ridden persons are in constant agony because they feel themselves the victims of many mysterious influences which they cannot check or cope with; they feel continually endangered. Psychologically, their fear of intrusion from the outside can be partially explained as a fear of the intrusion of their own fantasies from the inside, from the unconscious. They are frightened by their own hiden, unconscious thoughts which they can no longer check.

It would be a vast oversimplification to stick an easy psychiatric label on all such feelings of mental persecution, for there are many real, outside mental pressures in our world, and there are many perfectly normal people who are continually aware of and disturbed by the barrage of stimuli directed at their minds through propaganda, advertising, radio, television, the movies, the newspapers — all the gibbering maniacs whose voices never stop. These people suffer because a cold, mechanical, shouting world is knocking continuallly at the doors of their minds and disturbing their feelings of privacy and personal integrity.

There is the further question of whether or not the drugs used in the truth serum always produce the desired effect of compelling the patient to tell the inner truth. Experiments conducted at Yale University in 1951 (J. M. MacDonald) on nine persons who received intravenous injections of sodium amytal — the so-called truth serum — showed interesting results, tending to weaken our faith in this drug.

Each of the patients, prior to the injection, had been suggested a false story related to a historical period about which he was going to be questioned. The experimenters knew both the true and the false story. Let me quote from the report: “It is of interest that the three subjects diagnosed as normal maintained their [suggested] stories. Of the six subjects diagnosed as neurotic, two promptly revealed the true story; two made partial admissions, consisting of a complex pattern of fantasy and truth; one communicated what most likely was a fantasy as truth; and the one obsessive-compulsive individual maintained his cover story except for one parapraxia [faulty or blundering action].”

In several cases, American law courts have refused to admit as evidence the results of truth serum tests, largely on the basis of psychiatric conviction that the truth serum treatment is misnamed; that, in fact, narco-analysis is no guarantee of getting at the truth. It may even be used as a coercive threat in cases where victims are not aware of it limited action.

Still another danger, more closely related to our subject, is that a criminal investigator can induce and communicate his own thoughts and feelings to his victim. Thus the truth serum may cause the patient with a weak ego to yield to the interventionist’s synthetically injected thoughts and interpretations in exactly the same way the victim of hypnosis may take over the suggestions implanted by the hypnotist.

Additionally, this method of inquisition by drugs contains some physical danger. I myself have seen cases of thrombosis develop as a result of intravenous medication of barbiturates.

Experiments with mescaline, which started thirty years ago [in the 1920s], are suddenly fashionable again. Aldous Huxley in his recent book THE DOORS OF PERCEPTION described the artificial chemical paradise which he experienced after taking the drug (also known as peyote). It can stimulate all kinds of pleasant, subjective symptoms, but these are, nevertheless, delusive in character. I do not want to start a clinical argument with another author, yet his own euphoric ecstatic reactions to mescaline are not necessarily the same as those other people experience. Mescaline is dangerous stuff when not used under medical control. And, anyway, why does Mr. Huxley want to sell artificial heavens?

There is a very serious social danger in all these methods of chemical intrusion into the mind. True, they can be used as a careful aid to psychotherapy, but they can also be frightening instruments of control in the hands of men with an overwhelming drive to power.

In addition, they fortify more than ever in our “aspirin age” the fiction that we have to use miracle drugs in order to become free-acting agents. The propaganda for chemical elation, for artificial ecstasy and pseudo-nirvanic experience contains an invitation to men to become chemical dependents, and chemical dependents are weak people who can be made use of by any tyrannical political potentate. The actual propaganda carried on among general practitioners using treatment with all kinds of anxieties and mental disturbances with new drugs has the same kind of dangerous implications.

The Lie-Detector

Hypnotism and narco-analysis are only two of the current devices that can be misused as instruments of enforced intrusion into the mind. The lie-detector, which has already been used as a tool for mental intimidation, is another. This apparatus, useful for psychobiological experimentation, can indicate — through writing down meticulously the changes in the psychogalvanic reflex — that the human guinea pig under investigation reacts more emotionally to certain questions than to others. True, this overreaction may be the reaction to having told a lie, but it may also be an innocent person’s reaction to an emotion-laden situation or even to an increased fear of unjust accusation.

The interpersonal processes between interrogator and testee have just as much influence on the emotional reactions and the changes in the galvanic reflex as feelings of inner guilt and confusion. This experiment only indicates inner turmoil and hidden repressions, with all their doubts and ambiguities.

It is not in fact a lie-detector, although it is used as such (D. MacDonald). As a matter of fact, the pathological liar and the psychopathic, conscienceless personality may show less reaction to this experiment than do normal people. The lie-detector is more likely to become a tool of coercion in the hands of men who look more for a powerful magic in every instrument than a means of getting at the truth. As a result, even the innocent can be fooled into false confession.

The Therapist as an Instrument of Coercion

Medical therapy and psychotherapy are the subtle sciences of human guidance in periods of physical and emotional stress. Just as training requires the alert, wellplanned participation of both student and teacher, so successful psychotherapy requires the alert, well-planned participation of both patient and doctor. And just as educational training, under special conditions, can degenerate into coercive taming, so therapy can degenerate into the imposition of the doctor’s will on his patient. The doctor himself need not even be conscious that this is happening. The misuse of therapy may show itself in the patient’s submission to the doctor’s point of view or in the patient’s development of excessive dependency on his therapist. Such a dependency, and even increased dependency need, may extend not only far beyond the usual limits, but may continue even after the therapy has run its course.

I have seen quacks whose only knowledge was where to buy their couches. By calling themselves psychoanalysts they were able to gratify their own need to live other people’s lives. Eventually the law will have to establish standards which can keep these dangerous intruders from psychotherapeutic practice. But even the honest, conscientious therapist has a serious moral problem to face. His profession itself continually encourages him, indeed obliges him, to make his patients temporarily dependent on him, and this may appeal to his own need for a sense of importance and power. He must be continually aware of the impact his statements and deductions have on his patients who often listen in awe to the doctor who is for them the omniscient magician. The therapist must not encourage this submissive attitude in his patients — though in some phases of treatment it will help the therapy — for good psychotherapy aims toward educating man for freedom and maturity not for conforming submission.

The practitioners of psychology and psychiatry are now much more aware of the responsibility their profession imposes on them than they have ever been heretofore. The tools of psychology are dangerous in the hands of the wrong men.

Modern educational methods can be applied in therapy to streamline man’s brain and change his opinions so that his thinking conforms with certain ideological systems. Medicine and psychiatry may become more and more involved in political strategy as we have seen in the strategy of brainwashing, and for this reason psychologists and psychiatrists must become more aware of the nature of the scientific tools they use.

The emphasis on therapeutic techniques, on students knowing all the facts and the tricks, the overemphasis on psychotherapeutic diplomas and labels lead actual therapy toward conformism and rationalization of principles that are in contrast to the personal sensitivity needed. Our critical and rational faculty can be a destructive one, destroying or disguising our basic doubts and ambivalences born out of tragic despair, that creator of human sensitivity.

The danger of modern psychotherapy (and psychiatry) is the tendency toward formalizing human intuition and empathy, and toward making an abstraction of emotion and spontaneity. It is a contradiction to attempt to mechanize love and beauty. If this were possible, we would find ourselves in a world where there is no inspiration and ecstasy but only cold understanding.

Every human relationship can be used for the wrong or the right aims, and this is especially true of the relationship of subtle unconscious ties which exist between psychotherapist and patient. This statement is equally true for medicine in general; the surgeon, too, thrives on strong ties with his patients and their willing submission to his surgical techniques. Experiences in therapy have taught us that faulty technique can give the patient feelings of being bogged down. Sometimes patients feel as if they have to remain living in servile submission to the doctor. I have seen whole families and sects swear by such modern witch doctors.

No wonder that sound psychoanalytic instruction requires the therapist to admit himself for years of technique he is about to apply to others, so that, armed with knowledge of his own unsound unconscious needs, he will not try to use his profession to mastermind other people’s lives.

Various psychological agencies, with their different pspychological concepts and techniques, such as family counseling, religious guidance, management counseling, and so forth, can easily be misused as tools of power. The good will that people invest in their leaders, doctors, and administrators is tremendous and can be used as a weapon against them. Even modern brain surgery for healing the mind could be misused by modern dictators to make zombies out of their competitors. Psychology itself may tend to standardize the mind, and the tendency among different schools of psychology to emphasize orthodoxy increases unwittingly the chance for mental coercion. (“If you don’t talk my magic gobbledygook, I have to condition you to it.”) It is easier to manipulate the minds of others than to avoid doing so.

A free society gives its citizens the right to act as free agents. At the same time, it imposes on them the responsibility for maintaining their freedom, mental as well as political. If, through the use of modern medical, chemical, and mechanical techniques of mental intrusion, we reduce man’s capacity to act on his own initiative, we subvert our own beliefs and weaken our free system. Just as there is a deliberate political brainwashing, so there can be a suggestive intrusion masquerading under the name of justice or therapy. This may be less obtrusive than the delibrate totalitarian attack, but it is no less dangerous.

Medication into submission is an existing fact. Man can use his knowledge of the mind of a fellow being not to help him, but to hurt him and bog him down. The magician can increase his power by increasing the anxieties and fears of his victim, by exploiting his dependency needs, and by provoking his feelings of guilt and inferiority.

Drugs and medical techniques can be used to make man a submissive and conforming being. This we have to keep in mind in order to be able to make him really healthy and free.


Is thre a bridge from the concept of Pavlovian conditioning to deeper psychological understanding? Only in those Pavlovian theoreticians who deny modern depth psychology does there exist a conflict between concepts. Pavlov himself acknowledged the presence of deeper, hidden motivations in man and the limitations of his study of animal behavior.

Our task is to go back to the brainwashee, asking ourselves: How can we better convey an understanding of what happened to him? What were the Pavlovian circumstances, and what were the inner motivations to yield to enforced political manipulation of the mind? Was it cowardice, was it a prison psychosis, was it the general loss of mental stamina in our world?

In the following observations and experiences I hope to make use of the clinical insight actually provided by modern depth psychology.

The Upset Philosopher

One day in 1672, the lonely philosopher of reason, Spinoza, had to be forcibly restrained by his friends and neighbors. He wanted to rush out into the streets and shout his indignation at the mob which had murdered his good friend Jan De Witt, noble statesman of the Dutch Republic, who had been falsely accused of treason. But presently he calmed down and retreated to his room where, as usual, he ground optical lenses according to a daily and hitherto unbroken routine.

As he worked, he thought back to his own behavior, which had been no more rational or sensible than the behavior of the rioting crowd which had killed De Witt. It was then that Spinoza realized the existence of the emotional beast hidden beneath human reason, which, when aroused, can act in a wanton and destructive fashion, and can conjure up thousands of justifications and excuses for its behavior.

For, as Spinoza sensed, and as was later discovered, people are not the rational creatures they think they are. In the unconscious, that vast storehouse of deeply buried memories, emotions, and strivings, lie many irrational yearnings, which constantly influence the conscious acts. All of us are governed to some degree by this hidden tyrant, and by the conflict between our reason and our emotions.

To the extent that we are the victims of unchecked unconscious drives, to that extent we may be vulnerable to mental manipulation. And although there is a horrifying fascination in the idea that our mental resistance is relatively weak, that the very quality which distinguishes one man from another — the individual “I” -can be profoundly altered by psychological pressures, such transformations are merely extremes of a process we find operating in normal life.

Through systematized suggestion, subtle propaganda, and more overt mass hypnosis, the human mind in its expressions is changed daily in any society. Advertising seduces the democratic citizen into using quackeries or one special brand of soap instead of another. Our wish to buy things is continually stimulated. Campaigning politicians seek to influence us by their glamour as well as by their programs. Fashion experts hypnotize us into periodic changes of our standards of beauty and good taste.

In cases of menticide, however, this assault on the integrity of the human mind is more direct and premeditated. By playing on the irrational child lying hidden in the unconscious and by sharpening the internal conflict between reason and emotion, the inquisitor can bring his victims to abject surrender.

All of the victims of deliberate menticide — the P.O.W.s in Korea, the imprisoned “traitors” to the dictatorial regimes of the Iron Curtain countries, the victims of the Nazi terror during the Second World War — are people whose ways of life had been suddenly and dramatically altered. They had been torn from their homes, their families, their friends, and thrown into a frightening, abnormal atmosphere. The very strangeness of their surroundings made them more vulnerable to any attack on their values and attitudes. When the dictator exploits his victim’s psychological needs in a threatening, hostile, and unfamiiar world, breakdown is almost sure to follow.

The Barbed-Wire Disease

Already during the First World War, peculiar mental reactions, mixtures of apathy and rage, could be discerned in prisoners of war as a defensive adjustment against the hardships of prison life, the boredom, the hunger, the lack of privacy, the continual insecurity. The Korean War added to this situation the greater cruelty of the enemy, the prolonged fear of death, malnutrition, diseases, systematic attacks on the prisoner’s mind, the lack of sanitation, and the lack of all human dignity.

Often improvement could be secured through acceptance of the totalitarian ideology. The psychological pressure not only led to an involvement with the enemy but caused mutual suspicion among the prisoners.

As I have already described, the barbed-wire disease begins with the initial apathy and despair of all prisoners. There is passive surrender to fate. In fact, people can die out of such despair; it is as if all resistance was gone. Being anything but aloof and apathetic was even dangerous in a camp where the enemy wanted to debate and argue with you in order to tear down your mental resistance. Consequently a vicious circle was built up of apathy, not thinking, letting things go — a surrender to a complete zombie-like existence of mechanical dependency on the circumstances. Every sign of anger and alertness could be brutally punished by the enemy; that is why we do not find those sudden attacks of rage that were observed in the earlier prisoner-of-war camps during World Wars I and II.

Results of psychological testing of the liberated soldiers from the Korean P.O.W. camps could indicate that this defensive apathy and retreat into secluded dependency was likely to be found in nearly all of them. Yet, after being brought back into normal surroundings, alertness and activity returned rather soon, even in two or three days. Those few who remained anxious, apathetic, and zombielike belong to the long chapter of war and battle neuroses (Strassman).

What are some of the factors which can turn a man into a traitor to his own convictions, an informer, a confessor to heinous crimes, or an apparent collaborator?

The Moment of Sudden Surrender

Several victims of the Nazi inquisition have told me that the moment of surrender occurred suddenly and against their will. For days they had faced the fury of their interrogators, and then suddenly they fell apart. “All right, all right, you can have anything you want.”

And then came hours of remorse, of resolution, of a desperate wish to return to their previous position of firm resistance. They wanted to cry out: “Don’t ask me anything else. I won’t answer.” And yet something in them, that conforming, complying being hidden deep in all of us, was on the move.

This sudden surrender often happened after an unexpected accusation, a shock, a humiliation that particularly hurt, a punishment that burned, a surprising logic in the inquisitor’s question that could not be counter-argued. I remember an experience of my own that illustrated the effect of such surprise.

After my escape from a Nazi prison in occupied Holland, I was able to reach neutral Switzerland via Vichy France. When I arrived, I was put in a jail where, at first, I was treated rather kindly. After three days, however, I was denied an officer’s right to asylum and was told that I would be deported back to Vichy France. To this information, my jailers sneeringly added the comment that I should be happy I was not going to be deported back to the Germans.

When I left to be transported to the border, I was asked to sign a paper stating that all my possessions (which had been taken from me on my imprisonment) had been returned. I refused to sign because a few things — unimportant in themselves, but of great emotional value to me — were not included in the package my jailers handed me. One of the guards looked at me with contempt, the second tapped his foot impatiently and repeatedly demanded that I sign the paper, the third scolded and chattered in a French that was completely unintelligible to me. I continued firm in my refusal.

Suddenly one of my officers started to slap me around the face and to beat me. Overwhelmed by surprise that they should display such fury over a bagatelle, I surrendered and signed the paper. (From the Vichy prison to which I was sent, I was permitted to write a letter of protest to the Swiss government. I still carry the official apology I received.)

This sudden change of mood of defiant resistance to one of submission must be explained by the unconscious action of contrasting feelings. Consciously we tell ourselves to be strong, but from deep within us the desire to give in and to comply beings to disturb us and to affect our behavior. In psychology this is described as the innate ambivalence of all feelings.

The Need to Collapse

The vocabulary of psychopathology contains many sophisticated terms for the wish to succumb to mental pressure, such as “wish to regress,” “dependency need,” “mental masochism,” “unconscious death wish,” and many others. For our purposes, however, it is enough to state that every individual has two opposing needs which operate simultaneously: the need to be independent to be oneself; and the need NOT to be oneself, NOT to be anybody at all, NOT to resist mental pressure.

The need to be inconspicuous, to disappear, and to be swallowed up by society is a common one. In its simplest form we can see it all around us as a tendency to conform. Under ordinary circumstances the need for anonymity is balanced by the need for individuality, and the mentally healthy person is one who can walk the fine line between them. But in the frightening, lonely situaitons in which the victims of menticidal terror find themselves — situations which have a nightmare quality, which are crammed with dangers so tremendous they cannot be grasped or understood because there is nobody to explain or reassure — the wish to collapse, to let go, to be not there, becomes almost irresistable.

This experience was reported by many concentration-camp victims. They had come into camp with one unanswered question buring in their minds: “Why has all this happened to me?” Their need for a sense of direction, for a feeling of purpose and meaning was unsatisfied, and hence they could not maintain their personalities. They let themselves go in what psychopathology calls a depersonalization syndrome, a general feeing of having lost complete control of themselves and their own existence. What Pavlovian conditioning can do in applying artficial confusion, can be done too by one shocking experience. “For what?” they asked themselves. “What is the meaning of all this suffering?” And gradually they sank dully into that paralyzed state of semi-oblivion we call depression: the self-destructive needs take over.

The Nazis were clever and unscrupulous in taking advantage of this need to collapse. The humiliation of concentration-camp life, the repeated suggestion that the Allies wre as good as beaten — they conspired to convince the inmates that there would be no end to this pointless suffering, no victorious conclusion to the war, no future to their lives. The desire to break down, to give in, becomes almost insurmountable when a man feels that this horrible marginal existence is something permanent, that he cannot look toward a more personal goal, that he has to adjust to this dulling, degrading life forever.

At the moment faith and hope disappear, man breaks down. There are tragic stories of concentration-camp victims who fixed all their expectations on the idea that liberation would come on Christmas, 1944, and aimed their entire existence toward that date. When it passed and they were still incarcerated, many of them simply collapsed and died.

This tendency to collapse also serves as a protective device against danger. The victim seems to think, “If my torturer doesn’t notice me, he will leave me alone.” And yet this very feeling of anonymity, this sense of losing one’s personality, of being useless, unnoticed and unwanted, also results in depression and apathy. Man’s need to be an individual can never be completely killed.

The Need for Companionship

Not enough attention has been given to the psychlogy of loneliness, especially to the implications of enforced isolation of prisoners. When the sensory stimuli of everyday life are removed, man’s entire personality may change. Social intercourse, our continual contact with our colleagues, our work, the newspapers, voices, traffic, our loved ones and even those we don’t like — all are daily nourishment for our senses and minds. We select what we find interesting, reject what we do not want to absorb. Every day, every citizen lives in many small worlds of exchange of gratifications, little hatreds, pleasant experiences, irritations, delights. And he needs these stimuli to keep him on the alert. Hour by hour, reality, in cooperation with our memory, integrates the millions of facts in our lives by repeating them over and over.

As soon as man is alone, closed off from the world and from the news of what is going on, his mental activity is replaced by quite different processes. Longforgotten anxieties come to the surface, long-repressed memories knock on his mind from inside. His fantasy life begins to develop and assume gigantic proportions. He cannot evaluate or check his fantasies against the events of his ordinary days, and very soon they may take possession of them.

I remember very clearly my own fantasies during the time I was in a Nazi prison. It was almost impossible for me to control my depressive thoughts of hopelessness. I had to tell myself over and over again: “Think, think. Keep your senses alert; don’t give in.” I tried to use all my psychiatric knowledge to keep my mind in a state of relaxed mobilization, and on many days I felt it was a losing battle.

Some experiments have shown that people who are deprived, for even a very short time, of ALL sensory stimuli (no touch, no hearing, no smell, no sight) quickly fall into a kind of hallucinatory hypnotic state. Isolation from the multitude of impressions that normally bombard us from the outside world creates strange and frightening symptoms. According to Heron, who performed experiments on a group of students at McGill University by placing each student in his own pitchblack, soundproof room, ventilated with filtered air, and encasing his hands in heavy leather mittins and his feet in heavy boots, “little by little their brains go dead or slip out of control.” Even in twenty-four hours of such extreme sensual isolation, all the horror phantoms of childhood are awakened, and various pathological symptoms appear. Our instinct of curiosity demands continual feeding; if it is not satisfied, the internal hounds of hell are aroused.

The prisoner kept in isolation, although his isolation is by no means as extreme as in the laboratory test, also undergoes a severe mental change. His guards and inquisitors become more and more his only source of contact with reality, with those stimuli he needs even more than bread. No wonder that he gradually develops a peculiar submissive relationship to them. He is affected not only by his isolation from social contacts, but by sexual starvation as well. The latent dependency needs that lie deep in all men make him willing to accept his guard as a substitute father figure. The inquisitor may be cruel and bestial, but the very fact that he acknowledges his victim’s existence gives the prisoner a feeling that he has received some little bit of affection. What a conflict may thus arise between a man’s traditional loyalties and these new ones! There are only a few personalities which are so completely self-sufficient that they can resist the need to yield, to find some human compansionship, to overcome the unbearable loneliness.

During the World Wars, prisoners at first suffered from a peculiar, burning homesickness already called barbed-wire disease. Memories of mother, home, and family made the soldiers identify with babyhood again, but as they became more used to prison-camp life, thoughts of home and family also created positive values and helped make the prison-camp life less harrowing.

Even the prisoner who is not kept in isolation can feel lonely in the unorganized mass of prisoners. His fellow prisoners can become his enemies as easily as they can become his friends. His hatred of his guards can be displaced and turned against those imprisoned with him. Instead of suspecting the enemy, the victim may become suspicious of his companions in misery.

In the Nazi concentration camps and the Korean P.O.W. camps, a kind of mass paranoia often developed. Loneliness was increased because the prisoners cut themselves off from one another through suspicion and hatred. This distrust was encouraged by the guards. They constantly suggested to their victims that nobody cared for them and nobody was concerned about what was happening to them. “You are alone. Your friends on the outside don’t know whether you’re alive or dead. Your fellow prisoners don’t even care.” Thus all expectation of a future was killed, and the resulting uncertainty and hopelessness became unbearable. Then the guards sowed suspicion and spread terrifying rumors: “You are here because those people you call your friends betrayed you.” “Your buddies here have squealed on you.” “Your friends on the outside have deserted you.” Playing on a man’s old loyalties, making him feel deserted and alone, force him into submission and collapse.

The times that I myself wavered and entertained thoughts about joining the opposite forces always occurred after periods of extreme loneliness and deepseated yearnings for companionship. At such moments the jailer or enemy may become a substitute friend.

Blackmailing Through Overburdening Guilt Feelings

Deep within all of us lie hidden feelings of guilt, unconscious guilt, which can be brought to the surface under extreme stress. The strategy of arousing guilt is the mother’s oldest tool for gaining dominance over her children’s souls. Her warning and accusing finger give her a magic power over them and help to create deepseated guilt feelings which may continue all through their adult lives. When we are children, we depend on our parents and resent them for just this reason. We may harbor hidden destructive wishes against those closest to us, and feelings of guilt about these wishes. Buried deep in man’s unconscious is the knowledge that he has had hostile fantasies, and that in his hostile fantasies he has felt himself capable of coommitting many crimes. Theodore Reik has drawn our attention to the unknown primitive murderer believed to be in all of us, whose compulsion to confess and to be punished may be easily provoked under circumstances of terror and depression.

This concept of concealed hostility and destructiveness is often difficult for the layman to accept. But consider for a moment the popularity of the detective story. We may tell ourselves that we enjoy reading these tales because we identify with the keen and clever sleuth, but, as is clear from psychoanalytic experience, the repressed criminal in all of us is also at work and we also identify with the conscienceless killer. As a matter of fact, our repressed hostilities make the reading of hostile acts attractive to us.

In the political sphere, the systematic exploitation of unconscious guilt to create submission is a utilization of the unconscious confession compulsion and the need for punishment. Continual purges and confessions, as we encounter them in the totalitarian countries, arouse deeply hidden guilt feelings. The lesser sin of rebellion or subversion has to be admitted to cover personal thoughts of crime which are more deeply imbedded. The personal reactions of those who are continually interrogated and investigated give us a clue as to what happens.

The very fact of prolonged interrogation can re-arouse the hiden and unconscious guilt in the victim. At a time of extreme emotion, after constant accusation and day-long interrogation, when he has been deprived of sleep and reduced to a state of utter despair, the victim may lose the capacity to distinguish between the real criinal act of which he is accused and his own fantasied unconscious guilt. If his upbringing burdened him with an almost pathological sense of guilt under normal circumstances, he will be completely unable to resist the menticidal attack.

Even normal people may be brought to surrender under such miserable conditions, and not ony through the action of the inquisition, but also because of all the other weakening factors. Lack of sleep, hunger, and illness can create utter confusion and make any man vulnerable to hypnotic influence. All of us have experienced the mental fuzziness which comes with being overtired. Concentration-camp victims know how hunger, especially, induces a loss of mental control. In the fantatic world of the totalitarian prison or camp, these effects are heightened and exaggerated.

[NOTE: The conversation in concentration camps usualy revolved around food and memories of glorious gluttony. The mind could not work: it was fixed on eating and fantasies about food. A word grew up to express that constant possession by the idea of eating well again: stomach masterbation (“Magenonanie”). This kind of talk often took the place of all intellectual exchange.]

The Nazis, through clever exploitation of their victims’ unconscious guilt after poking into the back corners of their minds, were often able to convert courageous resistance fighters into meek collaborators. That they were not uniformly successful can be explained by two factors. The first is that MOST OF THE MEMBERS OF THE UNDERGROUND WERE INWARDLY PREPARED FOR THE BRUTALITY WITH WHICH THEY WERE TREATED. The second is that, clever as the Nazi techniques were, they were not as irresistable as the methodical tricks of the Communist brainwashers are.

When the victims of Nazi brutality did break down, it was not torture but often the threat of reprisal against family which made them give in. Sudden acute confrontation with a long-buried childhood problem creates confusion and doubt. All of a sudden the enemy puts before you a clash of loyalties: your father or your friends, your brother or your fatherland, your wife or your honor. This is a brutal choice to have to make, and when the inquisitor makes use of your additional inner conflicts, he can easily force you into surrender.

A clash between loyalties makes either choice a betrayal, and this arouses paralyzing doubt. This calculated but subtle attack on the weakest spots in man’s mind, on a man’s conscience, and on the moral system he has learned from the Judaeo-Christian ethics, paralyzes the reason and leads the victim more easily into betrayal. The inquisitor subtly tests his victim’s archaic guilt feelings toward paternal figures, his friends, his children. He cleverly exploits the victim’s early ambivalent ties with his parents. The sudden outbreak of hidden moral flaws and guilt can bring a man to tears and complete breakdown. He regresses to the dependency and submissiveness of the baby.

A very husky former hero of the Dutch resistance, known as King Kong because of his size and strength, became the treacherous instrument of the Nazis soon after his brother had been taken with him and the Nazis threatened to kill the youth. King Kong’s final surrender to the enemy and his becoming their treacherous tool was psychiatrically recognizable as a defense mechanism against his deep guilt, arising from hidden feelings of aggression against his brother (Boeree).

Another example of breakdown is seen in the story of one young resistance fighter who, after the Nazis had threatened to torture his father, who was impriosned with him, finally broke into childish tears and promised to tell them everything they wanted to know. After that he was taken back to his cell in order to be softened up after the following day. This was the routine of his interrogator. The inquisitors understood only too well the effectiveness of patient pursuit at repeated moments while intruding into a man’s guilt feelings. Although both prisoners were liberated that night as a consequence of the Allied sweep through Belgium and the southwest part of Holland, the boy remained in his depression for a long time, tortured by his knowledge that he had nearly betrayed his best friends in the underground in order to save his father — in spite of knowing, at the same time, that the promises of the enemy would not have protected his father.

The Law of Survival Versus the Law of Loyalty

The prisoners of war in Korea who gradually gave in to the systematic mental pressure of the enemy and collaborated in the production of materials that could be used for Communist propaganda — albeit tentatively and for only as long as they were in the orbit of the enemy — followed a peculiar psychological law of passive inner defense and inner deceit that when one cannot fight and defeat the enemy, one must join him. Later, a few of them were so taken in by totalitarian propaganda that they elected to remain in China and the totalitarian orbit. Some did it to escape punishment for having betrayed their comrades.

Man cannot become a turncoat without justifying his actions to himself. When Holland surrendered to the German army in 1940, I saw this general mechanism of mental surrender operating in several people who had been staunch anti-Nazis. “Maybe there is something good in Nazism,” they told themselves as they saw the tremendous show of German strength. Those who were the victims of their own initial mental surrender and need to justify things, who could not stop and say to themselves “Hold on here; think this out,” became the traitors and collaborators. They were completely taken in by the enemy’s show of strength. The same process of self-justification and justifying the enemy started in the P.O.W. camps. Experiences from the concentration camps give us some indication of how far this passive submission to the enemy can go. Because of the deep-seated human need for affection, many prisoners lived only for one thing: a friendly word from their guards. Each time it came, it fortified the delusion of grace and acceptance. Once these prisoners, mostly those who had been in the camps a long time, were accepted by the guards, they easily became the trusted tools of the Nazis. They started to behave like their cruel jailers and became torturers of their fellow campers. These collaborating prisoners, called “Kapos,” were even more cruel and vengeful than the official overseers. Because of misunderstood inner needs, the brainwasher and sadistic camp leader are direly in need of collaborators. They serve not only for the propaganda machine but also to exonerate their jailers from guilt.

When a man has to choose either hunger, death marches, and torture or a temporary yelding to the illusions of the enemy, his self-preservation mechanisms act in many ways like reflexes. They help him to find a thousand justifications and exculpations for giving in to the psychological pressure.

One of the officers court-martialed for collaborating with the enemy in a Korean P.O.W. camp justified his conduct by saying that he followed this course of action in order to keep himself and his men alive. Is that not a perfectly valid, though not necessarily true, argument?

The use of it serves to point up the fact that self-protective mechanisms are usually much stronger than ideological loyalty. No one who has not faced this same bitter problem can have an objective opinion as to what he himself would do under the circumstances. As a psychiatrist, I suggest that “most” people would yield and compromise when threat and mental pressure became strong enough.

Among the anti-Nazi undergrounds in the Second World War were physically strong boys who thought they could resist all pressure and would never betray their comrades. However, they could not even begin to imagine the perfidious technique of menticide. Repeated pestering, itself, is more destructive than physical torture. The pain of physical torture, as we have said, brings temporary unconsciousness and, consequently, forgetfulness, but when the victim wakes up, the play of anticipation begins. “Will it happen again? Can I stand it any more?” Anticipation paralyzes the will. Suicidal thoughts and identifications with death do not help. The foe doesn’t let you die but drags you back from the very edge of oblivion. The anticipation of renewed torture increses internal anxieties. “Who am I to stand all this?” “Why must I be a hero?” Gradually resistance breaks down.

The surrender of the mind to its new master does not take place immediately under the impact of duress and exhaustion. The inquisitor knows that in the period of temporary relaxation of pressure, during which the victim will rehearse and repeat the torture experience in himself, the final surrender is prepared. During that tension of rumination and anticipation, the deeply hidden wish to give in grows. The action of continual repetition of stupid questions, reiterated for days and days, exhausts the mind till it gives the answers the inquisitor wants to have.

In addition to the weapon of mental exhaustion, he plays on the physical exhaustion of the senses. He may use penetrating, excruciating noises or a constant strong flashlight that blinds the eyes. The need to close the eyes or to get away from the noises confuses the mental orientation of the victim. He loses his balance and feelings of self-confidence. He yearns for sleep and can do nothing else but surrender. The infantile desire to become part of the threatening giant machine, to become one with the forces that are so much stronger than the prisoner has won.

It is an unequivocal surrender: “Do with me what you want. From now on I am you.”

That only deprivation from sleep is able to produce various abnormal reactions of the mind was confirmed by Tyler in an experiment with 350 male volunteers. He deprived them of sleep for 102 hours. Forty-four men dropped out almost at once because they felt too anxious and irritated. After forty hours without sleep, 70 percent of all subjects had already had illusions, delusions, hallucinations, and similar experiences. Those who had true hallucinations were dropped from the experiment. After the second night, sporadic disturbances of thinking were common to all subjects. The participants were embarrassed when they were informed later of their behavior.

The changes in emotional response had been noticeable — euphoria followed by depression; dejection and restlessness; indifference to unusual behavior shown by other subjects. The experiment gave the impression that prolonged wakefulness causes some toxic substance to affect brain and mind.

Only the few strong, independent, and self-sufficient personalities, who have conquered their dependency needs, can stand such pressure or are willing to die under it.

Continuation of Section: The Law of Survival Versus the Law of Loyalty

The ritual of self-accusation and breast-beating and unconditional surrender to the rules of the elders is part of age-old religious rites. It was based on a more or less unconscious belief in a supreme and omnipotent power. This power may be the monolithic party state or a mysterious deity. It follows the old inner device of “Credo quia absurdum” (“I believe because it is absurd”), of faithful submission to a super-world stronger than the reality which confronts our senses.

Why the totalitarian and orthodox dogmatic ideology sticks to such a rigid attitude, with prohibition of investigation of basic premises, is a complicated psychological question. Somewhere the reason is related to the fear of change, the fear of the risk of change of habits, the fear of freedom, which may be psychologically related to the fear of the finality of death.

The denial of human freedom and equality lifts the authoritarian man beyond his mortal fellows. His temporary power and omnipotence give him the illusion of eternity. In his totalitarianism he denies death and ephemeral existence and borrows power from the future. He has to invent and formulate a final Truth and protective dogma to justify his battle against mortality and temporariness. From then on, the new fundamental certainty must be hammered into the minds of adepts and slaves.

What happens inside the human psyche under severe circumstances of mental and physical attack is clarified for us in the studies of the general mental defenses available to man; earlier, I myself tried in several publications to analyze the various ways people defend themselves against fear and pressure.

In the last phases of brainwashing and menticide, the self-humiliating submission of the victims serves as an inner defensive device annihilating the prosecuting inquisitor in a magic way. The more they accuse themselves, the less logical reason there is for HIS existence. Giving in and being even more cruel toward oneself makes the inquisitor and judge, as it were, impotent and shows the futility of the accusing regime.

We may say that brainwashing and menticide provoke the same inner defensive mechanism that we observe in melancholic patients. Through their mental selfbeatings, they try to get rid of fear and to avoid a more deeply seated guilt. They punish themselves in advance in order to overcome the idea of final punishment for some hidden, unknown, and worse crime. The victim of menticide conquers his tormentor by becoming even more cruel toward himself than the inquisitor. In this passive way, he annihilates his enemy.

The Mysterious Masochistic Pact

In Arthur Koestler’s masterpiece, DARKNESS AT NOON, he describes all the subtle intricacies, reasonings, and dialectics between the inquisitor and his victim. The old Bolshevik, Rubashov, preconditioned by his former party adherence, confesses to plotting against the party and the party line. He is partly motivated by the wish to render a last service: his confession is a final sacrifice to the party. I would explain the confession rather as part of that mysterious masochistic pact between the inquisitor and his victim which we encounter, too, in other processes of brainwashing.

[NOTE: The term “masochism” originally referred to sexual gratification received from pain and punishment, and later became every gratification acquired through pain and abjection.]

It is the last gift and trick the tortured gives to his torturer. It is as if he were to call out: “Be good to me. I confess. I submit. Be good to me and love me.” After having suffered all manner of brutality, hypnotism, despair, and panic, there is a final quest for human companionship, but it is ambivalent, mixed with deep despising, hatred, and bitterness.

Tortured and torturer graudally form a peculiar community in which the one influences the other. Just as in therapeutic sessions where the patient identifies with the psychiatrist, the daily sessions of interrogation and conversation create an unconscious transfer of feelings in which the prisoner identifies with his inquisitors, and his inquisitors with him. The prisoner, encaptured in a strange, harsh, and unfamiliar world, identifies much more with the enemy than does the enemy with him. Unwittingly he may take over all the enemy’s norms, evaluations, and attitudes toward life. Such passive surrender to the enemy’s ideology is determined by unconscious processes. The danger of communion of this kind is that at the end all moral evaluations disappear. We saw it happen in Germany. The very victims of Nazism came to accept the idea of concentration camps.

In menticide we are faced with a ritual like that found in witch hunting during the Middle Ages, except that today the ritual has taken a more refined form. Accuser and accused — each affords the other assistance, and both belong together as collaborating members of a ritual of confession and self-denigration. Through their cooperation, they attack the minds of bystanders who identify with them and who consequently feal guilty, weak, and submissive. The Moscow purge trials made many Russians feel guilty; listening to the confessions, they must have said to themselves, “I could have done the same thing. I could have been in that man’s place.” When their heroes become traitors, their own hidden treasonable wishes made them feel weak and frightened.

This explanation may seem overly complicated and involved and perhaps even self-contradictory, but, in fact, it helps us to understand what hapens in cases of menticide. Both torturer and tortured are the victims of their own unconscious guilt. The torturer projects his guilt onto some outside scapegoat and tries to expiate it by attacking his victim. The victim, too, has a sense of guilt which arises from deeply repressed hostilities. Under normal circumstances, this sense is kept under control, but in the menticidal atmosphere of relentless interrogation and inquisition, his repressed hostilities are aroused and loom up as frightening phantasmagorias from a forgotten past, which the victim senses but cannot grasp or understand. It is easier to confess to the accusation of treason and sabotage than to accept the frightening sense of criminality with which his long-forgotten agressive impulses now burden him. The victim’s overt self-accusation serves as a trick to annihilate the inner accuser and the persecuting inquisitor. The more I accuse myself, the less reason there is for the inquisitor’s existence. The victim’s going to the gallows kills, as it were, the inquisitor too, because there existed a mutual identification: the accuser is made impotent the moment the victim begins to accuse himself and tomorrow the accuser himself may be accused and brought to the gallows.

Out of our understanding of this strange masochistic pact between accuser and accused comes a rather simple answer to the questions, WHY DO PEOPLE WANT TO CONTROL THE MINDS OF OTHERS, AND WHY DO THE OTHERS CONFESS AND YIELD? It is because there is no essential difference between the victim and the inquisitor. They are alike. Neither, under these circumstances, has any control over his deeply hidden criminal and hostile thoughts and feelings.

It is obviously easier to be the inquisitor than the victim, not only because the inquisitor may be temporarily safe from mental and physical destruction, but also because it is simpler to punish others for what we feel as criminal in ourselves than it is to face up to our own hidden sense of guilt. Committing menticide is the lesser crime of aggression, which covers up the deeper crime of unresolved hidden hatred and destruction.

A Survey of Psychological Processes Involved in Brainwashing and Menticide

At the end of this chapter describing the various influences that lead to yielding and surrender to the enemy’s strategy, it is useful to give a short survey of the psychological processes involved.


The inquisitor tries to weaken the ego of his prisoner. Though originally physical torture was used — hunger and cold are still very effective — physical torture may often increase a person’s stubbornness. Torture is intended to a much greater extent to act as a threat to the bystanders’ (the people’s) imagination. Their wild anticipation of torture leads more easily to THEIR breakdown when the enemy has need of their weakness. (Of course, occasionally a sadistic enemy may find individual pleasure in torture.)

The many devices the enemy makes use of include: intimidating suggestion, dramatic persuasion, mass suggestion, humiliation, embarrassment, loneliness and isolation, continued interrogation, over-burdening the unsteady mind, arousing more and more self-pity. Patience and time help the inquisitor to soften a stubborn soul.

Just as in many old religions the victims were humbled and humiliated in order to prepare for the new religion, so, in this case, they are prepared to accept the totalitarian ideology. In this phase, out of mere intellectual opportunism, the victim may consciously give in.


As has already been mentioned, the moment of surrender may often arrive suddenly. It is as if the stubborn negative suggestibility changed critically into a surrender and affirmation. What the inquisitor calls the sudden inner illumination and conversion is a total reversal of inner strategy in the victim. From this time on, in psychoanalytic terms, a parasitic superego lives in man’s conscience, and he will speak his new master’s voice. In my experience such sudden surrender often occurred together with hysterical outbursts into crying and laughing, like a baby surrendering after obstinate temper tantrums. The inquisitor can attain this phase more easily by assuming a paternal attitude. As a matter of fact, many a P.O.W. was courted by a form of paternal kindness — gifts, sweets at birthdays, and the promise of more cheerful things to come.

Maloney compares this sudden yielding with the theophany or kenosis (internal conversion) as described by some theological rites. For our understanding, it is important to stress that yielding is an unconscious and purely emotional process, no longer under the conscious intellectual control of the brainwashee. We may also call this phase the phase of autohypnosis.


Through both continual training and taming, the new phonograph record has to be grooved. We may compare this process with an active hypnosis into conversion. Incidental relapses to the old form of thinking have to be corrected as in Phase I. The victim is daily helped to rationalize and justify his new ideology. The inquisitor delivers to him the new arguments and reasonings.

This systematic indoctrination of those who long avoided intensive indoctrination constitutes the actual political aspect of brainwashing and symbolizes the ideological cold war going on at this very moment.


As soon as the brainwashee returns to a free atmosphere, the hypnotic spell is broken. Temporary nervous repercussions take place, like crying spells, feelings of guilt and depression. The expectation of a hostile homeland, in view of his having yielded to enemy indoctrination, may fortify this reaction. The period of brainwashing becomes a nightmare. Only those who were staunch members of the resistance before may stick to it. But here, too, I have seen the enemy impose its mental pressure too well and convert their former prisoners into eternal haters of freedom.


Continue – Mind Control – Rape of the mind – PART TWO: THE TECHNIQUES OF MASS SUBMISSION

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