From Pine View Farm

Washing out the Filth 1

I’m old.

I remember BTV: Before Telly Vision.

Then there was radio. My father, always a news junkie, would listen to the news on the old AM radio on the kitchen table, wiggling the little wire antenna to get better reception. I have vague memories of some of the voices coming out of that radio: stories of Mr. Truman going for walks around Washington, Joe McCarthy’s rants about Communists in the State Department, progress reports from the Suez War.

And tales of brainwashing.

For those who think that brainwashing has something to do with Scrubs, here are some links. The single best dispassionate, academic discussion of the topic is probably here, at Robert Carroll’s Skeptic’s Dictionary.

If you don’t want to follow the links, here’s the 50-cent tour:

During the Korean War, a number of UN prisoners of war held by the North Koreans and the Chinese Communists signed confessions and were heard on broadcasts confessing to war crimes and attesting to their having converted to Communism.

In looking back, it appears that no brains were actually “washed”–that is, no one’s mind was fundamentally changed. Rather, under pressure of torture and sensory and social deprivation, persons were coerced into saying and signing things that, of their own will, they would neither have said nor have signed. When the fear and the torment and the mistreatment ended, their victims returned to their original convictions and beliefs, at least to the extent that they had not been driven to or beyond the fringes of their sanity.

In an article in July of last year, the New York Times reported

The irony is that the original author of that chart, Albert D. Biderman, a social scientist who had distilled interviews with 235 Air Force P.O.W.’s, wrote that the Communists’ techniques mainly served to “extort false confessions.” And they were the same methods that “inquisitors had employed for centuries.” They had done nothing that “was not common practice to police and intelligence interrogators of other times and nations.”

Brainwashing was bunk: no secret weapon to control the human mind existed, America’s best experts concluded in the 1960s. Yes, the Communists used time-honored and terrifying interrogation tactics during the cold war. Some, like waterboarding, had been perfected during the Spanish Inquisition. But Mr. Biderman concluded that “inflicting physical pain is not a necessary nor particularly effective method” to persuade prisoners of war.

(Aside: From time to time, we hear the term “brainwashing” applied to what could more accurately be called “deception”; in those cases, the truth is available to those who would think critically, but the lie is couched so persuasively as to fool hearers into thinking that it is the truth and that no further investigation is required. One such lie is the claim that “torture works” to uncover truth.)

The tactics of brainwashing, the same tactics which Albert Biderman characterized in the Times as serving mainly to “extort false confessions,” are the tactics of the Previous Federal Administration’s “enhanced interrogation techniques.” (It is no coincidence that the term, “enhanced interrogation techniques” originated with those crusaders of liberty, the Gestapo.)

So what have we learned after the 50-cent tour?

  • We have learned that the techniques of torture and the techniques of brainwashing are the same.
  • We have learned that those techniques, however they are labelled, will cause persons to say things they do not believe–that is, lie–to make the pain go away.

What can we conclude?

  • We can conclude that brainwashing or torture do not “work”–they produce neither lasting change in convictions nor truth.
  • We can conclude that we need a new kind of washing, a washing that cleanses the filth of apologies and apologists for torture from our public discourse.

Let them have their freedom of speech.

Let us stop believing and let our agents in the media stop reporting what the inquisitors and their sycophants say as if it contained any other than the rantings of the deluded, the foolish, the power-mad, the sadistic.

Torture is their pornography.

It need not be ours.


1 comment

  1. Mark LaRochelle

    May 16, 2009 at 11:20 pm

    For the facts McCarthy had to back up his ” rants about Communists in the State Department, see M. Stanton Evans’ Blacklisted by History (particularly the appendices in which the author photographically reproduces McCarthy’s numbered lists and the corresponding names he submitted to the Senate).