Reiteration, argument, lies, confusion, and the application of force and fear

Friday, March 5th, 2021

In Prisoner of War Camp 5, T. R. Fehrenbach explains (in This Kind of War), the Chinese tried to “reeducate” their captives:

The methods were much the same as those of all Communist reeducation — reiteration, argument, lies, confusion, and the application of force and fear with varying degrees of subtlety.

It came to be called brainwashing, but it was nothing new. The Soviets had employed the same means against men they took at Stalingrad, with about the same degree of success.

Men behind wire are always afraid of their captors. Only by tight inner discipline and complete cohesion can they hope to resist completely what their captors will do to them. Inevitably, when pressured, some men collaborate.

Turks were asked to collaborate. They did not, because each Turk was firm in what he believed, and he knew implicitly that his group — the Turks — would never permit any individual lapses. A Turk who aided the Chinese was signing his own death warrant — and knew it.

There was no such cohesion to the body of Americans within the wire. In any group of human beings, of whatever nationality, there are criminals, fools, and potential traitors. American policy within the wire remained disapproving of such — but tolerant.

A certain number of Americans did criminal acts, against their own. A very few committed treason. A very few resisted fanatically.

The great majority, although disorganized, confused, and completely uninstructed as to how to behave in this new situation in which they were asked to sign petitions and state anticapitalist opinions, resisted passively. They did not condone collaboration, though they made few moves to stamp it out, as did the Turks. They preferred to shun it.

The Chinese educators were not diabolically clever; at times they were incredibly stupid. But they had the prisoners in their power, and they had them continually off balance. The POW’s never understood the Communists and never caught up with them.

As Charles Schlichter reported, almost all POW’s were under the misapprehension that they might be tortured at any time. They were threatened with it, though it did not materialize.

Day after day, the POW’s attended forced classes. They sat on hard wooden benches for six to eight hours a day, while Chinese lecturers hammered at them, over and over, about Okies, Roman Catholics, and Negroes in America, that all officials of the Republic were rich men, that all congressmen were college-trained, and that not one workingman had any say in the Republic’s affairs, in American accents ranging from that of the deep South to Brooklyn.

The POW’s were never excused from class for any reason. Men fainted, and were left where they lay. There was no excuse to visit latrines, even for men with dysentery. These fouled themselves, and were forced by guard to continue sitting.

The Chinese instructors found the POW’s knew almost nothing of civics or the mechanics of American government, and of this they made big play. The fact that American soldiers knew so little, they said, proved that the ruling interests wanted it so.

Comments

  1. Gavin Longmuir says:

    Of course, the greater availability of Chinese who spoke English than Turkish had no impact on the brain-washing program.

    At times, this book just gets silly. Enough!

  2. Goober says:

    “The Chinese instructors found the POW’s knew almost nothing of civics or the mechanics of American government, and of this they made big play. The fact that American soldiers knew so little, they said, proved that the ruling interests wanted it so.”

    I suppose one would have little chance of explaining to them that the reason that so many Americans are ignorant of the workings of our government is because we have that luxury.  The concept of a government just not having that much to do with day in and day out life was likely so foreign to them that they could never have understood.  

    What so many write off to American ignorance is often actually just the privilege of being an American; we’re able to be ignorant of government, because government just isn’t that damn important to us.  

  3. ATP says:

    Gavin, Fehrenbach was not an idiot. As I recall he himself pointed out the language issue in his book. It was by no means the only reason for Turkish resilience in the POW camps, and likely not even the main one.

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