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A Cold War State of Mind

Brainwashing and Postwar American Society

Matthew Dunne

Publication Year: 2013

First popularized during the 1950s, the concept of “brainwashing” is often viewed as an example of Cold War paranoia, an amusing relic of a bygone era. Yet as Matthew W. Dunne shows in this wide-ranging study, over time brainwashing came to connote much more than a sinister form of Communist mind control, taking on broader cultural and political meanings. Moving beyond well-known debates over Korean War POWs and iconic cultural texts like The Manchurian Candidate, Dunne explores the impact of the idea of brainwashing on popular concerns about freedom, individualism, loyalty, and trust in authority. By the late 1950s the concept had been appropriated into critiques of various aspects of American life such as an insistence on conformity, the alleged “softening” of American men, and rampant consumerism fueled by corporate advertising that used “hidden” or “subliminal” forms of persuasion. Because of these associations and growing anxie-ties about the potential misuse of psychology, concerns about brainwashing contributed to a new emphasis on individuality and skepticism toward authority in the 1960s. The notion even played an unusual role in the 1968 presidential race, when Republican frontrunner George Romney’s claim that he had been “brainwashed” about the Vietnam War by the Johnson administration effectively destroyed his campaign. In addition to analyzing the evolving meaning of brainwashing over an extended period of time, A Cold War State of Mind explores the class and gender implications of the idea, such as the assumption that working-class POWs were more susceptible to mind control and that women were more easily taken in by the manipulations of advertisers.

Published by: University of Massachusetts Press

Series: Culture, Politics, and the Cold War


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pp. C-C

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. i-viii

Table of Contents

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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xiv

The journey to finishing this book has proven to be an all-consuming one for the better part of four years, and in my time working on the project I have become indebted to many people. All of this help has been humbling, and ultimately this book and my experience writing it would have been lesser without it. I am deeply grateful to Howard Chudacoff at Brown...

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pp. 1-10

When the director Jonathan Demme remade The Manchurian Candidate in 2004 he updated several aspects of John Frankenheimer’s classic psychological thriller from the 1960s for a contemporary audience. Among the more noteworthy changes, Demme shifted the setting from the Cold War to the war on terror, completely abandoned the McCarthy-esque character...

Part I. “There is no ‘Behind the Lines’ Any Longer”

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1. The Origins of Brainwashing

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pp. 13-51

On Friday, April 10, 1953, two months after being appointed director of the CIA, Allen Dulles stood before a gathering of the Alumni Conference for Princeton University in Hot Springs, Virginia. In less than two weeks the first exchange of prisoners of war (POWs) between the United States and North Korea, popularly known as Operation Little Switch, would take ...

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2. The Many Faces of the Communist Enemy

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pp. 52-80

Two weeks before the presidential election of 1952, Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower appeared before nearly one hundred thousand enthusiastic Bostonians on Boston Common to highlight his case for the presidency. Addressing the largest crowd of his presidential campaign, Eisenhower began his speech by differentiating himself from the Democratic nominee,...

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3. Korean War POWs and a Reevaluation of the National Character

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pp. 81-115

After the Korean Armistice Agreement was signed on July 26, 1953, there was a palpable sense of relief that American boys were coming home. The majority of the returning POWs received warm homecomings. As a group, they benefited from largely positive and sympathetic press coverage in the fall and winter of 1953, and the highest-ranking American POW, Gen. William...

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4. Motherhood and Male Autonomy during the Cold War

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pp. 116-146

In the fall of 1953 Portia Howe became a minor cause célèbre and a shortlived media sensation when it was revealed that her son, Pvt. Richard R. Tenneson, was one of the twenty-three American POWs in Korea who planned to remain with his Communist captors and refuse repatriation to the United States. Part of the publicity was owing to Tenneson’s age: he...

Part II. “A Disquieting Invasion of Our Mental Domain”

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5. Hidden Persuaders on the Home Front

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pp. 149-180

A B-movie released in the fall of 1958 illustrates just how far brainwashing had come by the end of the decade. Directed by Jacques Tournier and starring Dana Andrews as Alan Eaton, a former POW in North Korea, The Fearmakers opens with a scene that evokes many of the Korean War POW films that had come before it. As the title sequence rolls and ominous...

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6. The Limits of Individuality in Postwar America

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pp. 181-210

In his commencement address at Smith College in 1955, Adlai Stevenson warned the graduating class of the small women’s liberal arts college in Northampton, Massachusetts, about the growing trends of specialization and conformity within American society that were threatening to dehumanize the “typical Western man, or typical Western husband.” In...

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7. The Legacy of Brain Warfare

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pp. 211-236

The man who coined the term brainwashing, Edward Hunter, continued to resurface periodically in the national spotlight until the early 1960s. An appearance before members of the House Committee on Un-American Activities in 1958 outlined how his thinking on brainwashing had evolved since he had first published on the topic, and he frankly told the...


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pp. 237-270


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pp. 271-281

About the Author

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pp. 282-283

Back Cover

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pp. BC-BC

E-ISBN-13: 9781613762813
E-ISBN-10: 161376281X
Print-ISBN-13: 9781625340405
Print-ISBN-10: 1625340400

Page Count: 304
Illustrations: 15 illus.
Publication Year: 2013

Series Title: Culture, Politics, and the Cold War
Series Editor Byline: Christian Appy See more Books in this Series

OCLC Number: 872122304
MUSE Marc Record: Download for A Cold War State of Mind

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • United States -- Civilization -- 1945-.
  • Political culture -- United States -- History -- 20th century.
  • Brainwashing -- United States -- History -- 20th century.
  • Cold War -- Influence.
  • Cold War -- Social aspects -- United States.
  • Politics and culture -- United States -- History -- 20th century.
  • Popular culture -- United States -- History -- 20th century.
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