The Rape of the Mind by A. M. Meerloo
The Rape of the Mind explores the Psychology of Thought Control, Menticide, and Brainwashing. Published in 1956 and written 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.
YOU TOO WOULD CONFESS
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 brainwashing 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 defenceless 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 behaviour 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 behaviour forms which we can call a confession syndrome. In 1933 this type of behaviour 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 psychological 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 rumours 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 behaviour, 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….
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