Simpson_Defining_Psychological_Warfare

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Unformatted text preview: Science of Coercion Communication Research and Psychological Warfare 1945—1960 CHRISTOPHER SIMPSON New York Oxford OXFORD UNIVERSITY PRESS 1994 1 Defining Psychological War Communication research is a small but intriguing field in the social sciences. This relatively new specialty crystallized into a distinct dis- cipline within sociology—complete with colleges, cunicula, the au- thority to grant doctorates, and so forth—between about 1950 and 1955 . Today it underlies most college— and graduate—level training for print and broadcast journalists, public relations and advertising personnel, and the related craftspeople who might be called the “ideological work— ers” of contemporary U.S. society.l Government psychological warfare programs helped shape mass com- munication research into a distinct scholarly field, strongly influencing the choice of leaders and determining which of the competing scientific paradigms of communication would be funded, elaborated, and en— couraged to prosper. The state usually did not directly determine what scientists could or could not say, but it did significantly influence the selection of who would do the “authoritative” talking in the field. This book takes up three tasks. First, it outlines the history of U.S. psychological warfare between 1945 and 1960, discussing the basic theories, activities, and administrative structure of this type of com- munication enterprise. Second, it looks at the contributions made by prominent mass communication researchers and institutions to that en- terprise. Third, it examines the impact of psychological warfare pro- grams on widely held preconceptions about communication and science within the field of communication research itself. Since World War II, the U.S. govemment’s national security cam- paigns have usually overlapped with the commercial ambitions of major 4 SCIENCE OF COERCION advertisers and media companies, and with the aspirations of an enter- prising stratum of university administrators and professors. Military, intelligence, and propaganda agencies such as the Department of De- fense and the Central Intelligence Agency helped bankroll substantially all of the post—World War II generation’s research into techniques of persuasion, opinion measurement, interrogation, political and military mobilization, propagation of ideology, and related questions. The per- suasion studies, in particular, provided much of the scientific under— pinning for modern advertising and motivational techniques. This govemment-financed communication research went well beyond what would have been possible with private sector money alone and often exploited military recruits, who comprised a unique pool of test sub- jects.2 At least six of the most important U.S. centers of postwar commu— nication studies grew up as de facto adjuncts of government psycho- logical warfare programs. For years, government money—frequently with no public acknowledgment—made up more than 75 percent of the annual budgets of Paul Lazarsfeld’s Bureau of Applied Social Research (BASR) at Columbia University, Hadley Cantril’s Institute for Inter- national Social Research (IISR) at Princeton, Ithiel de Sola Pool’s Center for International Studies (CENIS) program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and similar institutions.3 The U.S. State Department secretly (and apparently illegally) financed studies by the National Opin— ion Research Center (NORC) of U.S. popular opinion as part of the department’s cold war lobbying campaigns on Capitol Hill, thus making NORC’s ostensibly private, independent surveys financially viable for the first time.4 In another case the CIA clandestiner underwrote the Bureau of Social Science Research (BSSR) studies of torture—there is no other word for it—of prisoners of war, reasoning that interrogation of captives could be understood as simply another application of the social-psychological principles articulated in communication studies.s Taken as a whole, it is unlikely that communication research could have emerged in anything like its present form without regular transfusions of money for the leading lights in the field from U.S. military, intel- ligence, and propaganda agencies. This book is, in part, a study of the sociology of knowledge. It looks at the relationship between the production of “knowledge”——in this case preconceptions about communication and coercion——and the social and political conditions of a particular era. In this instance, leading Defining Psychological War ‘ 5 scholars identified the cramped, often brutal attributes of mass com- munication characteristic of one stage of advanced industrialsocieties, then substituted that conception of communication for communication as such through a process detailed in the pages that follow. Put slightly differently, the idea of communication became something like a Ror- schach test through which favored academics spoke about the world as they believed it to be, and thereby helped institutionalize that vision at the expense of its rivals. I focus on the role of U.S. government psychological warfare pro- grams in that process, partly because the story of their impact on this aspect of academe has been largely forgotten or suppressed. But this book is not intended to be a complete history of mass communication research or of the forces that have shaped it; it is simply an opportunity to look at the field in a new way. At least two other important formative forces, in addition to psychological warfare projects, have been highly influential in the evolution of modern communication research. These are strictly academic or scholarly developments, on the one hand, and commercial studies for private companies, on the other. University scholars have written extensively about the academic history of the field and will undoubtedly continue to do so.'6 Most authors, however, have sidestepped any substantive discussion of the role of commercial re- search in the intellectual evolution of communication research, this despite comments from both Paul Lazarsfeld and Robert Merton as— serting that commercial projects were crucial to the development of the field.7 Tracing the links between federal research sponsorship and the evo- lution of academic preconceptions about communication and mass me- dia presents particularly knotty questions. The evidence shows that psychological warfare projects became a major, and at times the central, focus of U.S. mass communication studies between 1945 and at least 1960. But to what extent did the intense attention to this topic shape the broader structure of assumptions and “received knowledge” of the field? Research funding cannot by itself create a sustainable academic zeitgeist, of course.8 Sponsorship can, however, underwrite the artic— ulation, elaboration, and development of a favored set or preconcep— tions, and in that way improve its competitive position in ongoing rivalries with alternative constructions of academic reality. U.S. military, propaganda, and intelligence agencies favored an ap- r-«-—.-é——-t - —-_..r. a... “-543— A. "a Jr W - ..-.....f- A A . 6 SCIENCE OF COERCION proach to the study of mass communication that offered both an expla- nation of What communication “is” (at least insofar as those agencies’ missions were concerned) and a box of tools for examining it. Put most simply, they saw mass communication as an instrument for persuading or dominating targeted groups. They understood “communication” as little more than a form of transmission into which virtually any type of message could be plugged (once one had mastered the appropriate tech- niques) to achieve ideological, political, or military goals. Academic contractors convinced their clients that scientific dissection and mea- surement of the constituent elements of mass communication would lead to the development of powerful new tools for social management, in somewhat the same way earlier science had paved the way for pen- icillin, electric lights, and the atom bomb. Federal patrons meanwhile believed that analysis of audiences and communication effects could improve ongoing propaganda and intelligence programs.9 Entrepreneurial academics modeled the scientific tools needed for development of practical applications of communication-as-domination on those that had seemed so successful in the physical sciences: a positivist reduction of complex phenomena to discrete components; an emphasis on quantitative description of change; and a claimed per— spective of “objectivity” toward scientific “truth.” With few excep— tions, they assumed that mass communication was “appropriately viewed from [the perspective of] the top or power center,” as Steven Chaffee and John Hochheimer put it, “rather than from the bottom or periphery of the system.” '0 Effective persuasion and propaganda were (and are) widely viewed as a relatively rational alternative to the extraordinary brutality and expense of conventional war. Persuasive mass communication can im— prove military operations without increasing casualties, its advocates contend, especially when encouraging a cornered enemy to surrender rather than fight to the death. Similarly, by supporting the morale and improving the command and control of their own forces, those who can exploit these techniques reap clear military advantages. More funda- mentally, U.S. security agencies see propaganda and psychological warfare as a means to extend the influence of the US. government far beyond the territories that can be directly controlled by US. soldiers, and at a relatively modest cost. The CIA’s radio broadcasting into Eastern Europe, for example, became “one of the cheapest, safest, Defining Psychological War 7 most effective tools of [U.S] foreign policy,” as Jeane Kirkpatrick- long a vocal proponent of US. psychological operations——argued.ll Psychological warfare’s role in the evolution of communication re- search must be examined in the context of political developments of the 19405 and 1950s. In truth, the primary object of US. psychological operations during this period was to frustrate the ambitions of radical movements in resource—rich developing countries seeking solutions to the problems of poverty, dependency, and entrenched corruption. The events in Iran, Egypt, Korea, the Philippines, Guatemala, Vietnam, and other countries discussed in upcoming chapters bear this out. But that was not at all how things seemed at the time to many US. social scientists. To them the “real” enemy seemed to be Josef Stalin, not Iranian nationalists or Philippine Huk guerrillas. Stalin ruled the Soviet Union with extraordinary brutality up to his death in 1953, and many in the West regarded the terror of the Stalin years to be the defining feature of every communist society. The United States and the Soviet Union clashed repeatedly over geopolitical hot spots around the world, and the Soviets conducted a large and reasonably sophisticated psy- chological warfare campaign against the United States. Many observers in the West reasoned that the Marxist—Leninist doctrinal commitment to world revolution and the fact that communists were active in various labor and anticolonial movements proved that Moscow controlled a well— ~ oiled, worldwide revolutionary conspiracy. The Soviet detonation of an atomic bomb in 1949, Mao Zedong’s victory in China, and the outbreak of war in Korea were seen by many as warnings that the Soviet Union was bent on literally “taking over the world.” The Soviet view of the international competition, in contrast, was that the United States was an expansionist empire. The United States had already absorbed much of western Europe and the former European colonies into a postwar international economic order built around the dollar. The United States had isolated the Soviet Union internationally, severely restricted trade, and embarked on a clandestine campaign to overthrow the governments of the Soviet Union and several of its sat- ellite states. It had openly intervened in Korea and secretly sponsored coups in a growing list of developing countries. The United States had twice used atomic bombs on civilian populations, the Soviets pointed out, and had on several occasions threatened nuclear attacks on'the USSR, China, Korea, and Vietnam. 8 SCIENCE OF COERCION Given this situation, many leading U.S. social scientists regarded U.S. psychological warfare programs as an enlightened and relatively peaceful means of managing international conflicts through measures short of all-out war. As Ithiel de Sola Pool argued, social scientists’ active participation in U.S. foreign policy initiatives was necessary because the “mandarins of the future”—Pool’s term of praise for the decision-making elite—need a “way of perceiving the consequences of what they do if [their] actions are not to be brutal, stupid and bureaucratic but rather intelligent and humane. The only hope for humane govern- ment in the future,” he continued, “is through extensive use of the social sciences by the government.”12 In reality, though, U.S. and Soviet psychological warfare programs each fed its rival’s appetite for escalated conflicts, particularly in con- tested countries in the Third World. Scientific research programs on either side that claimed to be a defensive reaction to foreign intrigues were easily interpreted in the rival’s camp as aggressive preparations for war. . At heart modern psychological warfare has been a tool for managing empire, not for settling conflicts in any fundamental sense. It has op- erated largely as a means to ensure that indigenous democratic initiatives in the Third World and Europe did not go “too far’ ’ from the standpoint of U.S. security agencies. Its primary utility has been its ability to suppress or distort unauthorized communication among subject peeples, including domestic U.S. dissenters who challenged the wisdom or mo- rality of imperial policies. In practice modern psychological warfare and propaganda have only rarely offered “alternatives” to violence over the medium-to—long term. Instead, they have been an integral part of a strategy and culture whose premise the rule of the strong at the expense of the weak, where coercion and manipulation pose as “com- munication’ ’ and close off opportunities for other, more genuine, forms of understanding. The problem with psychological warfare is not so much the content of individual messages: It is instead its consistent role as an instrument for maintaining grossly abusive social structures, no- tably in global North/South relations. In the end, U.S. military and intelligence agencies became instrumental in the systematic elaboration of an interlocking series of concepts about communication that have defined much of post—World War II com— munication research. True, some academic and commercial roots of Defining Psychological War 9 U.S. communication studies can be traced back as far as the eighteenth century. Even so, cold war—era psychological warfare studies provided extensive, selective funding for large—scale projects designed to elab- orate, test, and publicize the possibilities of communication-as— domination. They helped create networks of sympathetic insiders who enjoyed control over many aspects of scholarly publishing, rank and tenure decisions, and similar levers of power within academe. In doing so, these programs contributed significantly to the triumph of what is today regarded as mainstream communication research over its rivals in U.S. universities. Federal agencies such as the Department of Defense, U.S. Infor- mation Agency, and Central Intelligence Agency and their forerunners provided the substantial majority of funds for all large—scale commu— nication research projects by U.S. scholars between 1945 and 196 .13 Despite the heavy secrecy that still surrounds some aspects of U.S. psychological warfare, it is clear that the federal government spent as much as $1 billion annually on these activities during the early 19505. '4 As is discussed in later chapters, the government allocated between $7 million and $13 million annually for university and think-tank studies of communication-related social psychology, communication effect studies, anthropological studies of foreign communication systems, overseas audience and foreign public opinion surveys, and similar proj- ects that contributed directly and indirectly to the emergence of mass communication research as a distinct discipline. ‘5 The major foundations such as the Carnegie Corporation and the Ford Foundation, which were the principal secondary source of large-scale communication research funding of the day, usually operated in close coordination with gov- ernment propaganda and intelligence programs in allocation of money for mass communication research.16 Psychological warfare projects demanded scientific accuracy and ac- ademic integrity, to be sure, but they were at their heart applied research tailomd £9 achieve 118,1??le .dgtincdpolitical 0r mifitflléfiélj; GOV' ernment aEéirc'rés”sbugm scientific data on the means to manipulate targeted populations at home and abroad, and they were willing to pay well for it at a time when there was very little other funding available for large-scale communication studies. Further, some powerful factions of the government, notably the FBI and other domestic security agencies, aggressively repressed rival sci- entific concepts concerning communication, particularly those trends of a”... ..m.t.:.=....—-... 10 SCIENCE OF COERCION critical thought they regarded as subversive. Because of the bitterness of the cold war, the influence of McCarthyism, and the strength of clandestinely funded ideological campaigns then under way among US. scholars (each of which is discussed in more detail in later chapters), unorthodox analysis of the relationships between communication and ideology could lead to professional ostracism, hostile FBI investiga— tions, attacks in the press, and even violence.17 Sociological research that could be interpreted as critical of US. institutions usually entailed serious professional risks during the 19405 and 19505, and it sometimes carries similar risks today. In time psychological warfare projects became essential to the survival of important centers of what are today regarded as mainstream mass communication studies in the United States. They were central to the professional careers of many of the men usually presented as the “found- ing fathers” of the fields; in fact, the process of selecting and anointing founding fathers has often consisted of attributing enduring scientific value to projects that were initiated as applied studies in psychological warfare. Thus Daniel Lemer’s Passing of Traditional Society—today widely recognized as the foundation of the development theory school of communication studies—is usually remembered as a politically neu- tral scientific enterprise. In reality, Lemer’s work was conceived and carried out for the specific purpose of advancing U.S. propaganda pro- grams in the Middle East.18 US. psychological warfare programs between 1945 and 1960 provide a case study of how the priorities and values of powerful social groups can be transformed into the “received knowledge” of the scientific community and, to a certain extent, of society as a whole. It is a twofold story, first of the successes and failures of the govemment’s effort to achieve the engineering of consent of targeted populations at home and abroad, and, contained within that, the story of the mechanisms by which consent was achieved among the scientists who had been hired to help with the job. Intriguingly, the latter effort was apparently more successful than the former, at least for a time. Study Aof psychological warfare is in part a look “at how powerful groupsmnia‘nage’change, ,_.N_n reconstitufefithe‘iiisélves in new formsuand ‘struggle——notwalways suc- ce’ssfqll'yftgfsliépc the cghsqiousacss.,Qfieudimccsihafiheymm their o...
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