A Cold War State of Mind
296 pages, 6 1/8 x 9 1/4
15 b&w illus.
Paperback
Release Date:17 Dec 2013
ISBN:9781625340412
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A Cold War State of Mind

Brainwashing and Postwar American Society

University of Massachusetts Press
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 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 anxieties 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.
A Cold War State of Mind provides a fascinating framework for understanding both the strength and breakdown of the Cold War consensus in postwar America. Using the trope of brainwashing, it integrates contemporary debates about politics, psychology, and the crisis of masculinity to present an intriguing analysis of anxieties that the suspected communist infiltration of American society could succeed through the infection and contamination of Americans' brains. It is a wide ranging, concise, and thoroughly enjoyable book.'—Robert A. Jacobs, author of The Dragon's Tail: Americans Face the Atomic Age
'A Cold War State of Mind provides a fascinating framework for understanding both the strength and breakdown of the Cold War consensus in postwar America. Using the trope of brainwashing, it integrates contemporary debates about politics, psychology, and the crisis of masculinity to present an intriguing analysis of anxieties that the suspected communist infiltration of American society could succeed through the infection and contamination of Americans brains. It is a wide ranging, concise, and thoroughly enjoyable book.'—Robert A. Jacobs, author of The Dragon s Tail: Americans Face the Atomic Age
'This well-written monograph explores an under appreciated aspect of the early Cold War years: the pervasiveness of cultural anxieties prompted by the fear of brainwashing. . . . Highly recommended.'—Choice
'Dunne outlines America's fear, frustration, and fascination with mind control, suggesting its enduring presence in several genres, including film and television. . . . Indoctrination, psychological manipulation, and social engineering were used, the author argues, to convey a simple message to workers; accept.'—H-Net Reviews
'Lucid and readable.'—Bulletin of History of Medicine
'Matthew W. Dunne's book about the fears of brainwashing in early Cold War America offers many parallels with the discourse surrounding today's global war on terror. . . . Nonhistorians might find Dunne's last chapter, 'The Legacy of Brain Warfare,' especially useful. This brings readers up to the present day via clever analysis of recent television espionage series, most notably Barack Obama's favorite, Homeland. In the process, Dunne shows how influential an intellectual shortcut brainwashing still is.'—Journal of American History
'The author has certainly demonstrated the discursive and metaphoric persuasiveness of brainwashing in the early Cold War, and his argument for its continued relevance in the contemporary era of the War on Terror likewise has merit.'—American Historical Review
'Dunne has taken a seemingly narrow topic and successfully used it to explore the psyche of Cold War America.'—Newsletter of the New England Historical Association
'Those of us who study new religious movements, and are attuned to the history of that study as it impacts the present and future progress of new religions studies, will find Dunne's work invaluable. He contextualizes for us, as few have done before, the brainwashing debates that arose in the 1970s regarding young adults joining cults.'—Nova Religio
'A Cold War State of Mind provokes readers to consider a constellation of tensions born of a singular historical moment: When cold war internationalism met a hyper-consumption oriented economy. Out of this encounter came the unsettling sense that Americans were in danger of losing their individuality and freedom at the very same moment they were tasked with leading the free world.'—Pacific Historical Review
'A Cold War State of Mind is an important contribution to our understanding of post-World War II American society and our increasing perception that the individual is threatened by forces of conformity and standardization.'—Journal of American Culture
'Dunne's book provides an elegant tour of mainstream American culture in the 1950s and early '60s, and could be a useful addition to course syllabi. . . . A Cold War State of Mind is persuasive in its argument that the Manichean assumptions inherent in 'brainwashing' have played, and continue to play, an outsized role in the American popular imagination.'—History Workshop Journal
Matthew W. Dunne is instructor of political science and history at Housatonic Community College in Bridgeport.
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