Thursday, August 30, 2012

"Worldview Warfare" and The Science of Coercion

Christopher Simpson, Excerpts from The Science of Coercion, Oxford University Press, 1994

During the second half of the 1930s, the Rockefeller Foundation underwrote much of the most innovative communication research then under way in the United States. There was virtually no federal support for the social sciences at the time, and corporate backing for the field usually remained limited to proprietary marketing studies. The foundation's administrators believed, however, that mass media constituted a uniquely powerful force in modem society, reports Brett Gary, 28 and financed a new project on content analysis for Harold Lasswell at the Library of Congress, Hadley Cantril's Public Opinion Research Project at Princeton University, the establishment of Public Opinion Quarterly at Princeton, Douglas Waples' newspaper and reading studies at the University of Chicago, Paul Lazarsfeld's Office of Radio Research at Columbia University, and other important programs.

As war approached, the Rockefeller Foundation clearly favored efforts designed to find a "democratic prophylaxis" that could immunize the United States' large immigrant population from the effects of Soviet and Axis propaganda. In 1939, the foundation organized a series of secret seminars with men it regarded as leading communication scholars to enlist them in an effort to consolidate public opinion in the United States in favor of war against Nazi Germany -- a controversial proposition opposed by many conservatives, religious leaders, and liberals at the time -- and to articulate a reasonably clear-cut set of ideological and methodological preconceptions for the emerging field of communication research. 29

Harold Lasswell, who had the ear of foundation administrator John Marshall at these gatherings, over the next two years won support for a theory that seemed to resolve the conflict between the democratic values that are said to guide U.S. society, on the one hand, and the manipulation and deceit that often lay at the heart of projects intended to engineer mass consent, on the other. Briefly, the elite of U.S. society ("those who have money to support research," as Lasswell bluntly put it) should systematically manipulate mass sentiment in order to preserve democracy from threats posed by authoritarian societies such as Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union.

One Rockefeller seminar participant, Donald Slesinger (former dean of the social science at the University of Chicago), blasted Lasswell's claims as using a democratic guise to tacitly accept the objectives and methods of a new form of authoritarianism. "We [the Rockefeller seminar] have been willing, without thought, to sacrifice both truth and human individuality in order to bring about given mass responses to war stimuli," Slesinger contended. "We have thought in terms of fighting dictatorships- by-force through the establishment of dictatorship-by-manipulation. 30 Slesinger's view enjoyed some support from other participants and from Rockefeller Foundation officers such as Joseph Willits, who criticized what he described as authoritarian or even fascist aspects of Lasswell's arguments. Despite this resistance, the social polarization created by the approaching war strongly favored Lasswell, and in the end he enjoyed substantial new funding and an expanded staff courtesy of the foundation. Slesinger, on the other hand, drifted away from the Rockefeller seminars and appears to have rapidly lost influence within the community of academic communication specialists.

World War II spurred the emergence of psychological warfare as a particularly promising new form of applied communication research. The personal, social, and scientific networks established in U.S. social sciences during World War II, particularly among communication researchers and social psychologists, later played a central role in the evolution (or "social construction") of U.S. sociology after the war. A detailed discussion of U.S. psychological operations during World War 11 is of course outside the scope of this book. There is a large literature on the subject, which is discussed briefly in the Bibliographic Essay at the end of this text. A few points are worth mentioning, however, to introduce some of the personalities and concepts that would later play a prominent role in psychological operations and communication studies after 1945.

The phrase "psychological warfare" is reported to have first entered English in 1941 as a translated mutation of the Nazi term Weltanschauungskrieg (literally, worldview warfare), meaning the purportedly scientific application of propaganda, terror, and state pressure as a means of securing an ideological victory over one's enemies. 31 William "Wild Bill" Donovan, then director of the newly established U.S. intelligence agency Office of Strategic Services (OSS), viewed an understanding of Nazi psychological tactics as a vital source of ideas for "Americanized" versions of many of the same stratagems. Use of the new term quickly became widespread throughout the U.S. intelligence community. For Donovan psychological warfare was destined to become a full arm of the U.S. military, equal in status to the army, navy, and air force. 32

Donovan was among the first in the United States to articulate a more or less unified theory of psychological warfare. As he saw it, the "engineering of consent" techniques used in peacetime propaganda campaigns could be quite effectively adapted to open warfare. Pro-Allied propaganda was essential to reorganizing the U.S. economy for war and for creating public support at home for intervention in Europe, Donovan believed. Fifth-column movements could be employed abroad as sources of intelligence and as morale-builders for populations under Axis control. He saw "special operations -- meaning sabotage, subversion, commando raids, and guerrilla movements -- as useful for softening up targets prior to conventional military assaults. "Donovan's concept of psychological warfare was all-encompassing," writes Colonel Alfred Paddock, who has specialized in this subject for the U.S. Army War College. "Donovan's visionary dream was to unify these functions in support of conventional (military) unit operations, thereby forging a 'new instrument of war.'" 33

Donovan, a prominent Wall Street lawyer and personal friend of Franklin Roosevelt, convinced FDR to establish a central, civilian intelligence agency that would gather foreign intelligence, coordinate analysis of information relevant to the war, and conduct propaganda and covert operations both at home and abroad. In July 1941 FDR created the aptly named Office of the Coordinator of Information, placing Donovan in charge.


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