Quaker Theology #16 -- Fall-Winter 2009
Narrative Theology: from
Psychological Warfare to Peace;
My journey to/into Quakerism and nonviolence.
My Ph.D. dissertation on the concepts of psychological warfare in the United States during the Second World War originated in the need to investigate the period corresponding to the first years of my life (I was born in 1938) but also to an extremely painful part of world history. I was teaching North American History at the University of Orléans, and I was expected to write a dissertation revealing unknown parts of American history in the early 1940’s.
The reading of The Strategy of subversion (1) by Paul Blackstock, that deals with psychological warfare in the world after World War II was the first incentive to my work: since American psychological warfare developed in the 1950’s, maybe its roots could be found in the Second World War.
The question was relevant. A look at "new words" listed by the Encyclopedia, Ten Eventful Years for this period revealed that the word "psychological warfare" was born in the United States in 1939. (2). On the other hand I realized that American psychological warfare agencies had been created in the early 1940’s in a context of ideological justification. I suspected that psychological warfare was not something new in the United States at this time, but this was the beginning of its official justification.
This side of the war had been neglected as yet by American historians in its relations to the "inner front", the front of civilian fighters called "homefront". Besides, a study of American reactions to the French defeat of 1940 showed me that the word "psychological warfare" had played a determining role in the birth of the word in the United States and in the phrasing of the concept that went with this birth. (3) I saw that here was a real topic.
Looking for a hidden side of history.
Feeling that one has found a worthwhile topic is fascinating: one is going to enable little known actors of history to express themselves. This became my conviction when I progressively reconstituted the progress of several American specialists of psychological warfare at the beginning of World War II. Paradoxically, speech specialists had been forgotten by most historians, or rather they had been eclipsed by a great speech specialist, President Franklin Roosevelt, whose radio talks, "fireside chats", among others, had been very influential, both on the homefront and abroad.
Anyway, although Franklin Roosevelt was a great specialist of psychological warfare, or precisely because he was one, he did not wish his talks to be associated with its concept. The psychological warfare he practised had to remain absolutely invisible, and not be identified as such: this was great art. So, one had to turn towards recognized specialists of psychological warfare in order to find a definition and a phrasing of the concept.
But one key to the oblivion of specialists of psychological warfare was the confidential side of their work, the more forgotten as the archives from this period were just beginning to be opened to researchers when I started this work in 1972. Neglected public documents and archives that had remained secret for 30 years were going to constitute for me the hidden side of history, and I started this research with the following questions: when the word "psychological warfare" and the phrasing of its concept appeared (in the 1940’s), what was the meaning of this in the ideological history of the United States? Since the official practice of an American psychological warfare was born in the context of a just war, why was there uneasiness about American psychological warfare during the following wars (Korean and Vietnam wars)? I hoped to solve this puzzle by delving into the deep motivations of the ideologues of psychological warfare at the time when agencies of psychological warfare were set up. I was in for a lot of difficulties and surprises.
The First Working Tools.
I saw the word and the concept of psychological warfare appear in the midst of the tensions that opposed American isolationists and interventionists at the beginning of World War II. The interventionists’ speeches made up the beginning of my corpus. I went through the popular press, together with the Vital Speeches of the Day for this period. Since the Office of Facts and Figures was created in the summer of 1941, I found in the archives of this agency, documents that revealed the interest of this agency for psychological warfare. For the period following the attack on Pearl Harbor, I worked simultaneously on media and on archive documents in order to find out if the vulgarization of the concept of psychological warfare caused it to be altered.
I also worked on what was available among the documents of the Office of Strategic Services, founded in 1942, dismantled in 1945 and replaced by the CIA in 1947.
I found that the concept itself was not much vulgarized except in political circles. It was the interventionists’ concern to support the creation of psychological warfare agencies while opponents said that this was an un-American concept and practice because of its shadowy side.
In the course of my research, I came across the existence of Fort Bragg in North Carolina, and tried to obtain permission to visit it. [Ed. Note: Fort Bragg was then, and remains, the headquarters of psychological warfare for the US army.] This looked to me as an important part of my research. For some reason the trip never took place. I do not remember if I was refused permission or if I found too much discomfort about getting there. Only later did I understand why this visit was just not meant for me.
The First Conclusions.
As I followed the path of the first specialists of psychological warfare at the beginning of the year 1940, I was struck by the similarity of their experiences: they were all disappointed, caught in an endless system of contradictions that kept them prisoners whereas they expected redemption from it. I then realized that for many years I had adopted their motivations and unconsciously suffered with them.I had been progressively drawn into a labyrinth where I nearly lost the leading thread.
It was only at the end of my research that I had to realize that the conditions of objectivity of research had not been fulfilled. In the text I had written, I could not stay away from the actors I put in the forefront.I had admired them for a long time, and I felt that somehow I must withdraw in order to let them speak or write. I had not dared criticize them for this would have caused a personal questioning. As a good French citizen, I was resolutely "interventionist" when I started this work, not realizing that as such, I was not a neutral researcher. I took my approach for granted and did not consider changing it.
I had ended writing with a lot of weariness, and the impression that I had invested a lot of energy for a thin result. Was the assessment of half failure of psychological warfare specialists also mine?
I then remembered that I had always carefully avoided reading texts written by pacifists and conscientious objectors, which are quite different from those written by isolationists. I had no problem with isolationists: their speeches were easy to criticize. But I dared not face the nonviolent viewpoint. I had decided that the nonviolent attitude was just not acceptable under such circumstances. So, I could not afford to waste time or energy in this field.
By the way, what did I know about nonviolence? I only had a few intellectual notions about it, and as yet I had not developed interest for nonviolence.
However I was left with a feeling of dissatisfaction after spending so many years trying to delimit the concepts of psychological warfare. I found it impossible to define them. They constantly escaped me, and this elusiveness, in itself, did not look like a very interesting conclusion. Was not American psy-chological warfare necessary? it must be valuable, somehow. But since I could not find its value, I came to conclude that it was only valuable in that it was considered necessary, like war itself.
The Real Hidden Side of History.
The providential reading of a few texts on nonviolence made me suddenly feel that I was nearing important conclusions I had unconsciously sought for so long; I was greatly relieved to read in Joseph Pyronnet’s book Une nouvelle force de frappe: l’action non-violente (4), (a new strike force: nonviolent action) the chapter called "Psychological action and active non-violence" which compares psychological warfare and nonviolence, and clearly shows the difference between them.
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