The Clare Spark Blog

February 17, 2010

Nazi sykewar, American style, part three

The Business Behind Art knows the Art of Good Business, Hans Haacke, 1985

[Here the authors of German Psychological Warfare, ed. Ladislas Farago, explain why Americans should not be alarmed by the appropriation/adaptation of Nazi sykewar techniques to American democratic traditions. I am copying the last two pages of their text, wherein you will discover that they continue to use scientific-sounding language, while never specifying how such adaptations would not threaten the democratic value of questioning authority. Could it be because they viewed themselves as Platonic Guardians protecting the [skeptical] masses from their insatiable curiosity? The remainder of this blog is typed verbatim from pages 58-59 of the text. This will be followed by Queens College professor Kimball Young’s closing remarks. Then there will be two bibliographic entries referring to Freud, as founder of the mass psychology they seek to implement, as well as a comparable entry on Clausewitz.]



   Our Survey of German Psychological Warfare is based upon the writings of German military theorists, psychologists, and Nazi “philosophers.” Their books and articles have been carefully coordinated into a composite picture of German theories. By its very nature, such a survey cannot anticipate a finished portrait of German war psychology in action. We shall have to wait to see how valid many of these theories proved in the acid test of their actual application.

    While. thus, it is appropriate to caution against accepting every single German theory at face value, many of the German suggestions are adaptable to specific American requirements of national defense.

    Americans should have no qualms about adopting some of the best features of German military psychology. The Nazis have, on their part, expropriated the findings of many American scholars whose contribution to military psychology (particularly those of the Division of Psychology, U.S. Army 1917-18) were of the greatest interest and value when psychology was introduced as an integral part of the German war machine.


    American psychologists like Yerkes, McDougall [a famous racist, CS], Thorndike, Terman, Allport, Yoakum, Strong, O’Connor, Ligon, Dodge, and others have had an unmistakable influence on German military psychology, although their theories and practical suggestions were more or less distorted after going through the Nazi mill.

   American political scientists like Harold D. Lasswell and Leonard Doob have attracted Nazi attention and imagination. Lasswell’s Propaganda Technique in the World War and Doob’s Propaganda,iIts Psychology and Technique were carefully read and digested in Germany.

  Nor were the Germans the first to discover “psychological campaigns.” General Sherman Miles, present chief of our own Military Intelligence, surveyed the nature of modern warfare almost fifteen years ago in an article published in the North American Review. It is known that his article received the most careful attention of German military circles (347). [They cite an entry describing a Swiss sociologist inspired by Miles’s article, 1928. CS] Long before Hitler wrote his Kampf, Banse and Ludendorff their blueprints of Total War, or Blau his secret propaganda text-book, an American Colonel (now General) Walter Campbell Sweeney, described the changed character of modern wars in a prophetic little book entitled Military Intelligence—A New Weapon of War (New York: Stokes, 1924.)

   Written almost eighteen years ago and now all but forgotten, it was, in fact, the first warning and outline of “psychological warfare.” Colonel Sweeney wrote:

    “While espionage is still one of the recognized agencies in the collection of military information, its field of action has been extended…as to make its military phase an unimportant one…It may be called War Propaganda…and it is not a military weapon but a national one. It is not operated by military personnel but by civilians.  Even in war the attack chiefly is directed against the civilian population in the homeland and only partially against the military forces. Its main object in war is to weaken the enemy by destroying the faith of his people in their government. Its main object in peace is to select and prepare agencies which will be of value to it for the purposes when the time for the use of military force arrives.”

   The Fifth Column was clearly foreseen by Colonel Sweeney:

   “A possible method of acquiring information of value under such conditions but one whose use would not even be considered by the United States [!]  lies in establishing within the enemy country a system whereby local inhabitants act as spies and agents and make their reports to representatives who pass through at regular intervals. Such a system to be effective must be one that has been built up years before the commencement of the war.”

   And the warning:

   “It appears to be evident that a new agency with a new method of attack has come into existence. It was born out of the modern industrial necessities of the armies and the need for having full support of the public in prosecuting a war.

    New methods of attack require new methods of defense. The new weapon, war propaganda, as described, has developed the new method of attack and has brought us to the point where we must create a new agency and method of defense.”  [end pages 58-59. So the U.S. disavows Fifth Columns in Occupied Europe? CS]


[Kimball Young’s reassuring interpretive essay (pp.60-62), closing remarks:]

 …   It is quite possible that a study of our survey of German psychological warfare may lead to a conviction that we are up against something which cannot be successfully combated. Those who come around to this thinking neglect the fact that American culture has nurtured a strength which is vastly superior to the Nazi totalitarian spirit. We have had 150 years experience with a democratic form of government and we should be loath to let it slip away from us.

    Our superiority is backed up by tremendous technical skill and industrial capacity which in themselves constitute a powerful support for our psychological strength. Further, our individual initiative and strong sense of independence of action, if tempered and developed, are essential components of stable leadership. Our sense of team-play, co-ordination of tasks and esprit de corps, witnessed all through our everyday living, are also virtues of high importance. Our consciousness of mass strength, although it tends to be over-boastful at times, provides us with self-assurance and self-appreciation. Although our democratic ideology cannot be said to match the “attack attitude” stressed by Nazi military psychologists, we have a sticking quality that can be aroused to a genuine “fighting spirit” if our basic values are threatened.

   Finally, the crucial American faith in the common man, in his integrity, in his capacity to join his fellows in policy-making and execution of plans, and in his ability to combine individual responsibility with personal rights and liberties constitutes the foundation upon which a strong national morale may be built and sustained. [end, Kimball Young excerpt. The last two paragraphs were the democratic part: ordinary individuals, merged with stable leaders and not asking too many (“boastful”?) questions, should be part of a single well-oiled machine, cf. Woodrow Wilson, The Clausewitz and Freud factors follow in the Bibliography:]

“254. Freud, S. Zeitgemaesses ueber Krieg und Tod. Wien: Internatl. Psychoanalyt. Verlag, 1924.

CONTEMPORARY THOUGHTS ON WAR AND DEATH: Freud’s book is still widely read and anonymously quoted among German army psychologists.

374. Freud, S. Massenpsychologie und Ich-Analyse. Wien: Internationl. Psychoanalyt. Verlag, 1923.

MASS PSYCHOLOGY AND THE ANALYSIS OF THE EGO: This fundamental work is the raw material upon which the Nazis base a major part of their psychological offensives.”

But see this earlier entry on Clausewitz:

“7. Clausewitz, K. v. Vom Kriege. Berlin: Behr’s 1916

WAR: A Prussian general of the early 19th Century and founder of the unique German “war philosophy”, Clausewitz believed that war is part and parcel of the state and society. His famous dictum, “war is the continuation of politics by other means”, has been resuscitated by the Nazis as the kernel of their whole political philosophy and has become the theoretical basis of their “political warfare”. Clausewitz was the first of modern military writers whose conception of the “strategy of inner defense” has been realized in total war. By “strategy of inner defense” he meant psychological preparedness and a proper estimation of morale as decisive factors in war. [end Clausewitz entry]

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