Political Indoctrination in the U.S. Army from World War II to the Vietnam War

Political Indoctrination in the U.S. Army from World War II to the Vietnam War

Political Indoctrination in the U.S. Army from World War II to the Vietnam War

Political Indoctrination in the U.S. Army from World War II to the Vietnam War

Excerpt

After drilling troops during the American Revolution, Baron Friedrich von Steuben was said to have noted that while you could tell a Prussian what to do and expect him to do it, you had to tell an American why he ought to do something before he would comply. Few of the officials who ran the United States Army's "Troop Information" programs from World War II through the Vietnam War failed to invoke von Steuben's observation in defending their mission. They saw themselves as explainers rather than persuaders, different from the enemy's propagandists not by degree but on fundamental principle. "Propaganda" seemed to them at odds with the democratic, individualistic genius of American society.

Nevertheless, the management of opinion lay at the heart of the Troop Information (or, later, "Command Information") mission. Between 1940 and 1973, millions of young Americans passed through the ranks of the U.S. armed forces. For officials who harbored doubts about the nation's ideological commitment to its battles, these draftees and volunteers made up a captive audience ripe for political indoctrination. For over three decades, the military subjected soldiers to an array of films, radio programs, pamphlets, and weekly lectures designed to stir their patriotism and activate their contempt for first fascist, then communist enemies.

Military sociologists, political scientists, and scholars of mass communication have analyzed the Troop Information program's effectiveness, but few historians have devoted much attention to the way the armed forces conducted political indoctrination. In this history of the formal political indoctrination of U.S. soldiers, I draw on the records of the army and the Department of Defense's information offices, the content of the indoctrination materials themselves, and the . . .

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