Cold War Captives: Imprisonment, Escape, and Brainwashing

Cold War Captives: Imprisonment, Escape, and Brainwashing

Cold War Captives: Imprisonment, Escape, and Brainwashing

Cold War Captives: Imprisonment, Escape, and Brainwashing

Synopsis

This provocative history of early cold war America recreates a time when World War III seemed imminent. Headlines were dominated by stories of Soviet slave laborers, brainwashed prisoners in Korea, and courageous escapees like Oksana Kasenkina who made a "leap for freedom" from the Soviet Consulate in New York. Full of fascinating and forgotten stories, Cold War Captives explores a central dimension of American culture and politics--the postwar preoccupation with captivity. "Menticide," the calculated destruction of individual autonomy, struck many Americans as a more immediate danger than nuclear annihilation. Drawing upon a rich array of declassified documents, movies, and reportage--from national security directives to films like The Manchurian Candidate --his book explores the ways in which east-west disputes over prisoners, repatriation, and defection shaped popular culture. Captivity became a way to understand everything from the anomie of suburban housewives to the "slave world" of drug addiction. Sixty years later, this era may seem distant. Yet, with interrogation techniques derived from America's communist enemies now being used in the "war on terror," the past remains powerfully present.

Excerpt

COLD WAR: SOMETHING PEOPLE CAN UNDERSTAND

When did the cold war begin? Was it in March 1946, when Winston Churchill asserted that an iron curtain had descended across Europe “from Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic”? Or twelve months later, when President Truman committed the United States to the defense of “free peoples” wherever they were menaced by “armed minorities or outside pressures”? Alternatively, if the first volley was fired from the Soviet side, the triggerman may have been Andrei Zhdanov, the Politburo member who proclaimed in September 1947 that the world was divided between “democratic” and “imperialist” camps—the latter, led by Washington, bent on war. Or perhaps the United States and USSR had been waging a cold war ever since 1917, even if the phrase wasn’t coined for another thirty years. Scholars have broached all these possibilities and numerous others. But a voluminous literature crammed with opening salvoes, crisis points, and bellicose declarations yields no mention of August 12, 1948—the day when, in Newsweek’s estimation, the cold war became “Something People Can Understand.”

August 1948 was an especially eventful month in the cold war’s infancy. In Berlin, American planes were engaged in a massive airlift to provision a city that the Soviets had attempted to blockade. In London, several athletes from eastern Europe announced their intention to defect after the first postwar Olympic games, protesting the lack of freedom in their newly Stalinized homelands. Washington, D.C., meanwhile, was reeling from testimony delivered by a disheveled Time magazine editor and repentant ex-communist named Whittaker Chambers. Appearing before the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC), he claimed that . . .

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