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Psychology and Opposition


Brainwashing can be described as a method for systematically changing another’s attitudes or altering another’s belief. This can happen through the use of torture and psychological-stress techniques. Brainwashing can even be done through media. During World War I, there were not too many television commercials. However, there were enough forms of propaganda established to brainwash millions of people. The book “The First World War: A Brief History With Documents” by Susan R. Grayzel contains many documents that expound on mass brainwashing and also the drastic effects that World War I had on everyone around the world. Using propaganda, governments around the world brainwashed their citizens in order to promote and create dedication to the war effort popular during the time of World War I; each government involved did so without consideration of their citizens’ personal well-being.


One might think that brainwashing is a fictional theme often seen in movies. Brainwashing, however, is actually a very real and very serious marvel. It is not a new age phenomenon either. Brainwashing is documented to have been first introduced during the time of the Holocaust, World War II. At this time, Adolf Hitler took interest in the technology of trauma based mind control and ordered its experiments be conducted on captured Jews. Other experiments that he ordered and oversaw are much better known. The brainwashing and mind control experiments, much more sensitive, unbelievable, and controversial, were kept even more quiet and hidden than the latter. It was not until that time that leaders and governments across the world knew of the extent of possibilities in brainwashing. However, it really all began with the power of propaganda.


Propaganda came into existence during the First World War. At this time, new branches of government were created and certified to completely control and produce information about the national war effort. Britain, without a drafting military, used propaganda the most, in the form of posters. It is clear in the “Women of Britain Say-Go!” poster that the British government strongly encouraged men to join forces, using their families as a motivating factor. It implies that joining the fighting forces would be honorable to their country, as well as their family. This, however, is not a fact. It is an opinion being projected onto the British citizens. As the soldiers in the poster band together in uniform with their guns, and the family of three - presumed mother, daughter, and young son - clings to each other contemplating worry and security in the forefront, a powerful image is displayed. The poster appeals to the ethos and pathos that a family member might have in this situation; this is the government’s way of saying ‘it may not feel good at first but it’s the right decision for everybody’. Moreover, while the two women’s countenances appear to display uncertainty and insecurity, the young boy’s back is to the poster’s viewers. He is also not standing as close to the mother as the daughter is. This implies that the young boy, although clinging to his sister, is actually longing for his father. It also implies that instead of the boy wanting his father to come back and be with the family, like the mother and sister seem to want, the boy wants to go along with his father. This is subtly grooming women to encourage their sons to join the force when they are old enough (Grayzel 57-58). Germany, Russia, and France followed Britain’s lead in the propaganda manipulation.


The “Help Us Triumph!” Germany poster deals mostly with pathos. The image of a brave, dedicated, determined soldier accessorized with a helmet, weapons, and a gas mask prompt the women, more emotional and nurturing in nature, to feel sympathy for the soldier and want to do something to take care of him. In that era, a widely accepted belief was that a woman’s duty is to take care of a man, their children, and household chores. One might argue that this poster is not evidence of manipulation, but a regular ad. The manipulation in this poster is not as obvious as the British poster. However, the manipulation is there. The purpose behind the poster is to collect money for the war effort (Grayzel 59-60). In our current era, we have to give to the war effort because the government has made it lawful that part of our paychecks collect for it. Then, however, such laws were not in place and they needed to ‘encourage’ their citizens to throw their money at the situation because the issues they created, supposedly, could not be solved without it – and violence.


The “Freedom Loan”, a Russian poster, is in an interesting format. Their country’s government has no problem imposing its opinion onto citizens. In this poster, citizens are led to believe that they are not free and must give money to the government indefinitely so that they can attain freedom. The word freedom is such a powerful word; the poster may have served its purpose with that word on it alone. The Russian government, however, wanted to be absolutely sure that the intended emotion was evoked as this would lead to receiving maximum financial support from its citizens (Grayzel 61-62). The French poster is no different. It shows a little girl getting tucked in by her mother with a framed photograph of a war man above her bed. The photograph is clearly a very important figure in the family, so perhaps he is a father. It is unclear if the father figure is simply absent and at war or deceased. However, because it is a poster to promote the war, it can be presumed that the father is deceased and the scene is to encourage younger men, who are not fathers, to join the war. But this is not a courtesy. If men do not have families of their own to look after, they would be more apt to join the war; they would not have small children missing them or growing up without them if they shouldn’t return (Grayzel 63-64). This poster plays not only into pathos but logos as well. Not that any person would volunteer to be manipulated and brainwashed, but the logic behind the claim that no average person would support war otherwise was also documented and can be proven.


            Many people often ask the question, “Are people generally good or generally evil?” Sigmund Freud, the father of psychoanalysis, used more than past experiences to resolve this conclusion. He writes in an essay called Thoughts for the Times on War and Death, “In the confusion of wartime in which we are caught up, relying as we must on one-sided information…” because the general population of America was not completely informed of all of the facts and discoveries of that era (Grayzel 115). The government had knowledge about how the brain worked; their agenda, however, was to keep that information from the general population. Keeping information is keeping power; hence the phrase ‘knowledge is power’. The less the general population knew, the more it could be deceived, and the more power the government had over it.

Freud also admitted “we cannot but feel that no event has ever destroyed so much that is precious”. He clearly explains that “the factors which are responsible for the mental distress felt by non-combatants [is] the disillusionment which this war has evoked, and the altered attitude towards death which this – like every other war – forces upon us” (Grayzel 115). The concept of only being able to settle differences by the untimely deaths of innocent people is traumatic in itself. To manipulate people into wanting to settle differences this way is another. As mentioned in Gustave Le Bon’s The Psychology of the Great War “A prolonged war … [has] the power to alter the equilibrium of the elements which compose our mental life” (Grayzel 118). This means a person’s personality can continually change and evolve in response to their environment. Due to the propaganda for the war, men became excited about the war, “they [sacrificed] themselves willingly [were] unselfish and filled with enthusiasm…” (Grayzel 119). It was important for the government to influence men to feel this way because “love of one’s country, or patriotism, necessitates the complete sacrifice of personal interest to the general interest” (Grayzel 119). By glorifying soldiers and making the fighting forces honorable, one’s personal goals and dreams become overshadowed by the desire to be honorable, and admired. When one’s neighbors are being admired and seem honorable, it is only natural that one would want that for himself. This is the development of popular feeling.


Moreover, these reports and claims of war and brainwashing are not general, presumed claims. Citizens of that time made their own reports of their circumstances and environment. They documented their experiences in diaries and exerts and the details are unfortunate. In Lay Down Your Arms, Bertha Von Suttner writes that “the only guilty party is the spirit of war” after describing her “sigh, full of painful pity: oh you poor, poor, men!” (Grayzel 46). Her descriptions include strikingly disturbing accounts about seeing shrieking shapes being torn into pieces by a rain of murderous shot, and then recollecting that her dearest love was torn into pieces as well. The unfortunate and emotional impact that the war left of these countries’ citizens is tragic. It is a little hard to imagine the type of pain that the people affected by the war felt then, with “all that is dearest to [them] in the world [having] to be sacrificed” (Grayzel 47). Suttner expresses that her son agreed with her about the unfortunate mass enthusiasm to join the forces, but continued to train for the forces anyway. This is clear evidence of brainwashing and mental manipulation.


Concluding, brainwashing can be done through media. During World War I, millions of people were brainwashed by their own governments via the use of propaganda. The science was not documented, however, until World War II due to Adolf Hitler’s orchestrated experiments on the Holocaust victims. Because government controlled everything, it was easy for Britain to conduct mass brainwashing in the propaganda, prompting other countries to follow suit. Sigmund Freud researched and documented the effects of one-sided misinformation during the wartime. He concluded that knowledge is power. Freud also admitted that mentally and emotionally the war was devastating. Other psychologists agreed with him in their own research. Some citizens even documented their horrors in diaries and poetry. Even when young men knew they were being coaxed into joining the war, they could not realize that even their personal desires were being altered and manipulated. Perhaps if they did realize this they would have rebelled or been opposed to the war.




Works Cited

Grayzel, Susan R. The First World War A Brief History With Documents. Bedford, Boston/St, Martin’s, New York. 2013. Print.


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