Discovering Unreasonable Attitudes
Their studies were matters of great pride to Research Branch staff, and advocates of behavioral and psychological expertise in and out of government used them routinely, for many years following the war, as prime examples of socially useful science and ammunition for the argument that behavioral expertise should have a much bigger public policy-making role as well as hefty support from private foundations and universities. But much of what the Research Branch turned up in the course of its research was not only far less amenable to adjustment, but even shocking in its implications. Casting doubts upon the dependability of reasoned intelligence, as so much other wartime research also did, the Research Branch effort sharply contrasted the rhetoric of democratic morale against the reality of rampant emotionalism and unconscious motivation.
Most significantly, Stouffer's organization discovered that U.S. soldiers had no meaningful understanding of why they were fighting or what the war was actually about. Worse, they did not seem to care. When soldiers were surveyed with open-ended questions about the war's aims, an astonishing 36 percent chose not to answer at all and only a handful ever mentioned fighting fascism or defending democracy. According to the Research Branch studies, the number of men who viewed the war "from a consistent and favorable intellectual position" was somewhere between 10 and 20 percent. "Why we are fighting the war" was typically on the bottom of the list of things that soldiers wanted the army to teach them. In dismay, Stouffer concluded that "the war was without a context . . . simply a vast detour
made from the main course of life. . . . It may be said that except for a very limited number of men, little feeling of personal commitment to the war emerged ."
Such glaring gaps between the rhetoric of democratic morale and the reality of popular ignorance and apathy spurred the Research Branch to involvement in bold efforts at direct political indoctrination. The most famous of these were the "Why We Fight" films, which the Research Branch produced with the help of filmmaking Colonel Frank Capra, but staff and consultants offered suggestions for many other training films and programs aimed at instilling the appropriate political attitudes and feelings in rank-and-file soldiers. Congress was rather touchy about making it widely known that the army was engaged in such explicit propaganda during a war directed against exactly such efforts, and only one of Capra's films was ever shown to civilians, who also knew nothing of the military's other experiments in direct indoctrination.
There were questions other than that of propriety. Did the films work? Unfortunately, not very well. When the effectiveness of the "Why We Fight" films was tested, the Research Branch found that cinematic education had succeeded in supplying soldiers with some concrete facts, but that the effect on soldiers' willingness and desire to fight passionately for U.S. political ideals was utterly "disappointing."
The Research Branch went on to experiment with weekly mental conditioning sessions, hoping that active participation in group talk would be a more effective route to changing political attitudes than passively watching movies. But these met with similar failure. Psychiatrist Julius Schreiber, who eventually headed the entire Information and Education Division, was left with no positive ideas about inculcating democratic morale and capitulated to the dismal view that hatred for the enemy was easier to manufacture than genuine enthusiasm and respect for U.S. institutions. He set up a program at Camp Callan Training Center in California, using broadcast news, lectures, a weekly column, and therapy groups to inspire the maximum amount of animosity in U.S. troops toward fascism. The program was later copied elsewhere. With this sort of experience behind them, it is not very surprising that Stouffer and others associated with the Research Branch emerged from the war convinced that "for the majority of individuals . . . it may be true that motivations and attitudes are generally acquired without regard to rational considerations and are practically impregnable to new rational considerations."
Irrationality, however, was only the beginning of the bad news. To
all appearances, U.S. soldiers were motivated by the same primitive feelings and loyalties, the same absence of conscious and reasonable motivation, the same ominous emotional attachments to authority figures, that had been identified as such alarming traits in the German and Japanese national characters. The influence of the soldier's immediate group, and the caliber of his immediate leaders, were found to be the most salient factors in soldiers' morale. From this, an unflattering portrait of the ordinary soldier gradually materialized. He was preoccupied with physical discomforts, displayed all sorts of aggression, and worried most about moving up the chain of command, making more money, and staying out of combat. This was not exactly the democratic warrior the experts wanted to find.
Kurt Lewin's effort to generate a social psychology of group dynamics was tremendously influential among the experts who had to face such demoralizing facts about the pitiful psychological state of the U.S. military. Lewin's "field theory" turned personal identity into a social product and made "attitudes" a reachable halfway mark between the obscure psychic depths of individual motivation and the more comprehensible external world in which policy-makers operated. Lewin drew on the work of industrial psychologists in the interwar years who had found human relations in the corporate workplace to be emotionally charged. The Hawthorne experiments, conducted between 1924 and 1933 at the Western Electric Company, were only the most famous examples of the scientific discovery that job satisfaction and labor productivity were products of irrational attitudes, highly distorted and subjective perceptions, and group cohesiveness, rather than the specific organization of labor or authority in the workplace. In the Hawthorne case, Elton Mayo and his fellow researchers from the Harvard Business School identified the personal attentions paid (or not paid) to female workers in the plant, and their immediate group environment, as the decisive factors shaping how they felt about their jobs and influencing how hard they worked. What military managers observed among World War II soldiers was really quite similar.
Lewin hypothesized that individual personality emerged from the "ground," the "life-space" of all relevant group memberships, which ranged from marriage (a small group, but a group nonetheless) to ethnic and religious communities to institutions like the military. By making individual psychology largely a matter of group psychology, Lewin did more than merge the two, which, after all, many World War II psychological experts were in the habit of doing. He held out the opti-
mistic possibility that group management could keep soldiers' unpredictable attitudes in check and could be the most effective means of manufacturing democratic personalities and democratic leaders in the military.
Of course, what was applicable to the U.S. military was applicable elsewhere. Public opinion pollsters who had nothing to do with shaping soldiers' attitudes one way or another incorporated "reference group identifications" into their explanations of how and why public sentiment fluctuated on a variety of issues. Many plans for postwar psychological reeducation programs—whether to reform intergroup relations at home or national character abroad—were unmistakably stamped with the imprint of Lewin's theories about the advantages of working with groups and training leaders. (So too were postwar theories about the origins of revolutionary movements in the Third World, as we shall see in chapters 5 and 6.)
One of the consequences of learning all these dismal truths about Americans' lack of democratic morale and motivation, their political apathy, and their vulnerability. to emotional manipulation was to strengthen psychological experts' faith in themselves and illuminate the gravity of their future choices. Simply stated, they could either become heavy-handed social engineers in charge of the future (a vision that appealed to the most pessimistic), or (for the diehard optimists) they could function as democratic guidance counselors and cheerleaders, helping an unhealthy society reach a point at which self-determination might finally become feasible. While this division was certainly significant, both personally and politically, experts at all points along the spectrum shared a commitment to serving the state through increasing and enlightening policy options related to political attitudes and participation.