The Sykewarriors on German National Character
The "sykewarriors" of the Psychological Warfare Division (PWD) of SHAEF (Supreme Headquarters, Allied Expeditionary Force) operated directly under the command of General Eisenhower.
Their assignment was to reach and persuade enemy minds: "to destroy the fighting morale of our enemy, both at home and on the front." Not only did the overall Allied goal of unconditional surrender present endless frustrations to the sykewarriors (it severely limited their ability to persuade through positive incentives), but the PWD experts also had to live with an unsavory reputation among the military brass as a bunch of professorial "characters," "administratively irresponsible symbol-manipulators," and "unsoldierly civilians, most of them needing haircuts, engaged in hypnotizing the enemy."
The PWD efforts to understand the German civilian and military mind relied heavily on the concept of national character and the assumption that Germany was a sick patient, experiencing a psychological episode traumatizing enough to require a thoroughgoing suppression of rational attitudes. On the basis of such theorizing, Henry Dicks, a British psychiatrist associated with PWD's intelligence division, developed a questionnaire for use in POW interrogations. Designed to elicit a range of attitudinal responses about National Socialism, Hitler, and so forth, the results were converted into a series of German personality types, demarcated according to different psychological responses to Nazi authority. Drawn exclusively from German men of military age, the aggregate data were generalized to German society as a whole.
1. fanatical "hard-core" Nazis (10%)
2. modified Nazis "with reservations" (25%)
3. "unpolitical" Germans (40%)
4. passive anti-Nazis (15%)
5. active anti-Nazis (10%)
On the basis of this distribution, psychological warriors predicted the responses of various German groups to Allied propaganda. This particular effort to track military and political developments via analysis of individual personality was considered so successful that a U.S. psychiatrist, David M. Levy, was called in to organize a "personality screening center" even after SHAEF was dissolved.
As an example of psychology deployed for military purposes, the POW study was certainly important. It was as important, however, for its working assumptions: that political ideology was, at best, partially rational and conscious, preferably understood as an expression of deep personality structure; that the life history, and especially experience in infancy and childhood, provided the most accurate guide to individual
character and social behavior; that the concept of national character was reliable enough to produce systematic ways of addressing frustrations, which in turn produced discernible national patterns in everything from childrearing to educational philosophy. The many experts working on morale widely shared these hypotheses and applied them as readily to the content analysis of captured documents, print, and broadcast media as to in-depth interviews with POWs. The notion that individual personality development, political ideology, and cataclysmic social events like war could not be understood apart from one another was a characteristic feature of their theoretical approach.
The PWD experts believed that their psychological operations would shorten the war and, toward that noble end, they built a track record of genuine creativity that included artillery-fired leaflets, newspapers dropped by bombs, and a "talking tank" that made persuasion a literal element in combat. In spite of the ceremonial accolades they received at the end of the war ("Without doubt, psychological warfare has proved its right to a place of dignity in our military arsenal," wrote General Eisenhower to PWD Brigadier General Robert McClure), they were perplexed about why the real decision-makers, from FDR on down, had paid little if any attention to them in determining overall war policy. Such cavalier neglect of psychological expertise, they warned, would be terribly unwise in the future. Behavioral experts, they felt sure, would shortly supplant both diplomats and soldiers in the very dangerous world to come.