The Barbed-Wire College: Reeducating German POWs in the United States During World War II

Princeton University Press
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From Stalag 17 to The Manchurian Candidate, the American media have long been fascinated with stories of American prisoners of war. But few Americans are aware that enemy prisoners of war were incarcerated on our own soil during World War II. In The Barbed-Wire College Ron Robin tells the extraordinary story of the 380,000 German prisoners who filled camps from Rhode Island to Wisconsin, Missouri to New Jersey. Using personal narratives, camp newspapers, and military records, Robin re-creates in arresting detail the attempts of prison officials to mold the daily lives and minds of their prisoners.

From 1943 onward, and in spite of the Geneva Convention, prisoners were subjected to an ambitious reeducation program designed to turn them into American-style democrats. Under the direction of the Pentagon, liberal arts professors entered over 500 camps nationwide. Deaf to the advice of their professional rivals, the behavioral scientists, these instructors pushed through a program of arts and humanities that stressed only the positive aspects of American society. Aided by German POW collaborators, American educators censored popular books and films in order to promote democratic humanism and downplay class and race issues, materialism, and wartime heroics. Red-baiting Pentagon officials added their contribution to the program, as well; by the war's end, the curriculum was more concerned with combating the appeals of communism than with eradicating the evils of National Socialism.

The reeducation officials neglected to account for one factor: an entrenched German military subculture in the camps, complete with a rigid chain of command and a propensity for murdering "traitors." The result of their neglect was utter failure for the reeducation program. By telling the story of the program's rocky existence, however, Ron Robin shows how this intriguing chapter of military history was tied to two crucial episodes of twentieth- century American history: the battle over the future of American education and the McCarthy-era hysterics that awaited postwar America.

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About the author

Ron Robin teaches history at the University of Haifa in Israel. Among his books is Enclaves of America: The Rhetoric of American Political Architecture Abroad, 1900-1965 (Princeton).
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Additional Information

Publisher
Princeton University Press
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Published on
Apr 3, 1995
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Pages
224
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ISBN
9781400821624
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Language
English
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Genres
History / Military / World War II
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Available on Android devices
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Eligible for Family Library

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Ron Theodore Robin
At the height of the Cold War, the U.S. government enlisted the aid of a select group of psychologists, sociologists, and political scientists to blueprint enemy behavior. Not only did these academics bring sophisticated concepts to what became a project of demonizing communist societies, but they influenced decision-making in the map rooms, prison camps, and battlefields of the Korean War and in Vietnam. With verve and insight, Ron Robin tells the intriguing story of the rise of behavioral scientists in government and how their potentially dangerous, "American" assumptions about human behavior would shape U.S. views of domestic disturbances and insurgencies in Third World countries for decades to come.

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From the Hardcover edition.
Ron Theodore Robin
At the height of the Cold War, the U.S. government enlisted the aid of a select group of psychologists, sociologists, and political scientists to blueprint enemy behavior. Not only did these academics bring sophisticated concepts to what became a project of demonizing communist societies, but they influenced decision-making in the map rooms, prison camps, and battlefields of the Korean War and in Vietnam. With verve and insight, Ron Robin tells the intriguing story of the rise of behavioral scientists in government and how their potentially dangerous, "American" assumptions about human behavior would shape U.S. views of domestic disturbances and insurgencies in Third World countries for decades to come.

Based at government-funded think tanks, the experts devised provocative solutions for key Cold War dilemmas, including psychological warfare projects, negotiation strategies during the Korean armistice, and morale studies in the Vietnam era. Robin examines factors that shaped the scientists' thinking and explores their psycho-cultural and rational choice explanations for enemy behavior. He reveals how the academics' intolerance for complexity ultimately reduced the nation's adversaries to borderline psychotics, ignored revolutionary social shifts in post-World War II Asia, and promoted the notion of a maniacal threat facing the United States.

Putting the issue of scientific validity aside, Robin presents the first extensive analysis of the intellectual underpinnings of Cold War behavioral sciences in a book that will be indispensable reading for anyone interested in the era and its legacy.

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