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This legacy of the Korean War came as a huge surprise at the time. American soldiers captured by the Chinese army were forced to attend classes daily on Communist doctrine. Many, too many, came to believe what they were exposed to. This was the shocker. "How could this be?" We all asked ourselves. We are patriotic are we not ? Of course we were, and so were our soldiers. And that is still the case. Those are the facts, and we were perplexed at the time. How could that not have been? After all, this was an entirely new dimension of war, to us at least.

It took this site editor a good long while to realize that it could not have been otherwise. And our godless adversaries had figured that out and were able to take full advantage of our cultural ignorance, some might say weakness.

We eventually understood that we too are brain-washed by our own culture. But too few of us realized that at the time. That still seems to be true, but the fog is slowly lifting, at least in places.

At birth, our brains are blank checks except for the stem region responsible for the basic living function such as heart beat, breathing and other vital life-support activities. In addition, newborns are born with reflexes, like sucking and grasping that help survival outside the womb. Just about everything else has to be learned by a brain that is adding millions of neurons daily, a rate that tapers for a few years. Their sense of sound develops in the womb, and so does sight. But it takes an infant some time to make sense of either.

From this point on we use a computer's memory as a metaphor for what happens next. Just as computer memories need to be formatted, so do infant brains. And that takes awhile. Slowly, the child begins to recognize mom and dad, and any other caregivers who come around with some regularity. Unlike a computer that needs only to be formatted once, the infant brain can only format itself, by repetitive trial and error. While that is going on, the brain is adding neurons that constantly change the brain geometry. The commuter analogue might look something like its memory bits being stretched out, with extra blank memory loci added in between programmed ones. While that event happening in a real computer would crash it, the infant brain can and would simply reprogram itself with the next day's experience and solidify it while sleeping. Slowly, as the brain grows larger as it grows outward, that solidification process catches up such that memory becomes relatively permanent in large measure.

But that memory is dynamic; it can be lost or modified by new experiences. And that is the feature the brain washers took advantage of. Of course, the metaphorical picture may not be exact in detail. But it can help us understand how human personality develops and can be affected by later experience. Parenting is critical as vividly illustrated by Bruce Perry in his profound book The Boy Who Was Raised As a Dog reviewed elsewhere on this website. But later experience is important too, and that is why patriotic soldiers can be turned away from their patriotism. This process was also vividly demonstrated by Philip Zimbardo in his book, The Lucifer Effect also known as The Stanford Prison Experiment. In this case, as in the Milgram studies, the brain washing need not be extensive. It is tough to realize and accept the fact that there is only a paper-thin barrier between our safe and violent individual selves. In other words, our dominant (authoritarian) and submissive (parenting altruistic) selves, are constantly in conflict. It doesn't take much to misdirect even a slightly imbalanced personality into a vicious killer. And this is why so may in the mental health field advocate against violence on TV. In the face of culturally brain-washing via violence, eliminating school shootings and the many other categories of violence seems a hopeless cause. See the Five Pillars for more on how our internal conflict came to be.


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