[co-author is Phillip Keuhlen, a retired naval officer and nuclear industry senior manager. He was educated at the US Naval Academy and the Naval Postgraduate School and had the privilege to command the USS Sam Houston (SSN-609), a nuclear submarine. He writes on topics related to governance and national security.]
There is a misunderstanding that brainwashing, a technique of mental and psychological reprogramming conducted in an environment of ideological totalism, is irresistible and permanent. However, social isolation, sensory and sleep deprivation, torture, and psychological manipulation in a dystopian environment do not transform most subjects into passive automatons that are amenable to any and all suggestions.
A far more successful system of thought control and persuasion is described by founders of Critical Race Theory (CRT), who far better understood the psychological motivations required to instill long-lasting and uncompromising cognitive alterations. Their genius was to disguise this obscure, destructive Marxist philosophy by identifying the operational component of CRT with three benign words that appeal to fairness and the fellowship of the human race—diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI).
Brainwashing and DEI share a spectrum of similar mind-altering practices, including the strict control of word definitions and speech patterns, the emphasis on confession without absolution, the forfeiture of individual identity to the group, and the labeling of detractors in absolute, pejorative terms. But unlike the brainwashing techniques employed in the Chinese prison camps of the 1950s, DEI offers its subjects a sense of belonging and a path to the self-defined moral high ground that has captured the will of millions, who are willing to devote their lives with near religious fervor to the transformation of the world’s institutions.
In 1950 the journalist and CIA operative Eduard Hunter introduced and glamorized the term brainwashing to describe the coercive methods of mind control the Chinese Communists employed against US POWs during the Korean War. His sensational claims of an irresistible form of indoctrination that rendered its subjects intellectually placid remodeled evinced parallels to the fictional works of Brave New World and 1984. The movie The Manchurian Candidate led the public to speculate that there were those among us, who could be activated by a simple word or deed to metamorphose from an everyday citizen to an active Communist agent.
The psychiatrist Robert Jay Lifton repudiated many of Hunter’s claims, citing evidence from his extensive interviews of both military and civilian prisoners that were the targets of intensive, programmed thought reform. Lifton stated that the process could be resisted, its implementation was systemic, and the methods were not exclusive to the Chinese. Supporting his claim was that only twenty-one of twenty-two thousand US POWs refused repatriation, while the remainder, despite receiving comprehensive mental reprogramming, elected to return home.
Lifton published his findings in 1961 in the book, Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism: A Study of “Brainwashing” in China. He listed eight elements that form the basis for intimidatory mind programming that share similar psychological objectives with DEI. Communication is highly controlled with the reduction of language to easily remembered clichés in a system where subjects do not realize they are being manipulated.
Purity of thought is a requisite, and it is defined in a good vs. evil dialectic that considers opposing doctrines as illegitimate. Ideology is sacred, and one’s character must be shaped to fit the template. Those who stray from the doctrine must confess lapses, while unrepentant detractors have no authority to express contrary opinions.
In a 2014 interview Dr. Lifton reiterated that the term brainwashing was a misleading construct and that he preferred the terms thought reform or mind control. Brainwashing imputes an all-or-nothing phenomena and does not account for different types or levels of persuasion. He provided two examples applicable to the political and academic setting that he described as “more gentle expressions of totalism.” The politician can be compelled to confess for failing to adhere to political orthodoxy, and the student can be subjected to psychological coercion for failing to attain proper achievement, depending on the ideas promulgated by one’s teachers.
For thirteen years impressionable K-12 students are bombarded with relentless propaganda promoted by teachers who interact with them as trusted adult authority figures. The two largest teachers’ unions in the United States, the National Education Association (NEA) and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), staunchly support DEI, and its member teachers could be described as its disciples. The NEA’s three million educators and retired members are pledged to promote inclusivity and racial justice—both politically charged terms drawn from the core of Marxist critical theories. The smaller AFT includes 80,000 educators and 250,000 retired members, but the organization’s DEI and racial justice resolutions read more like the Occupy Wall Street Manifesto than a pledge to provide the highest quality of merit-based education.
By the time a cadet or midshipman enters a United States military academy most of them have been subjected to the “more gentle expressions of totalism” from grammar school through high school. DEI indoctrination methods brilliantly lull both students and parents into complacency by branding it as a philosophy that embraces equal opportunity and inclusiveness rather than a nihilistic, radical doctrine that advocates anti-capitalism, anti-free speech, and the primacy of the state over the individual. From the guileless first grader to the high school senior, the student’s exposure to DEI is promotional, which explains the ease of its “long march to the institutions” envisioned by the father of the New Left, Herbert Marcuse.
Acceptance to a military academy represents a crossroads where adolescents and young adults anticipate the experience of an intensive, traditional military environment, where they will have the opportunity to live in a setting where behavioral expectations are centered on ability, unity, and service. In theory the academies present a stark contrast to civilian institutions where pervasive DEI programs promote individual identity defined by phenotype and sexual orientation, a culture of power structures and victimhood, and the idea that guilt and genetics are inseparable.
For over a decade, since the introduction of President Obama’s Executive Order 13583, US military academy administrations have deemphasized merit and embedded DEI programs into the fabric of academy life, describing them as a military necessity and on par with academic performance. The faculty and staff at the United States Naval Academy (USNA) advance the principles and practices of critical pedagogy by inserting critical theory principles into both the social sciences and STEM curricula.
A summary of Critical Race Training at the USNA and its DEI informational page on the academy’s website describes an odd mixture of an unabated institutional commitment to inclusiveness and diversity, while simultaneously endorsing segregated affinity groups based on ethnicity, sex, and race. The most recent USNA DEI conference excluded all participants who did not receive an invitation—an indication of a lack of tolerance for competing ideas and the advancement of sanctioned opinions viewed through the lens of racial identity.
The United States Military Academy’s (USMA) 2023 DEI Conference revealed an academy administration that has faithfully fulfilled Marcuse’s bidding by enlisting the corps of cadets to serve as soldiers in support of DEI. USMA officials proclaim DEI’s indisputable benefit to the military, citing evidence from the financial services and management consulting sectors, but these under-powered studies were conducted in a limited, non-military setting. Comprehensive studies from Harvard and Tel Aviv Universities of 800 companies spanning 30 years contradict this view and demonstrate that DEI programs frequently do not change attitudes and often aggravate racial biases and hostilities.
Testimony in July 2023 by the superintendents for all three major service academies at the House Armed Services Committee demonstrated a uniformity of opinion often delivered in a talking point format fraught with clichés. Their vigorous commitment to DEI unveiled a degree of smugness, not unlike the testimony exhibited by three high profile Ivy League university presidents, whose comments portrayed them as ideologues defending tenuous positions. High-ranking generals, who defend programs that promote racial discrimination and disregard merit as the preeminent predictor of student success, do little to gain the public’s trust as guardians of the next generation of military leaders.
All of the US service academies have adopted efficient versions of thought reform programs described by Lifton. Military academy campuses represent a milieu that is spatially and socially isolated from the general public. The atmosphere is rigidly hierarchical, both in terms of professor-student and officer-subordinate relationships. For four years, academies function as a petri dish, where radical ideas can be imposed under the guise of military and academic training. Late stage adolescents and young adults are highly impressionable and vulnerable to external stimuli when subjected to subtle but comprehensive propaganda.
The psychological pressure, potential abuse of power and intimidation, and specter of anonymous accusations are foreign to non-totalitarian military organizations. Yet DEI, which permeates the lives of Air Force Academy (USAFA) cadets and Naval Academy midshipmen, employs these techniques. At both USAFA and USNA, cadet political officers, who wear a distinctive armband, are installed in each squadron or company and tasked to report DEI-related information outside the chain of command to the academy’s Chief of DEI. White male cadets at USAFA are subjected to harassment in the classroom and forced to explain their white privilege. A Cornell-trained, civilian professor of economics identified a white male cadet not by name but as “White boy #2.” She informed the class that she was inclined to do so, since all white people look alike.
The window of opportunity to obtrude years of DEI indoctrination and train officers in accordance with the highest standards of military science has been squandered. Cadets and midshipmen hoping for a reprieve from DEI propaganda become disheartened, and their classmates, who support DEI dogma, are emboldened by the affirmation granted them by professors and members of the military training department. Congruent opinions between superiors and students in the academy setting offer distinct rewards—enhanced prospects for promotion and academic and professional advancement. The academies have become a reliable source of pro-DEI military officers, and although they commission less than 20% of the officer corps, these graduates command a disproportionate influence within the Department of Defense.
Just as excess death rates provide a measure of general public health, the US military recruitment crisis serves as a litmus test of the health of the United States armed forces. Despite overwhelming support of the DEI culture by members of the Department of Defense, Congress, and the White House, a career of service to the country is no longer appealing to many young Americans, particularly those from families whose service is generational.
Wokeness, affirmative action, CRT, and DEI are not recognized by the public as a panacea for military readiness and power, but as a means to incapacitate and infect the armed services with Marxist propaganda. Forty percent of the admirals and generals, whose promotions were delayed, have made public statements supporting DEI. Once a critical mass of officers reaches 30%, DEI will be self-sustaining, and it will take years to reverse the trend.
The effectiveness and permanency of classic brainwashing programs never materialized. They lacked the ability to subtly influence and manipulate young minds over long periods of time. The laws of physics illustrate that the application of a small force over an extended period of time can produce large changes of momentum to an object, provided the time is sufficiently long. DEI thought reform draws on this analogy.
DEI propaganda succeeded where traditional Marxist thought revision failed by understanding the human psyche’s vulnerability to incremental influence over long periods at the crucial periods of psychological development. DEI’s ability to persuade large populations to voluntarily act in a self-destructive manner marks it as a triumph of Marxist brainwashing.
Cadets and midshipmen face a daunting task—how to resist DEI indoctrination that applies thought reform through coercive, yet often subtle psychological techniques. They are the targets of unethical and subconscious manipulation that are purposely directed at them without informed consent. The systematic intellectual and behavioral seduction of susceptible college-age students without their express knowledge for the purpose to achieve a contrived outcome exposes them to the dangers of medical experimentation.
Adolescents and young adults attending US service academies are expected to take orders with little reservation, but they are also patients, who are entitled to the protections afforded by the Nuremberg Code. Cadets and midshipmen were required to receive Covid-19 mandatory vaccinations without proper informed consent. Now they endure the insidious processes of thought reform that are psychologically invasive and often result in long-lasting effects. Their right to understand the fully disclosed risks and benefits of these intrusions and the option to refuse them protects them from these abuses.
Patients living in highly structured organizations where “proof by authority” doctrines are preeminent often lack the safeguards that ensure their basic human and medical rights. Military medical professionals, particularly psychologists and psychiatrists, have the obligation to publicize unethical medical practices that are conducted without the patient’s voluntary consent. The need to serve as patient advocates and to identify and resist DEI indoctrination protocols represent the standard of care.
Members of the medical community are the select few in the present-day military who can offer safe harbor to those exposed to unremitting propaganda. DEI is a scourge of the armed forces, and commanders should cultivate relationships with military medical and legal professionals to channel their efforts to challenge DEI programs at every level.
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