Trance Logic in Wartime: Is American Winning the Battle Within?

Trance Logic in Wartime: Is American Winning the Battle Within?
Dr. Christine Silverstein
Director, The Summit Center for Ideal Performance
Presented at the ManSCH September  16th 2008 Meeting
Summary by Kathy Duncan, LCSW

 Can a person under hypnosis be induced to act against their moral code?  Convention says “No.” But in her examination of trance logic in wartime, Dr. Christine Silverstein presented an impressive array of examples from the literature that causes one at the very least to reconsider.

As Silverstein notes, people can be hypnotized unwittingly by the hypnotic power of advertising, political rhetoric, and religion.  Silverstein discussed how trance logic can be used for good, as in treating PTSD for combatants or vets  –  or for evil, as a form of mind control during wartime.

Leaders during wartime historically have used hypnotic techniques such as repetition, confusion techniques, distraction, narrowing and intensifying focus, to move nations to the “suicidal embrace” of war.  Trance logic captures crowds with a shift toward primary process thinking  — thinking in terms of symbols and images with increased affect.  Silverstein describes the hypnotic induction techniques of Hitler’s speeches: at first speaking slowly, swaying rhythmically, and then gradually increasing the tempo and passion of his rhetoric.  Individuals stirred into a whirlpool of moral outrage split reality into good and evil and gain a heroic significance to their lives as they join in a massive force to defend an ideal.

During wartime, hypnotic techniques have been used for recruiting, training, combat, and espionage. In World War II, Estabrooks described a case in which he delivered vital oral information to a commanding officer in Japan through post-hypnotic suggestion implanted in an unaware, highly hypnotizable subject.  The subject was to respond to a signal phrase “the moon is clear” to deliver the information.

Experiments have been conducted by the U.S. army in which soldiers of lower rank were induced to commit acts that conflicted not only with their moral code but also with military code.  J.G. Watkins induced soldiers in deep trance to attack a superior officer sitting across from them.  He concluded that people can be induced to commit acts contrary to their morality, even murder, if their reality is distorted by hypnotism.

In the Iraq War, trance logic has been embedded in President Bush’s speeches through verbal confusion, fear hypnosis, and radio hypnosis.   The Bush-Cheney administration fabricated the reasons for war, sanitized and mythologized the stories of vets, while strictly controlling media reports.  Meanwhile the rates of suicide and PTSD have risen continuously during the war years.  Yet combatants, encouraged to fight through powerful hypnotic techniques and unwitting self-hypnosis, are not being adequately provided with mental health services, including hypnosis and EMDR, that would help them recover from their traumatic experiences.
Silverstein noted the general apathy that keeps many from addressing the atrocities of war, and causes American society to create an “exclusionary fence” against returning combatants and vets to avoid actually thinking about what it means to be at war.  She asks what our responsibilities are as clinicians within the context of a nation at war.  These include informing the public of the safe use of hypnosis and dispelling myths; maintaining high ethical standards; and perhaps most importantly, speaking up when we see the use of “mass hypnosis” to manipulate a more or less gullible public.  Further it is important to educate the public that all hypnosis is self-hypnosis, and that awareness is our protection against unwitting compliance with hypnotic suggestions in our environment.

Meanwhile the RAND report’s recommendations include decreasing the stigma of PTSD within the military and the public at large, increasing the number of well-qualified providers, encouraging combatants and vets to obtain care when needed, and creating new evidence-based programs. Further, in order to improve treatment outcomes, Dr. Silverstein suggests that 21st-century clinical hypnotists draw from the knowledge base of their predecessors such as Erickson, Watkins, and Spiegel, to include therapeutic hypnotic techniques with EMDR and other proven modalities.

Dr. Christine M. Silverstein
The Summit Center for Ideal Performance
Ramsey, NJ   07446