Context: Research for Brainwash: The Secret History of Mind Control
Location: Via telephone
Date: 3rd Febuary, 2005
Interviewee: SAS NCO, Trained Interrogator and Korean War veteran
This individual – one of The Regiment’s most famous characters – is in a great position to talk about interrogation and the evolution of the techniques used by the British Army in the early 1970s: he was captured and held in Korea for some time, then returned to the UK, where he joined the SAS and was trained to interrogate by the Intelligence Corps at Maresfield. Here he talks about the whole experience – including the evolution of the use of white noise, sensory deprivation and hooding during interrogation exercises.
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I’m very sensitive to brainwashing of various sorts and have been utterly disgusted. The Chinese didn’t get anywhere well with us. They used brainwashing techniques on us which they had used on Chiang Kai Shek’s troops in the civil war in China. Basically they had the wrong techniques for the wrong people. I don’t think –well – from what I saw they got nowhere with it. Absolutely nowhere. There were times when we thought ‘Christ, this communism thing must be a good thing’, probably, I don’t know. But it didn’t last long before you saw through it.
The British mentality is not easily baffled. They had some of their best patter merchants there, the commissars, who lived, ate and scoffed communism and politics and they could tell you black was white and prove it, politically. But they couldn’t get through to us. Not because we were thick, but because we were way ahead of them most of the time. Although we knew nothing about politics, and the vast majority of the army in those days knew absolutely nothing about politics, and I mean that. We were as thick as shit with politics, didn’t want to know. I was twenty. A lot of the blokes were 19, 20-odd in my group.
They split us up into squads of ten in the camp and ten squads to a platoon and 3 platoons to a company or something. I can’t remember. But they had us organised into platoons but the squads of ten were each to a room and in my room we were jammed in like sardines. Some rooms they had plenty of room but not many. Most of the rooms were about 7-8ft by 6, something like that. Our room was 6’ by 6’ and there were three of us who were over 6ft at least. So we didn’t have much room, and we were jammed in like that and being taught politics, for Christ’s sake.
They had us out on the square, lectures for hours on end, freezing cold or burning up in the sun, whatever times of year it was. We started off [sat on the ground] but we just weren’t strong enough to sit like that, really. People just keeled over and went to sleep. It was a job for the instructors – so-called – to keep us up together to listen to the lectures. We were supposed to stay awake. We finished up getting stools, made of a log about 18 inches long with a plank nailed across one end so that you sat on the plank, like a one legged stool. That sort of kept us up where we could be watched in rows and it made sleeping more difficult. But in fact for the rest of my life I’ve been able to go to sleep during a lecture and make it look as if I’m not asleep – with my eyes open. I switch off. I have a hard time being lectured. The army didn’t know it of course and I was sent on lots of courses when I got back, different things, and lectures just put me to sleep. I sat there with eyes wide open, never knew a thing about it.
What did you think? Lectures about communism?
It was done by saying ‘You’ll wonder why you’ve been left alive’. It’s because the Chinese – Chinese People’s Volunteers, as opposed to the PLA, the People’s Liberation Army, their regular army. CPP were all supposedly non-military people. Or not army units. They were volunteers that had volunteered to go and help their Korean brothers. They had this lenient policy. This was the cornerstone of all their propaganda and everything, the lenient policy. And they had this lenient policy which was to take prisoners and not shoot them all. And they said ‘But of course, it’s a two way thing. We have kept you alive and your families will be grateful for that but you must learn about the lenient policy and where it comes from.’ And that was the edge of the sword, the leading edge of the brainwashing.
So they said ‘This is a deal’?
Yeah. Devised by Communism for POWs and that’s why the communist forces were so kind to their prisoners. And we were not ‘prisoners’, we were ‘students’, liberated from capitalism. Oh yeah. We were called ‘students’.
Presumably this didn’t wash with you?
No, it didn’t wash at all. We thought it was washing a bit with the Americans and I suspect they thought the same about us but I suspect we were as bad as each other, as students. They took the mick out of the Chinese rotten and so did we. The great thing about that whole experience was that I didn’t finish up hating the Chinese but I finished up hating politicians and politics and most of all Communism. I have volunteered for wars against communism ever since. My little bit of ability going here and there.
We’d never heard of brainwashing, we knew nothing about it, we knew nothing about the press, back home. We knew absolutely nothing. It wasn’t until we were released that I realised the Glosters had put up quite a fight at the Imjin River. We were just beaten troops. And we’d lost. As far as we were concerned, we’d had a hell of a hiding. They just trampled all over us and we couldn’t stop them