The term brainwashing describes the act of converting a person’s deepest thoughts and ideologies. The term originated from the efforts of the Chinese army to convert US soldiers to communism in the Korean War.
The Chinese first made American prisoners-of-war write essays hailing communism, then gave them some rice, candy or cigarettes as rewards.
The intelligence officers posited that the prisoners would be tormented by the reality of having to act against their ideology (of anti-communism) to receive such petty rewards, and that they would convert their beliefs to escape this. They were right.
A significant number of Americans who were given rewards after writing the essays defected to become communists after the war. This was because they justified their actions, believing that they did not write the essays to get a few candies, but because they truly are communists. Converting them did not require horrific torture or heavy bribery. All the officers needed were some candy, and the powerful psychological phenomenon known as cognitive dissonance to play with a grown man’s mind.
Leon Festinger said: “People are not rational beings, but beings that rationalise themselves”. People easily get caught in the trap of self-justification, and distort reality and even their own memories to accommodate it.