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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Lines of communication : American psychological warfare in the twentieth century Whyte, Jeffrey O'Connor


This dissertation traces the construction and evolution of the concept of “psychological warfare” in the United States, from its beginnings in the early 1940s. It is argued that psychological warfare is an “ouroboric” concept: produced by propaganda campaigns about the power of propaganda campaigns, psychological warfare produced and continues to produce geographical imaginations of warfare in which individuals and populations are enlisted through their thoughts, feelings, and beliefs. Chapters 1 and 2 provide introductory and historical context for the emergence of psychological warfare, while chapters 3 and 5 trace the rhetorical evolution of this geographical imaginary from the Second World War to the Cold War period. Chapters 4 and 6 show how, conversely, psychological warfare existed and evolved in American theatres of war. It is argued throughout that meanings of psychological warfare are largely determined by their two geographical contexts, split between domestic rhetorical strategy, and strategies for occupying and pacifying civilian populations abroad. Furthermore, it is shown that these contexts are often incommensurable, with domestic constructions leveraged to support narratives of ‘non-kinetic’ and humanitarian warfare, while actually existing American psychological warfare provides both rationale and justification for violence against foreign civilian populations. This dissertation concludes by considering the contemporary revival of domestic psychological war rhetoric in the United States.

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