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Cold War Captives

Imprisonment, Escape, and Brainwashing

This provocative history of early cold war America recreates a time when World War III seemed imminent. Headlines were dominated by stories of Soviet slave laborers, brainwashed prisoners in Korea, and courageous escapees like Oksana Kasenkina who made a "leap for freedom" from the Soviet Consulate in New York. Full of fascinating and forgotten stories, Cold War Captives explores a central dimension of American culture and politics—the postwar preoccupation with captivity. "Menticide," the calculated destruction of individual autonomy, struck many Americans as a more immediate danger than nuclear annihilation. Drawing upon a rich array of declassified documents, movies, and reportage—from national security directives to films like The Manchurian Candidate—his book explores the ways in which east-west disputes over prisoners, repatriation, and defection shaped popular culture. Captivity became a way to understand everything from the anomie of suburban housewives to the "slave world" of drug addiction. Sixty years later, this era may seem distant. Yet, with interrogation techniques derived from America's communist enemies now being used in the "war on terror," the past remains powerfully present.

Author Information

CarruthersSusan L.:

Susan L. Carruthers is Associate Professor of History at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, in Newark. She is the author of The Media at War: Communication and Conflict in the Twentieth Century and Winning Hearts and Minds: British Governments, the Media, and Colonial Counter-Insurgency 1944-1960.