Edward Hunter (journalist)

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Edward Hunter (July 2, 1902 – June 24, 1978)[1][2] was an American writer, journalist, propagandist, and intelligence agent who was noted for his anticommunist writing. He was a recognized authority on psychological warfare.[3] Both contemporary psychologists and later historians would criticize the accuracy and basis of his reports on brainwashing, but the concept nevertheless became influential in the Cold War-era United States.


Hunter was born in New York on July 2, 1902.[4]

Hunter began his career as a newspaperman and foreign correspondent for the old International News Service.[5] He was in Japan and China from the mid-1920s to mid-1930s, during the Japanese invasion of Manchukuo and its detachment from China. He reported on the Japanese invasion of Manchuria and later spent five years in Spain, where he covered the Spanish Civil War.[2] He later covered the Second Italo-Abyssinian War between Italy and Ethiopia and took note of the psychological warfare methods used in all those instances as well as during the preparations by Germany for World War II.[2]

He went on to work at several newspapers, including The Newark Ledger, The New Orleans Item, and in his home state, The New York Post and The New York American.[2] He later moved on to France for the Chicago Tribune's Paris edition.

According to Hunter's 1958 testimony, he served for two years during World War II as a "propaganda specialist" for the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the wartime predecessor of the Central Intelligence Agency.[6] After the war, Hunter joined the CIA.[1][2]

Hunter was active in the Newspaper Guild, the journalists' trade union, which he felt was dominated by communist sympathizers.

He died in Arlington, Virginia on September 24, 1978.[4][7]


Hunter is widely acknowledged as having coined the term brainwashing.[8] He first used it publicly in an article for the Miami News on September 24, 1950.[9] In this article and in later works, Hunter claimed that by combining Pavlovian theory with modern technology, Russian and Chinese psychologists had developed powerful techniques for manipulating the mind.[9] It was Hunter's variation of the Chinese term "xinao", meaning "cleaning the brain." As author Dominic Streatfeild recounts, Hunter conceived the term after interviewing former Chinese prisoners who had been subjected to a "re-education" process.[10] He applied it to the interrogation techniques the KGB used during purges to extract confessions from innocent prisoners, and from there, variations were conceived - mind control, mind alteration, behavior modification, and others.[10]

A year later, Hunter's magnum opus Brain-Washing in Red China: The Calculated Destruction of Men's Minds was published, warning of a vast Maoist system of ideological "re-education."[11] The new terminology found its way into the mainstream in the The Manchurian Candidate novel and the movie of the same name in 1962.[10]

Historian Julia Lovell has criticized Hunter's reporting as "outlandish" and sensational. By 1956, US government psychologists largely concluded after examining files of Korean War POWs that brainwashing as described by Hunter did not exist, but the impact of his reporting was significant, and helped shaped public consciousness about the threat of Communism for decades.[12] Lovell argues that Hunter created "an image of all-powerful Chinese 'brainwashing' ... [that] supposed an ideological unified Maoist front stretching from China to Korea and Malaya", but declassified US documents show a much more complicated and contested picture of Chinese influence and international aspirations in Asia.[13]

Congressional testimony[edit]

In March 1958, Hunter testified before the US House of Representatives' House Committee on Un-American Activities.[6] He described the US and NATO as losing the Cold War because of the communists' advantage in propaganda and psychological manipulation.[6] He felt that the West lost the Korean War for being unwilling to use its advantage in atomic weapons.[6]

He saw no difference between the various communist countries and warned that both Yugoslavia and China were as bent on communist world domination as was the Soviet Union.[6]





"These pages present a cross-section of the foreign-language newspapers in the United States."
"Enlarged edition of Brainwashing: The Story of Men Who Defied It."

Congressional testimony

Further reading[edit]

  • Chapman, Frances E. "Implanted Choice: Is there Room for a Modern Criminal Defense of Brainwashing?" Criminal Law Bulletin, Vol. 49, No. 6, January 2013, pp. 1379–1458.
  • Marks, John. The Search for the 'Manchurian Candidate': The CIA and Mind Control. New York: Times Books, 1979.
  • Seed, David. Brainwashing: The Fictions of Mind Control: A Study of Novels and Films. Ohio: Kent State University Press, 2004. ISBN 0873384628.


  1. ^ a b Hunter, Edward. "Personal History Statement." Central Intelligence Agency.
  2. ^ a b c d e Staff writer. "Edward Hunter, Author and Expert On 'Brainwashing'" (obituary). New York Times, 25 June 1978, p. 28. Archived from the original.
  3. ^ "People in the News—Deaths" (obituary). Ottawa Journal, 26 June 1978, p. 26.
  4. ^ a b "Hunter, Edward." Virginia, U.S. Death Records, 1912-2014. Richmond, VA: Virginia Department of Health.
  5. ^ Hunter, Edward. "The Indian Shell Game." American Mercury, September 1958, pp. 29-35. Full issue available.
  6. ^ a b c d e Communist Psychological Warfare (Brainwashing): Consultation with Edward Hunter. Committee on Un-American Activities, House of Representatives, 85th Congress, 2nd session, March 13, 1958. Washington D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1958.
  7. ^ "Hunter, Edward." Social Security Death Index, 1935-2014. Washington D.C.: Social Security Administration.
  8. ^ Holmes, Marcia. "Edward Hunter and the origins of 'brainwashing'." Hidden Persuaders, 26 May 2017. Archived from the original.
  9. ^ a b Hunter, Edward. "'Brain-Washing' Tactics Force Chinese into Ranks of Communist Party." Miami Daily News, 24 September 1950, p. 2.
  10. ^ a b c Streatfeild, Dominic. Brainwash: The Secret History of Mind Control. London: Hodder & Stoughton, 2006. ISBN 034092103X. ISBN 978-0340921036.
  11. ^ Melley, Timothy. "Brain Warfare: The Covert Sphere, Terrorism, and the Legacy of the Cold War." Grey Room, No. 45, On Brainwashing: Mind Control, Fall 2011, pp. 18–41. Massachusetts Institute of Technology Press. JSTOR 41342501.
  12. ^ Lovell, Julia (2019). Maoism: A Global History (First United States ed.). New York: Vintage. pp. 100–104. ISBN 978-0-525-65604-3. OCLC 1078879585.
  13. ^ Lovell, Global Maoism, p. 107.

External links[edit]

Hunter's collection of Chinese propaganda (leaflets and comic books), digitized by the Center for Research Libraries.