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.

Early life[edit]

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]

From 1926 to 1928, Hunter worked for the Hankow Herald newspaper in Hankou, China, and traveling in Japan and China during the Japanese invasion of Manchukuo and its detachment from China. He reported on the Japanese invasion of Manchuria before spending five years in Spain covering 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 and periodicals, including The Newark Ledger, The New Orleans Item, and in his home state, The New York Post, The New York American, Tactics, and Counterattack.[2] He later worked in France at the Chicago Tribune's Paris edition. Hunter was also active in the Newspaper Guild, the journalists' trade union, which he felt was dominated by communist sympathizers.

In January 1964 he began publication of the Tactics newsletter under the auspices of Anti-Communism Liaison, Inc.[6] Hunter served as chairman of the organization and editor of the newsletter until 1978.[6]

Critical reception[edit]

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.[7] 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.[8]

Intelligence work[edit]

Hunter provided testimony to Senator Keating stating that he joined the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) about the time of Pearl Harbor and served for the life of the organization.[9]

After the war he "helped close up shop" and continued his intelligence work under various other agencies such as SSU, the Strategic Services Unit of the U.S. Army.[10] When the CIA was organized in 1947, Hunter joined under journalistic cover.[1][2]

Psychological warfare[edit]

Hunter is widely acknowledged as having coined the term brainwashing in a 1950 article for Miami News.[11][12] He first used it publicly in an article for the Miami News on September 24, 1950.[13] 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.[13] 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.[14] 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.[14]

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."[15] The new terminology found its way into the mainstream in The Manchurian Candidate novel and the movie of the same name in 1962.[14]

Congressional testimony[edit]

In March 1958, Hunter testified before the US House of Representatives' House Committee on Un-American Activities.[10] He described the US and NATO as losing the Cold War because of the communists' advantage in propaganda and psychological manipulation.[10] He felt that the West lost the Korean War for being unwilling to use its advantage in atomic weapons.[10]

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.[10]

Later life[edit]

He died in Arlington, Virginia on September 24, 1978.[4][16]



Revised edition (1971).
Expanded edition published as Brainwashing: From Pavlov to Powers (1962).
Expanded edition of Brainwashing: The Story of Men Who Defied It (1956).




Further reading[edit]

  • Chapman, Frances E. (Jan. 2013). "Implanted Choice: Is there Room for a Modern Criminal Defense of Brainwashing?" Criminal Law Bulletin, vol. 49, no. 6. pp. 1379–1458.
  • Marks, John D. (1979). "Brainwashing" (Chapter 8). In: The Search for the 'Manchurian Candidate': The CIA and Mind Control. New York: Times Books.
  • Pick, Daniel (2022). Brainwashed, A New History of Thought Control. ISBN 978-1781257890.
  • Seed, David (2004). Brainwashing: The Fictions of Mind Control: A Study of Novels and Films. Ohio: Kent State University Press. ISBN 0873384628.


  1. ^ a b Hunter, Edward. "Personal History Statement." Central Intelligence Agency. — via Internet Archive.
  2. ^ a b c d e Staff writer (25 Jun. 1978). "Edward Hunter, Author and Expert On 'Brainwashing'" (obituary). New York Times. p. 28. Archived from the original.
  3. ^ Staff writer (26 Jun. 1978). "People in the News—Deaths" (obituary). Ottawa Journal. p. 26.
  4. ^ a b "Hunter, Edward." Virginia, U.S. Death Records, 1912-2014. Richmond, VA: Virginia Department of Health.
  5. ^ Hunter, Edward (Sep. 1958). "The Indian Shell Game." American Mercury. pp. 29-35.
  6. ^ a b "Anti-Communist Liaison, Inc." WorldCat. OCLC 1776716.
  7. ^ Lovell, Julia (2019). Maoism: A Global History. New York: Vintage. pp. 100-104. ISBN 978-0525656043. OCLC 1078879585.
  8. ^ Lovell, [1], p. 107.
  9. ^ Hunter, Edward (Mar. 24, 1959). "Statement of Edward Hunter." In: The Effect of Red China Communes on the United States. Hearing before the Subcommittee to Investigate the Administration of the Internal Security Act and Other Internal Security Laws. Committee in the Judiciary, United States Senate, Eight-Sixth Congress, First Session. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office. p. 2. OCLC 993125285.
  10. ^ a b c d e Communist Psychological Warfare (Brainwashing): Consultation with Edward Hunter (1958). Committee on Un-American Activities, House of Representatives, 85th Congress, 2nd session, March 13, 1958. Washington D.C.: Government Printing Office.
  11. ^ Holmes, Marcia (26 May 2017). "Edward Hunter and the origins of 'brainwashing.'" Hidden Persuaders. Archived from the original.
  12. ^ Holmes, Marcia (Spring 2016). "The 'Brainwashing' Dilemma." History Workshop Journal, vol. 81, no. 1. pp. 285–293. doi:10.1093/hwj/dbw007.
  13. ^ a b Hunter, Edward (24 Sep. 1950)."'Brain-Washing' Tactics Force Chinese Into Ranks of Communist Party." Miami News. p. 2A.
  14. ^ a b c Streatfeild, Dominic (2006). Brainwash: The Secret History of Mind Control. London: Hodder & Stoughton. ISBN 034092103X. ISBN 978-0340921036.
  15. ^ Melley, Timothy (Fall 2011). "Brain Warfare: The Covert Sphere, Terrorism, and the Legacy of the Cold War." Grey Room, no. 45, Special Issue: On Brainwashing: Mind Control. pp. 18–41. Massachusetts Institute of Technology Press. JSTOR 41342501.
  16. ^ "Hunter, Edward." Social Security Death Index, 1935-2014. Washington D.C.: Social Security Administration.

External links[edit]