Memories of a War that Never Happened

By Andrea Schneider

On June 28, 1998, Joe Sharkey reported in New York Times about a phenomenon that is well-known to revisionists. It all started with a documentary on CNN on June 7, 1998, by the veteran CNN war correspondent Peter Arnett and producer April Oliver. In it, Vietnam War veterans claimed that certain units of the U.S. Armed Forces where they served had applied the nerve gas Sarin. A follow-up article about this topic appeared the next day in Time magazine. As a result of the report, the Pentagon began an investigation.

But it quickly turned out that the central allegation of the report was largely based on a disputed interviewing technique involving recovered memories that the American Psychiatric Association has condemned. This technique to "recover" forgotten "memories" is based upon highly suggestive interviewing of patients. This results in "memories" of events, which the patients never experienced or which actually never occurred, being planted into their brains.

Recovered memories – suppressed horrors dredged up under therapy – drew attention in the 1990 when they became the basis of a spate of charges of incest, satanic-ritual abuse, and sexual abuse at child-care centers. They were discredited when investigators determined that many of them had been implanted by zealous therapists determined to find a cause for a patient’s emotional distress.

More recently, experts have discovered that some Vietnam-era veterans under psychiatric care in Veterans Administration Hospitals are especially suggestible. Recovered memories have made a comeback, and veterans, they say, find themselves "remembering" events that never happened. Neither the CNN report nor the Times article mentioned that the central accusation was based on recovered memories.

General Smith said last week that several other veterans who had been interviewed for the report told him Ms. Oliver "planted" the notion that Sarin had been used in the commando raid. CNN has denied that. But experts in the field of false memories say it is not difficult to manipulate a susceptible subject, given the right conditions.

Pamela Freyd, the executive director of the False Memory Syndrome Foundation, a national organization of doctors and researchers that has worked to identify false memories, said:

"Recovering a false memory as a war atrocity is not as unusual as you might think:"

Of course, this applies also to many memories of witnesses of atrocities alleged committed by Germans during World War II, all the more so because there is nothing in our world, which has been more massively and in a one-sided manner propagated for almost 60 years now, 24/7 by all means and channels of all mass media, than the highly suggestive claim that these atrocities are ‘a given fact.’


Source: The Revisionist 1(4) (2003), pp. 462f.


Back to the Table of Contents