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Internment and Custody

Internment and Custody

The prisoner of war

Behavioral studies of captivity

Physical privation in captivity

Adaptations to prisoner society

Postcaptivity problems


Most societies have institutionalized custodial arrangements. These involve restraining some persons from exercising various freedoms enjoyed by ordinary members of that society, particularly freedom of movement but also freedom of social intercourse or privacy and autonomy in the choice and scheduling of activities.

It is difficult to form a universal, absolute definition of terms such as internment, imprisonment, captivity, confinement, or custody, because almost all members of any social order are held captive, in some degree, to locales, groupings, and activities by various powerfully restraining moral forces and ultimate sanctions. While custody statuses are clearly apparent at their oppressive extremes, such as punitive solitary confinement, only marginal, nominal, and subjective discriminations delimit many such states from others that we are more inclined to label as segregation, isolation, ostracism, or vertical status differentiation.

Internment statuses can be defined by reference to the special definitions placed on some persons relative to others by an authority, a group consensus, or the observational standpoint taken by the student of the particular social scene, but they cannot be defined in absolute, objective terms. For example, an observer may be able to detect only marginal objective differences between the freedoms possessed by the soldiers in the barracks and those of the prisoners in the guardhouse, but the social and subjective significance of the status differences may be vast. The life conditions of prisoners exiled to Siberia under both tsars and Bolsheviks in many instances objectively differed not at all from those of free laborers in the same areas. Penitentiary trusties, prisoners of war, and high-status persons under house arrest frequently are unguarded. Individuals can commit themselves voluntarily to mental hospitals. By entering cloistered orders, persons may be subjecting themselves to closer confinement and more rigid prescription of their activities than inmates of some “maximum security” prisons. The degree of restriction, the nature and intensity of coercion, and the volitional element each provides only partial and relative bases for identifying the social nature of custodial statuses.

Functional considerations

Custodial arrangements may serve a variety of latent and manifest functions that require the isolation or special control of individuals. These functions include punishment; insulation of persons perceived as posing a threat of injury to the group or contamination of it; facilitating either material or social exploitation; psychological manipulation directed toward personality change; marking ritual transitions to other statuses; symbolic affirmation or display of the lost or degraded status of the captive; or simply provision of a limbo state for human beings to whom the controlling group can ascribe no other appropriate status. Imprisonment also may be a way station to execution.

From the evolutionary point of view, institutionalized custody becomes increasingly important as a mode for performing these functions as social and cultural organization becomes more complex. For example, slavery has tended to develop only in relatively complex agricultural societies; the hostage is not typical of primitive forms of warfare; political imprisonment is a phenomenon of the state; and the concentration camp is a nineteenth-century innovation. As social orders become large and complex, killing and avoidance of contact become less adequate as mechanisms appropriate to the increasing number of situations that require dealing with the deviant member of the in-group, the stranger-enemy, or the social “non-person” converting humans into exploitable resources; reshaping the egos and social identifications of persons to fit transformed social arrangements; or removing from the general social arena those who do not fit.

Certain internment and custody institutions have been particularly problematic to modern civilization and consequently are the subjects of highly developed and specialized fields of inquiry: slavery, the penitentiary, and the mental institution. However, this article will be concerned primarily with other forms of internment and custody that are associated with warfare and political domination. Although these custody arrangements do not form a well-defined, traditional subject matter, such as that of slavery, prisons, and mental institutions, they have nevertheless been important subjects of attention in the development of social thought and science.

The prisoner of war

The status of the war captive poses a problem that has played an important role in the development of nationalism, international law, and humanitarianism. It was not long ago that writers on the evolution of international law and custom regarding prisoners of war could view the past as a record of continually more enlightened and humane practices (Spaight 1911). Progress from barbarity to humanitarianism was the organizing principle of the typical pre-World War II discussion of war captives, such as that of Trimble (1934). He traced a development from ancient to recent times in which the prevalent procedures changed successively from extermination, to enslavement, to ransom, and finally to regularized exchange and parole practices. Through much of history, war prisoners were regarded very much as were other spoils of war—booty to be destroyed, sold, or exploited at the pleasure of the individual soldier or chieftain who seized them. The increasing domination of the central state brought about a shift in the control of prisoners from the individual captor to the sovereign and a consequent regularizing of the economic exploitation of war captives for labor or ransom.

The final development of what three decades ago could be called the “modern view” is attributed by Trimble to the influence of Montesquieu, Rousseau, and Vattel. As amplified by Rousseau in hisSocial Contract (book 1, chapter 4), this view asserted: “War is ... a relation between state and state in which individuals are enemies only accidentally.” Soldiers are enemies while they are bearing arms, but according to Rousseau, “as soon as they lay them down and surrender . . . they become once more merely men whose life no one has any right to take” (Rousseau 1762, as quoted in Trimble 1934, p. 420).

These views became increasingly incorporated into and elaborated in legal theory and in agreements between nations, beginning in 1785 with a treaty between the United States and Prussia. Both in this beginning and in the subsequent attempt at codification by Francis Lieber at the direction of President Lincoln, the United States played a prominent role in the development of humanitarian legal doctrine concerning prisoners and internees. A series of international conventions embodied developing versions of these doctrines. These were formulated by conferences at Brussels in 1874, The Hague in 1899 and 1907, Copenhagen in 1917, and Geneva in 1929 and 1949.

The major principles of these agreements were as follows. First, the prisoner was defined as in the power of the government that held him, rather than of the individuals who were his immediate captors. Second, the captor government was responsible for the safety, humane treatment, food, quarters, clothing, etc. of prisoners, with the standards of well-being of the captor nation’s troops as the measure of the adequacy of provisions. Third, the prisoners were to be insulated (“quarantined,” in the words of Prugh 1956) from participation in the war; this included guarantees against their exploitation by the captor for war-related functions, while allowing for their secure detention or their parole under obligation not to reassume arms.

Finally, the prisoners were assigned certain duties to the captor, including providing true identification of themselves and their rank (age being added by the 1949 Geneva Convention) and abiding by international law and by rules for their detention established by the captor power.

Some ambiguity remained regarding conflict stemming from the assumed patriotic duty and motivation of the captive. Two major areas of continuing conflict between captor and captive were recognized. The first was the prisoner’s obligation to escape and to rejoin his own forces if he could overcome the captor’s security measures. This right was recognized, and the punishment of recaptured escapees was narrowly restricted by these agreements. The agreements also recognized that a similar game would be played in the area of interro-gating prisoners for military information. It was regarded as unrealistic to attempt to prohibit the captor from questioning prisoners for intelligence purposes, but all forms of “mental and physical duress” to elicit intelligence information were forbidden by the agreement of the Geneva Convention in 1949.

The history of actual prisoner treatment during the century that saw the development and acceptance of these legal doctrines showed largely a record of deviation from these theories. In almost all wars public attitudes toward the enemy of the moment were not as benign as they were toward the symbols of humanity that were considered in formulating these international doctrines. The urgencies, shortages, disorganization, and emotions of warfare made deviations the rule rather than the exception, even when governments felt that both morality and self-interest urged abiding by the legal doctrines. With a few exceptions, such as Japanese treatment of Russian prisoners during the Russo-Japanese War, which was long regarded as a demonstration of the practicality of the humanitarian doctrine (Spaight 1911), the international agreements functioned as ideal models that could only remotely be achieved in practice [seeMilitary LAW].

Types of war and prisoner treatment

Two types of factors account for the extent and nature of the deviations from humanitarian practice that have characterized prisoner treatment in recent warfare. One of these is, essentially, the fortunes of war: that is, the relatively unpredictable outcome of the applications of strategies and resources in conflict that determines how many prisoners are taken by a particular power at a particular time and place. Indeed, in most of the extreme situations that have occurred, the severities of climate, the lack of logistical preparation and resources, and the disorganization of supplies by highly mobile or destructive combat conditions have probably played a greater role than the malevolence of the capturing troops or government. More benevolent intents on the part of the captors might have tremendously ameliorated, but would not have entirely precluded, conditions such as occurred during the U.S. Civil War, during World War 11 in southeast Asia, or at Stalingrad.

This matter of intent is a vital second factor, however. A possibly broader way of considering it is in terms of how the captor defines his prisoners and his conceptions of what activities toward his prisoners are appropriate. While peculiar features of the national culture of the captor country account for some of these conceptions, in the main they follow from the particular type of war that is taking place. Speier (1941) has presented a social typology of war, in which he suggests that major varying features of warfare can be distinguished according to the social definition of the enemy. “Absolute war” is characterized by the aim of anni hilating the enemy, who is a symbol of strangeness, evil, and danger to the community as a whole. It is war fought with no restrictions upon its frightfulness. Prisoners during their brief captivity serve as objects for direct or ritualized expressions of hatred and rage. In “instrumental war,” where the object is to gain access to values which the enemy controls, the defeated and captured enemy himself becomes an immediate source of gain, through forced labor, ransom, or blackmail. The extreme opposite of absolute war, which Speier calls “agonistic conflict,” is fought under conditions of studied equality and strict and ceremonious norms; in its ideal form, the enemy is treated in the manner of an opponent in a sport.

Rarely has a given war accorded fully with any one of the ideal types of Speier’s typology. However, the nature of the particular social conflict and of its objectives (in terms of Speier’s models) has been an important determinant of the conception of the enemy and the general orientation to prisoner treatment during war. Thus the factors considered by Speier seem to have played a more important role in prisoner treatment than the particular codifications of principles that were accepted features of international law at the time. The legal doctrines themselves involved the application of the ideologies of what Speier calls “agonistic” war to a conceptual model of the nature of conflict that is close to Speier’s “instrumental” type.

Total war and the prisoner

Contemporaneously with the later growth of international law concerning prisoners, there took place an accentuation of “nonrational” elements in international conflict. Both nationalistic and political ideologies became more dominant components of war relative to the “instrumental” and “agonistic” ones. In the present century, wars have become more “absolute” or “total,” in the sense that the opponents are usually defined as members of an out-group representing everything that is alien and detestable. This form of conflict reached singular intensity during World War II, particularly in the case of GermanSoviet and American-Japanese conflict.

The emergent form of war was “total” in an additional sense—there was a pervasive “rationalization” of potential means in the service of non-rational nationalistic and political ideologies. The entire physical and social environment of both one’s own and the enemy’s society in rationalized total war becomes open to attempted manipulation or elimination in accordance with the doctrinaire objectives of the ideology. Restrictions of a sacred, sentimental, legal, or traditional nature that previously immunized persons, institutions, or physical objects from the war, or made particular practices unthinkable, lost much of their force. These developments were epitomized by the totalitarian state.

The concept of absolute warfare, furthermore, provided the basic operating and organizational principle of totalitarian societies even in time of peace. Both Nazi and Soviet doctrine embraced the concept of the nation as being at permanent war against hostile elements at home as well as against encircling, hostile powers abroad. A product of this element of totalitarian doctrine was the concentration camp; in conception it is much like the extension of the prisoner-of-war concept to the permanent, civil, ideological war (Abel 1951; Adler 1958). (The term “concentration camp” arose originally in connection with mass political imprisonments of Cubans by the Spanish administration during the Cuban revolutionary era.)

The distinctive features of the recent history of internment practices have reflected both forms of “totalism” (Lifton 1961) that have been discussed: the nonrational and the rationalistic. On the one hand, in total conflict there has been the accentuation of the image of the foe as an individual of another, antagonistic world; he is a non-person meriting extermination, retribution, or, at best, reformation. On the other hand, there has been the rationalistic view of prisoners as an exploitable resource toward the total objective and thus the attempt at rational exploitation of prisoners in order to work toward all conceivable state objectives —economic, political, and military.

In both the Soviet Union during the Stalin era and in Nazi Germany, the blend of the rationalistic and the nonrational was evident in elaborate systems of slave labor. These involved millions of captives, both natives and foreigners. While the regimes paid considerable attention to the value of slave labor to their economies, which became importantly dependent upon this type of manpower, economic exploitation in many respects was secondary to the expression of hostile, paranoidal aggressions against the classes of persons who were captured or arrested. Nevertheless, the intimidation and isolation of potential dissidents often became subservient to filling mounting needs for slave labor. To meet this demand, promiscuous mass arrests, fraudulent judicial procedures, and arbitrary prolongation of sentences were widely employed (Wormser 1954).

Although the concept of absolute warfare is epitomized by totalitarian (particularly communist and Nazi) practice, some observers see the same influences—rationalistic exploitation and ideological nonrationality—as affecting the doctrines of the democratic nations toward war prisoners. The notions of progress that formerly organized historical accounts of captivity have been largely replaced in the post-World War II era by those which implicitly chronicle an “Cadvance toward barbarism” (Veale 1953). Although after World War II the important precedent of punishing mistreatment of civil and military prisoners was established by the United Nations War Crimes Commission (United Nations War Crimes Commission 1948), this punishment itself was viewed by some as retrogression, in that it was punishment visited by conquerors on their captives.

Behavioral studies of captivity

During the twentieth century, and more particularly since the Nazi period, social scientists have produced an extensive and influential literature on behavior in situations of internment and custody in totalitarian countries. The greatest volume of this material, and perhaps the most influential, developed from the writings of involuntary participant observers in German concentration camps (Konzentrationslager, or KZ) during the period 1935–1945. While there have also been some important investigations of relatively more benign recent situations, such as that of Japanese Americans “relocated” (i.e., interned) during World War II (Leighton 1945; Grodzins 1956), and the more-or-less enforced confinement of displaced persons (DP’s) in camps in Europe after World War II (Murphy 1955), the greatest attention has been given to the most extremely oppressive and deprivational episodes. In Europe, the continuity of interest in these matters was kept alive after World War II by accounts of political imprisonment and forced labor in the Soviet Union and other east European countries and the prolonged detention of war prisoners in the Soviet Union and China.

These latter writings on captivity in communist countries were closely linked to an earlier interest in what subsequently came to be called “brainwashing.” This interest was originally kindled during the Stalin era by accounts of victims of political purges as well as by the show trials of prominent communist figures and, lat, “war criminals.” The violently self-castigating “confessions” excited a great deal of scholarly speculation (e.g., Hinkle & Wolff 1956; Leites & Bernaut 1954). These events interested scholars both as instances of behavior under conditions of extreme deprivation and also as manifestations of the manipulatability of behavior.

Literature on the KZ’s and on Soviet political imprisonment provided perspectives from which the experiences of prisoners of the Chinese communists were interpreted. Special interest was engendered among American, Canadian, and British social scientists by the alarm registered in the government and the press regarding deaths and misbehavior among prisoners of war in Korea in 1950-1953 (Biderman 1963). In France, a parallel interest was occasioned by events surrounding French Union forces captured during the war in Indochina.

Moral loadings in studies of captivity

While moral indignation and the dramatic nature of oppressive captivity situations doubtless account for much of the attention such events have received from social scientists, they have also been of interest on purely scientific grounds. Exposing objects to extreme conditions is a basic technique of the sciences for determining their basic properties, and isolating objects from interacting elements with which they are always associated in “the natural state” is another such method. Moral limits on experimentation with humans restrict to a narrow range the environmental conditions that can be investigated in the laboratory. For much of our knowledge of human nature, we are consequently dependent upon “experiments of nature,” including those naturally occurring situations in which people are subjected to extremes beyond those which can be produced under controlled experimental conditions, or which isolate them from the environments in which they are usually observed.

Much of the interest in the scientific study of captivity situations involves a view of them as highly significant experiments of nature. However, this orientation is not far removed from folk wisdom regarding the significance of human behavior in crises. There is a close relationship between the meaning of such words as “trial” and “test” in scientific usage and the denotation of crises by these words in common speech. Folk wisdom regards crises as providing critical tests of the moral worth of an individual, as trials of his physical mettle, and as revealing his “true and fundamental nature.” Thus, however objective the approach has been, scientific writings on stressful captivity situations almost invariably have focused on aspects of behavior which have the same kinds of significance for human values.

Even investigations of the question of life and death among oppressed prisoners have less frequently been examinations of the physical limits of the viability of the human organism than quests for answers to questions with greater moral loadings. Depending on the writer’s outlook and the particular set of events studied, the implicit or explicit aim may be to account for what the observer regards as the remarkable perseverance of the human being through seemingly impossible hardships, for the seemingly mysterious “fatal surrender” to death in conditions apparently readily consistent with physical survival, for the determinants of the differential “fitness” or “worth” of persons that results in some surviving while others die, or for extraordinary loyalty or disloyalty to one’s country or cause.

Viewing the matter simply from the standpoint of the strategy of science—a standpoint which probably has little to do with determining these emphases—there are sound reasons for the preoccupation of these studies of prisoners with questions that have distinct value implications, or even moral ones. Many questions about the environmental requirements for the biological survival and normal functioning of the human organism can be answered by experimentation with other organisms having similar biological requirements and similar equipment for biological adaptation. There is some point, then, in the concentration on questions regarding the distinctively human aspects of behavior in these stressful situations. Many of these questions therefore can be directly classed as of this type: Through what range of conditions will a human being continue to display the characteristics of a person?

Physical deprivation is one aspect of the model of captivity that has been of central concern. From a social-psychological standpoint, however, the deprivational environment assumes special significance in the context of the peculiar captor–captive relationships with which we are concerned that are not present in other extremely deprivational situations, such as the aftermaths of natural disasters. The influence that captor personnel have on the prisoners’ definitions of the situation and the modes of adaptation open to them is a pervasive differentiating factor in captivity situations.

Popular images and normative definitions

Although the abstract doctrines treated in legalhistorical discussions have affected the environment of the prisoner, the working concepts of the immediate participants in captivity situations (both captor and captive) derive to a greater degree from less formal sources, particularly mass media, folklore, and extrapolations from everyday experience. The most prevalent popular images are those relating to the inhumanity and barbarity of captors, notably those expressed in wartime atrocity propaganda and in heroic stories of prisoner defiance. The most highly developed of these traditions is the heroic escape (Hall 1954); resistance to interrogation is another frequently portrayed theme (Biderman 1960).

The cold war atmosphere has led to a decline of the image of the prisoner as merely “p>Expectations of captives. From quarantined” and has accentuated the view of the prisoner as still at war with the enemy. Military indoctrination has accentuated the theme of heroic resistance (Prugh 1956), and in the period since World War ii both popular and serious writings have increasingly viewed the challenges of captivity as “loyalty crises” (Biderman 1963; Grodzins 1956).

Expectations of captives. From the moment of capture, reality begins to temper the vague expectations and definitions with which the prisoner enters the situation. Since these are derived in the main from popular cultural materials emphasizing “human interest” and ideological values, they have little content that is pertinent to problems of coping with the stressful realities. Nonetheless, it is held that the closer these initial expectations accord to reality, the more successful is the prisoner’s adaptation. Deviations of expectations from the realities encountered have primarily been analyzed in terms of some facet of overoptimism or overpessimism (Cohen 1952; Curie 1947).

Physical privation in captivity

Stressful captivity situations have presented opportunities for the study of the effects on behavior of almost all varieties and degrees of deprivation, and of various combinations of the scarcity of some values and the plenitude of others. Relationships within the prisoner group, as well as those between the captors and the captives, affect the severity of the impact of physical deprivations on particular individuals and on the group as a whole (Hinkle’ Wolff 1957; Kogon 1946).

Accounts of captive populations have been used to demonstrate both the hardiness of the human constitution and its fragility. Some accounts stress the omnipotence of the “will to survive” (Bluhm 1948), and others emphasize the ease with which persons surrender themselves to death (Katz 1950). Survival is the most frequently applied criterion for judging success of prisoner adjustment in the extreme situation. Failure to survive is frequently interpreted by prisoners, captors, and other observers as indicative of the moral weakness of individuals or social groups. Examples are the discussions of survival and durable personal and group organization of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, a band of children, and some political groups (Kogon 1946) in German concentration camps. In the other direction, the contention that Jews tended to facilitate their own destruction has occasioned much speculation regarding Jewish culture and personality (Bettelheim 1963). The relatively high death rate of American prisoners of war in Korea as compared with that of Turks in the same situation gave rise to speculations about alleged weaknesses of American society at the close of the Korean War (Biderman 1963).

There have been many attempts to ascribe differences in death rates in given situations to differences in age, sex, precapture status, status in camp society, national origin, and mode of attempted adjustment (Bergman 1948). Even with high rates of death, however, poor data and situational variation make most such comparative interpretations tenuous, at best. Conflicting assertions have been ventured regarding the ability of various categories of persons and groups to survive oppressive captivity. In general, the most likely hypothesis asserts that, in the extreme situation, factors affecting the differential exposure to the hardships of captivity are the major source of patterned variance in death rates, rather than varying capacities to withstand these hardships. The most successful adaptational efforts, from the standpoint of survival, are usually those which provide the individual or group with extra measures of sustenance, shelter, and safety, as opposed to those which minimize the impact of a given degree of privation.

Behavioral effects of privation

Accounts of stressful captivity have been used to evaluate the effects of various physical privations on behavior. However, the combination of specific physiological reactions with subjective reactions, and their interaction, complicates the problem of evaluating the role of each (E. Cohen 1952; Hinkle 1961; Wolf & Ripley 1947). Many aspects of the behavior of prisoners in extreme situations have been interpreted as manifestations of regression; the most common interpretation is that if normal adult ways of gratification and coping are blocked, a person turns back to pleasure sources and defenses of the childhood period (Bluhm 1948). Analyses of behavior in privational circumstances frequently posit a conflict between “animal” needs and impulses and internalized social values and controls. The failure of prisoners to free themselves from inappropriate cultural standards and needs, on the one hand, and the failure of cultural restraints to govern the pursuit of primitive needs, on the other, are both given as interpretations of maladaptive behavior (Bettelheim 1960; Bloch 1947; Bluhm 1948).

Challenges set by privational circumstances and liberation from previous conflicts are advanced as explanations of frequent observations of a low incidence of neurotic disorders and suicides in privational captivity (E. Cohen 1952). However, some writers find that a pervasive disorder is associated with the confinement and deprivation experienced by prisoner populations; this is a pronounced state of apathy (e.g., see Greenson 1949). Extremely apathetic behavior has been observed in even relatively benign custody circumstances, such as among interned belligerents in Switzerland during World War I; the term “barbed-wire syndrome” was coined to describe this type of apathy. In the extreme situation, high fatalities have been ascribed to the apathetic response pattern. Various terms have been used by prisoners to refer to this pronounced apathetic state: “around the bends” during the U.S. Civil War (Goss 1866); “bamboo disease” among prisoners in the Philippines during World War ii (Katz 1946), “give-up-itis” in the Korean War (Biderman 1963), and “muslim” in German concentration camps (Kogon 1946). Somatic disorders associated with severe privation, rather than psychogenic causes, may account for many of these behavioral manifestations; Eitinger (1961) finds organic brain changes highly correlated with behavioral symptoms among former KZ inmates.

Adaptations to prisoner society

Many of the problems of custody can be ordered by examining those requisites of organized behavior which are initially missing in custody situations and the nonviability of much of the precustody cultural and personality repertoires of the captive. Adaptations of captives can be analyzed either in terms of the deculturation and desocialization of individuals and groups, or in terms of the reestablishment of these lost elements, innovation of substitutes for them, or compensations for their lack (Abel 1951; Bettelheim 1960; Bloch 1947).

A fundamental problem facing the captive is the working out of definitions of his new social and physical environment that will enable him to establish a viable position in relation to this environment. Conceptualizations of this process in terms of adult socialization and cultural innovation are applicable (Cressey & Krassowski 1957-1958). These problems are frequently compounded by the subjection of the prisoner to captors who are from a culture alien to him.

The form that prisoner organization can take is limited by the captor’s exploitative and control measures. The type of exploitation may be shaped by the special status the captive occupies in the society of the captor (as in the case of slave labor and domestic propaganda exploitation) or by the captive’s status in his own society (as in intelligence and external propaganda exploitation). The degree and nature of the captive’s exploitative value is also a major determinant of the conditions under which he lives. Captor control measures vary in the degree of autonomy they allow captive society and inmates. This can range from control of external relationships only, as in the case of some U.S. prisoner-of-war camps in World War II, to the semiautonomy allowed prisoner authorities in a Nazi concentration camp, to communist attempts at total control.

Accommodation and normative conflict

Continued interaction of captor and captive personnel tends to break down action that is initially based on formal, official, and stereotyped role models. Complex understandings and a normative structure develop at the levels of direct contact between captors and captives. These accommodations are essential for sustaining mutually necessary relationships, but they conflict with official norms concerning appropriate roles; thus tacit fictions and other mechanisms for coping with the conflict emerge. Moreover, these accommodations create pressures that conflict with internalized norms of political loyalty, the influence on behavior of remote reference groups, the enforcement of loyalty by prisoner groups, and the fear of reprisal after liberation.

Differences in personal characteristics have been found between prisoners whose adaptations to this conflict lean toward active involvement and those who respond in a passive, withdrawing fashion (Leighton 1945, pp. 263–265). While there is a wealth of clinical discussion of personality and background characteristics as determinants of the mode of adjustment of captives, this finding is the major observation of its kind that is based upon systematic, statistical evidence. Attempts to differentiate between American prisoners who collaborated with Chinese captors and those who resisted actively found that both categories resembled each other but that the men in both differed sharply from those whose records bore evidence of neither active collaboration nor resistance. The latter tended to have more apathetic, withdrawing personality features and histories.

The meaning of custody situations for the psychic and social existence of the captor has also been subject to some attention. Arendt (1951) and Bettelheim (1943), for example, regard the concentration camp as a necessary training ground for those who are to enforce inhuman standards in the society as a whole. Leighton (1945) has analyzed the irrational responses to stress on the part of internment camp authorities. Bettelheim (1960, p. 226) has shown the tendency of the persecutor to exaggerate his victim’s power.

Organization along military or quasi-military lines constitutes the usual basic or ideal model for the prisoner society. However, problems arising from scarcities (Radford 1945), relationships with the captor (Biderman 1963; Prugh 1956; Schein 1960), and isolation from control and reference groups of the country of origin (Lifton 1961) result in deviations from this form. Predatory forms of organization have developed frequently in conditions of acute scarcity. Conditions perceived as sub-marginal for survival make for a divisiveness that is surmounted by cohesive group-wide organization only where a consensus regarding supraindividual values provides the basis for the development of an authority system. Group-wide organization may be created on the basis of group survival and welfare (Vaughan 1949), heroic values such as escape and resistance (Hall 1954), and political goals (Schein 1960). The values forming the basis of elite legitimacy, the prison economy, and the captor interventions all affect the scope and form of captive organization (see Abel 1951; Kogon 1946; Leighton 1945; Radford 1945). Processes of social differentiation within the prison negate many status distinctions based on precapture statuses (Vaughan 1949). Modes of adaptation to privation constitute one major basis of social differentiation (Bettelheim 1943; Kogon 1946).

Psychological continuity and change

Adaptation to the stressful captivity situation is usually dependent upon a high degree of commitment to the immediate situation and thus involves discontinuities with previous identifications and motivations. In common with all “total institutions,” internment institutions employ a variety of “identity-stripping” mechanisms (Lifton 1961). The need for change experienced by the prisoner is dependent upon the degree to which roles are available for him within the prison society that have continuity with his precapture roles. High opportunity for continuity usually exists for certain professions (e.g., physicians, clergymen) and occupations (e.g., cooks), but not for others (e.g., attorneys). Moreover, certain religious, political, and military groupings with cohesive memberships can provide continuities of identity among their representatives in the prison situation. While there is, on the one hand, the need to change, on the other hand, “ideal adjustment” is described by some writers as dependent upon continued identification with “the outside” and resistance to pressures toward change and immersal in the prison milieu. Presumably, overemphasis upon either of these two directions of adjustment can be pathological. The failure to change makes the individual prone to succumb to the immediate physical and psychological stresses of the situation, and overimmersal in the immediate situation leads to eventual frustration and despair or to ego-alien behavior and violations of norms and expectations of the larger society (Bettelheim 1960; E. Cohen 1952; Katz 1950).

The conflict considered above has also been analyzed in terms of the need for maintaining “the integrity of the personality” (for example, see Beck & Godin 1951; Lifton 1961). In the literature on captivity, consciousness of this conflict on the part of prisoners provides many illustrations of individual concepts of “the essential self” Particularly in totalistic captivity situations, manipulative attempts by the captor create pressure toward ego-alien behavior and demands for change which are regarded by the individual as threatening the integrity of the self, or his “ego-identity” (Lifton 1961; Schein et al. 1961). Concepts of “breakdown” and “breaking point”—;abrupt and extensive behavioral disorganization from excess stress—have played important roles both as explanations of behavior and as models that are acted upon by persons involved in captivity stresses.

The intensity of the conflicts experienced by prisoners creates problems of psychological defense against anxiety, fear, shame, and guilt. Various aspects of behavior are frequently explained as arising from both universal and idiosyncratic mechanisms of defense against these reactions. The observation that many concentration camp inmates emulated their captors in dress, language, and demeanor suggests the relevance of “identification with the aggressor” as describing a frequent defense mechanism of the captive. Since Bettelheim’s use of this concept (1943), which was first developed by Anna Freud (1936), it has been widely employed to account for the behavior of persons in oppressive custody. The regressive consequences of captivity situations facilitate the adoption of this childlike means of neutralizing a threat by incorporating its source. Former prisoners have also discussed deliberate devices they employed to control and manage their own responses to the stresses they experienced, so as to avoid irrational, self-destructive, or guilt-provoking behavior.

Postcaptivity problems

Some traumata of stressful captivity are found to have lasting effects; in general, rates of morbidity and mortality are much higher among former prisoners than among other comparable populations (Cohen & Cooper 1954; Curie 1947). More ambiguous, however, is evidence regarding the extent to which traumatization affects the ability of former captives to assume normal social roles. The persistence after release of the “withdrawal” reactions and “psychological hardening” characteristic of prisoners in extreme situations has also been the subject of study. One hypothesis asserts that when the pressures of the captivity situation are removed, the intense conflicts hitherto repressed emerge, with a consequent increase in psychological disorder over that characteristic of the internment situation itself (Greenson 1949; Shuval 1957-1958).

Official institutions and primary groups to which the prisoner must relate have definitions and conceptions of the captivity situation and of the former prisoner that differ from those which formed the basis of his own action in the situation. The former prisoner confronts an initial problem of reevaluating his captivity experiences and himself from the “back-home” perspectives, both those of official institutions and those of individuals and groups to whom he must relate. Former prisoners are frequently subjects of intense scrutiny and special treatment by others because of assumptions that they may have been heroes or traitors or have been deranged by their experiences; thus, a given individual sometimes has to cope in succession with persons who define him in a variety of ways (Biderman 1963; Lifton 1961).

The former prisoner must reassume positions in groups and institutions, such as the family and his occupational group, that have been changing significantly during his absence. Normal social life is dependent upon the motivation and control of behavior by values that may be abandoned as part of adaptation to stressful captivity. Bodies of experience exist in organized programs for the resocialization and “social reconnection” of former prisoners (Curie 1947). During the early 1960s, the long-range effects of imprisonment and deportation have been given extensive consideration in multidisciplinary scientific conferences of the World Veterans Federation and the International Confederation of Ex-Prisoners of War.

Albert D. Biderman

[Directly related is the entryBrainwashing. Other relevant material may be found in Mental disorders, treatment of, article onthe therapeutic community; Segregation; Slavery; War.]


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