Memories Of Wars Never Fought

New York Times/June 28, 1998
By Joe Sharkey

A blockbuster of a story launched a highly touted television program. But its central allegation was largely based on a disputed interviewing technique involving recovered memories that the American Psychiatric Association has condemned.

Recovered memories -- suppressed horrors dredged up under therapy -- drew attention a few years ago 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.

Some critics assert that may be the case in a disputed report alleging that American soldiers used nerve gas in the Vietnam War...

The report by the veteran CNN war correspondent Peter Arnett and a producer, April Oliver, who did most of the reporting, was broadcast June 7 and appeared the next day in Time magazine. As a result of the report, the Pentagon began an investigation....

Neither the program nor the 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.

"Recovering a false memory as a war atrocity is not as unusual as you might think," said 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.


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