!! History Commons Alert, Exciting News

Profile: Sherwood F. Moran

Sherwood F. Moran was a participant or observer in the following events:

Sherwood F. Moran (right) interrogating a Japanese prisoner during the battle of Guadalcanal.Sherwood F. Moran (right) interrogating a Japanese prisoner during the battle of Guadalcanal. [Source: Associated Press]Marine interrogator Major Sherwood F. Moran writes an informal memo for use by other interrogators. Moran is a legendary figure among Marines, renowned for his ability to coax information from the most reluctant or resistant Japanese captive, even during the height of battle, and often using his knowledge of, and respect for, Japanese culture to his advantage. His memo will remain relatively unknown outside the Marine Corps until the summer of 2003, when it will be included in the archives of the Marine Corps Interrogator Translator Teams Association. The memo, titled “Suggestions for Japanese Interpreters Based on Work in the Field,” is remarkable for its insistence that treating prisoners with humanity and respect works far better than “harsh” interrogation methods. Author Ulrich Straus, an expert on Japanese POWs held in US captivity during World War II, will later write that Moran “was a particularly effective interrogator because he treated each prisoner as another human rather than as the enemy.” In 2005, after the Abu Ghraib scandals become media fodder, military historian Stephen Budiansky will write: “Six months before the abuses at Abu Ghraib prison broke into public view, a small and fairly obscure private association of United States Marine Corps members posted on its Web site a document on how to get enemy POWs to talk. The document described a situation very similar to the one the United States faces in the insurgencies in Iraq and Afghanistan: a fanatical and implacable enemy, intense pressure to achieve quick results, a brutal war in which the old rules no longer seem to apply.… Moran, the report’s author, noted that despite the complexities and difficulties of dealing with an enemy from such a hostile and alien culture, some American interrogators consistently managed to extract useful information from prisoners. The successful interrogators all had one thing in common in the way they approached their subjects. They were nice to them. Moran was writing in 1943, and he was describing his own, already legendary methods of interrogating Japanese prisoners of war. More than a half century later his report remains something of a cult classic for military interrogators.” [David R. Moran, 2005]
Human-to-Human Attitude - Moran writes that the best interrogators (whom he says should consider themselves “interviewers”) become “wooers” of their captives, coaxing information rather than attempting to force confessions. Most important, Moran writes, is the interrogator’s attitude towards his prisoner. “Many people, I suppose, would on first thought think ‘attitude’ had nothing to do with it; that all one needs is a knowledge of the language, then shoot out questions, and expect and demand a reply,” he writes. “Of course that is a very unthinking and naive point of view.” Just as important, Moran writes, is a sympathy and understanding of the captive’s culture. A superior or demeaning attitude breeds nothing but antagonism and resistance.
Speaking the Language of the Captive - Almost as important, Moran notes, is the interrogator’s ability to speak directly to the captive in his own language, without the need for translators. An interrogator should speak the language fluently and idiomatically, or, when that is not possible, to at least have some command over common phrases. “After all, the first and most important victory for the interviewer to try to achieve is to get into the mind and into the heart of the person being interviewed,” he writes.
Hidden System - Fellow feelings and warm sympathy towards the captive are necessary, but not the entire package. While the captive, or an outside observer, might believe that the interrogator is merely indulging in friendly chit-chat, the interrogator must have an agenda and a plan in place at all times. “[I]n the workings of your mind you must be a model of system,” Moran says. “You must know exactly what information you want, and come back to it repeatedly. Don’t let your warm human interest, your genuine interest in the prisoner, cause you to be sidetracked by him! You should be hard-boiled but not half-baked. Deep human sympathy can go with a business-like, systematic, and ruthlessly persistent approach.”
Short-Circuiting Patriotic Defensiveness - To emphasize that your side, your nation, or your culture is superior—in essence, the “conquerors” of the captive’s military or his nation—is counterproductive, Moran writes. “To emphasize that we are enemies, to emphasize that he is in the presence of his conqueror, etc., puts him psychologically in the position of being on the defensive, and that because he is talking to a most-patient enemy and conqueror he has no right and desire to tell anything,” he writes.
Breaking Recalcitrant Prisoners - Sometimes even the best interrogators come up against recalcitrant prisoners who flatly refuse, for patriotic reasons or what Moran calls “conscientious scruples,” to give any information. In these cases, Moran writes, harsh or physical techniques of intelligence extraction are counterproductive. Instead, he writes, with his Japanese captives he is often able to shame the prisoner into cooperating. Reminding the captive that he has been treated humanely, has been treated with kindness and courtesy, implies a quid pro quo—not the threat of having this treatment withdrawn if cooperation is not forthcoming, but a matter of the captive returning the interrogator’s courtesy with information. [Moran, 7/17/1943 pdf file]

Entity Tags: US Marine Corps, Ulrich Straus, Stephen Budiansky, Sherwood F. Moran, Marine Corps Interrogator Translator Teams Association

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

Ordering 

Time period


Email Updates

Receive weekly email updates summarizing what contributors have added to the History Commons database

 
Donate

Developing and maintaining this site is very labor intensive. If you find it useful, please give us a hand and donate what you can.
Donate Now

Volunteer

If you would like to help us with this effort, please contact us. We need help with programming (Java, JDO, mysql, and xml), design, networking, and publicity. If you want to contribute information to this site, click the register link at the top of the page, and start contributing.
Contact Us

Creative Commons License Except where otherwise noted, the textual content of each timeline is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike