Read The Truth Machine Online

Authors: Geoffrey C. Bunn

The Truth Machine (30 page)

Although Marston made a transition from professional academician in the 1920s to earnest populist in the 1930s, he maintained his faith in psychology as a liberating force for good throughout his life. It was a vision he might have acquired from his mentor. Hugo Münsterberg had not been averse to courting public controversy by involving himself in social and political causes. Nor had he been dissuaded from writing mass circulation popular psychology articles by condescending colleagues who dismissed them as “yellow psychology.”
Münsterberg had a broad spectrum of philosophical and psychological interests, but it was the psychology of deception that his undergraduate
student found most fascinating. Many years after Münsterberg's death, and in a dubious tribute, his student recalled the Oedipal moment when he confronted his mentor with his new theory of deception: “I had been working on the Jung reaction-time test, I remember, and I was in despair,” Marston recalled. But he had a “half-baked idea” that would nevertheless “mean a new theory of deception”: “‘I've watched my subjects carefully. When they lie they seem to put more effort, more dominance or self-assertion into their story. That increased effort which, if I am right, is called forth by the act of lying, ought to make the heart beat harder. And if the heart beats more strongly then the blood pressure must go up.'” Münsterberg apparently dismissed the idea at first, saying it was very theoretical.

In 1941 Marston created
Wonder Woman
, “a feminine character with all the strength of a Superman plus all the allure of a good and beautiful woman.”
He provided her with a lie detector of her own—a “Golden Lasso of Truth.” The character first appeared in the November 1941 issue of
All-Star Comics.
The following summer she starred in her own title, and by the end of the year was appearing in four different comics.
She was immensely popular. By the third issue alone, the comic book was selling half a million copies.
As with his popular psychology, so with his super heroine, Marston structured Wonder Woman's moral universe with the categories of dominance and submission. She was constantly being chained, imprisoned, tied up, handcuffed, and blindfolded.
While such plot devices allowed her author to construct entertaining situations to challenge her ability and ingenuity, they also rendered visible his deeply-held philosophy of freedom. It was a philosophy that had initially originated during his early work with the lie detector.

By the late 1930s, Marston had become a well-known public figure. Two factors were responsible for this. First, his theoretical ideas about the “primary emotions” of dominance and submission were perfect for discussing sex.
Dominance and submission were loaded with sexual meaning, but they were also sufficiently flexible to be used to interpret a wide variety of social and political situations, such as crime or military aggression. Armed with such a philosophy, he found making the transition from academician to populist relatively straightforward. That he had an extroverted personality and was adept at dealing with the media also helped. Second, Marston was an enthusiastic advocate of the lie detector. In 1938, for example, he appeared in a series of advertisements in
magazine for Gillette razor blades with the instrument. “Lie Detector ‘Tells All,'” announced the advertisement's mock headline, “Reveals Startling Facts About Razor Blades!”
The accompanying
photograph showed Marston reading a lie detector chart from one of three men who were busy shaving. Non-Gillette blades evidently produced “emotional disturbances” in the subjects: “9 out of 10 men tested by Mr. Marston express preference for Gillette blades.”

Marston refrained from publishing a book about the lie detector until 1938, even though he claimed to have discovered the principle upon which it was based in 1915. There was no mention of the lie detector or deception tests in his major work
Integrative Psychology,
and his
Emotions of Normal People
only discussed the deception tests in the context of “Abnormal Emotions.” In fact, his academic work had virtually ignored the lie detector. By the late 1930s, however, Marston had become a public personality through his newspaper and magazine columns, popular psychology books, and radio appearances. A captivating character, by 1938 he had successfully established himself as a psychologist in the public sphere. Only when Marston became a writer of popular psychology did the lie detector come to play a greater role in his career.

The Lie Detector Test
(1938) was less a professional training manual (as John Larson's 1932
Lying and Its Detection
had attempted to be), as it was a collection of extraordinary claims and sensational anecdotes.
About the Lindbergh baby abduction and murder case, for example, Marston hoped to find “a living human being whose mind contains information about the Lindbergh kidnapping. If such a person exists, his secret knowledge can be read like print by the lie detector.”
Only someone with Marston's arrogant exuberance could have opened a book by praising the Divine's scientific acumen in the Garden of Eden: “God's method was wholly scientific. He observed the suspects' behavior and reasoned logically that this behavior was an outward, visible expression of hidden emotions and ideas of guilt which the man and woman were attempting to conceal. This is the true principle of lie detecting. From that first successful lie detection at the dawn of human history to the discovery of the blood-pressure test for deception in the Harvard Psychological Laboratory, A.D. 1915, millions of human beings have attempted in thousands of different ways to apply this detection principle to specific cases of deception.”
The “discovery” of the systolic blood pressure deception test in “A.D. 1915” finally ended “the 6000-year search for a truth test.”

Given his ambitions for the lie detector, it was no wonder that Marston invested its discovery with such portentous significance. Crime had reached epidemic proportions by the mid-1930s according to him, and it was costing the nation a quarter of its annual national income.
Nevertheless, there was a
simple solution to this complex problem: “The deception test, or ‘Lie Detector' as it has come to be called, is not to be regarded as one more tool in the police kit for making routine detective procedure a little more effective … the Lie Detector goes to the heart of the situation. It is a psychological medicine, if you like, which will cure crime itself when properly administered.”
The root cause of crime was psychological. Because the essence of criminal nature was the power to deceive and the habit of deception, the purpose of lie detector was to “break down all the habits of lying and build up instead mental habits of telling the truth.” “The ultimate use of the Lie Detector”—“a kind of psychological X-ray capable of destroying the cancer of crookedness wherever it takes root”—was not for crime detection but for crime elimination: “For criminal investigators the Lie Detector supplies a master key capable of unlocking that vast storehouse of secret information, the human mind, hitherto impregnably protected by an invulnerable wall of deception.”

“It is a psychological medicine,” Marston said of his deception test, “which will cure crime itself when properly administered.” Frontispiece to William Moulton Marston,
The Lie Detector Test
(New York: Richard R. Smith, 1938).

Not only was it an efficient servant for prosecutors, police, and taxpayers alike, but the instrument could also assist with solving marital problems. “Only the
can bring about a real emotional adjustment,” Marston wrote. “Deception always destroys love and happiness even though the lie be told
from the finest of motives.” Problem children could be adjusted by testing their parents with the machine. Such a case was that of one Bobbie K., a troublesome six year old. The child had temper tantrums, was unruly at school, disobeyed his parents, and frequently ran away from home. The boy's mother was undoubtedly over-indulgent, Marston reported. “But Mr. K. made up for that by sterner disciplines including occasional spankings which were the only punishments that seemed to have any effect on Bobby.” The psychologist thought that there might be some fundamental emotional conflict in the home, “reflecting itself in the child's behavior as parental disturbances always do.” Both parents, however, denied having serious marital quarrels and professed ardent love for each other and for their child. Having persuaded him to submit to a lie detector test, Marston discovered that the father resented the boy as a barrier between himself and his wife in their hitherto passionate relationship. “I forced the father to acknowledge the truth. I did this as brutally as possible and the truth shocked him into adjustment.” Fourteen months later, Marston reported, the child's behavior began to improve, the parental re-adjustments considered a success.

Looking to the future, Marston envisaged three possibilities for the lie detector: in politics, in marital and domestic affairs, and in supplying a motive for moral education. “Suppose every candidate for public office had to take a Lie Detector examination on his past record before his name went on the ballot,” he suggested. “Suppose every District Attorney had to take a test every six months, as bank officers do where the deception test system is in operation. Suppose governors, mayors, and lesser political office holders had to submit to Lie Detector examinations periodically concerning their use of the tax-payers' money and their own personal contacts with racketeers, known criminals who somehow had always escaped prosecution, and other notorious representatives of predatory interests and the underworld. Suppose the results of these tests were made public automatically, by law.”
Marston was advocating nothing less than a complete interweaving of the social fabric by the lie detector.

For Marston, the instrument was a means to an end; for Leonarde Keeler it was an end in itself. With no adjunct psychological project to promote, Keeler was devoted to developing scientific lie detection throughout his life. If any one person could be held responsible for furthering its cause in the United States, it was he. Keeler had come from a family that had been very much part of the Berkeley artistic and legal establishment. His father, Charles Augustus Keeler, was an eminent man in his own right, a civic leader, and writer of poetry
and popular books. In 1909 he embarked upon a three-year world lecture tour when his son was six years old. At some point prior to the First World War, he arranged for Leonarde to live with the family of the daughter of Frederick Adams, judge of the Supreme Court of New Jersey. An important and well connected man, Keeler Senior was Director of the Berkeley Chamber of Commerce during the 1920s, and by the early 1930s he had turned to writing scripts for radio plays, committed to producing one a week.
Following his father's example, the young Leonarde gave radio talks, on one occasion on the subject of rattlesnakes, becoming an “instant celebrity” his sister later recalled.

August Vollmer, chief of the Berkeley Police Department since 1909, was a family friend of the Keelers. When Vollmer was but a mailman, Leonarde would ride around Berkeley in the basket of Vollmer's bicycle. It was through Vollmer that the young Leonarde became involved in criminology. Vollmer regarded Keeler “with the affection that a father would a son,” and he was an important influence on Keeler throughout his life.
A knowledge of Vollmer's professional project is crucial for understanding Keeler's subsequent career.

August Vollmer has been described as one of the most significant figures in the history of American law enforcement.
Influenced by his extensive knowledge of European criminology, Vollmer set about first modernizing the Berkeley department, and later the nation's police.
His goal was to create a professional and committed body of law enforcers. Such a program required not only the recruitment and training of highly motivated and intelligent officers, it also needed a supportive bureaucracy of centralized and efficient record keeping. Vollmer established the first formal training for officers and the first crime laboratory, employing intelligence and psychological selection tests. He introduced the modus operandi method of crime analysis, and, in 1925, set up a Crime Prevention Division, recruiting the first social worker to an American police force.

Since the beginning of the twentieth century, rehabilitation had replaced punishment as the ambition of criminological reformers. By advocating a social work function for the police, Vollmer was in line with the latest progressive thinking, as the title of his 1919 article for the
National Police Journal
evidenced: “The Policeman as a Social Worker.”
Not only would the policeman be an effective crime fighter, but he would also attend to the processes of crime prevention through his personal dealings with the community. To this end, he introduced a number of innovations such as employing
policewomen, attending to juvenile crime, and prohibiting the use of violence against suspects—the so-called third-degree. Courses in abnormal and criminal psychology became mandatory for trainee officers, taught by faculty members from the University of California. One officer recruited from the university succinctly summed up the new role when he asserted that “you're almost a father-confessor; you're to listen to people, you're to advise them.”

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