The story of the hostage who comes by turns to identify with the captor is one of the oldest ever told. Tales of unsullied Puritan maidens kidnapped by Indians only to end up “going native” were staples of early American literature. The Captivity and Restoration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson, which describes the ordeal of a minister’s wife held for eleven weeks by Narragansett Indians during King Philip’s War in 1676, was among the first such narratives, and it was enormously popular when it was published in Boston in 1682. Three hundred years later, a similar story seized the West’s imagination: in Stockholm in 1973, after four customers were taken hostage in a holdup of the Sveriges Kreditbank, there were reports that one of them became affianced to one of the bank robbers. The archetype is of such sturdy provenance, in fact, that it surprised me to learn from William Graebner’s Patty’s Got a Gun that it wasn’t until six years after the Kreditbank incident that the term “Stockholm syndrome” appeared in the American mass media. The phrase first surfaced in 1979, Graebner explains, “when Time magazine suggested that the syndrome might have taken hold among those being held hostage by Iranian militants in Tehran.” Perhaps the obsession with the notion of a loss of self under conditions of duress is so primal, so elemental of modern anxieties, that people feared to give it a proper name. Until, that is, the 1970s–a time so drenched in the detritus of captivity that the culture suddenly could not do without the shorthand.
more from The Nation here.