This is a stillborn project of mine I think would make a great Ph.D. in medical history and ethics. It surrounds “research” conducted at the Allan Memorial Institute in the 1950s and early 60s by Dr. D. Ewen Cameron. Cameron, a psychiatrist and archetypal patriarch, was testing therapies involving drugs and sensory deprivation on a small patient group consisting largely of depressed women culled from the Montreal suburbs, many of them humble housewives. I can only imagine what a scholar steeped in the likes of Betty Friedan and the anti-modern industrial society slant of early 60s feminism could do with that angle of the story. The aspect of it which most interested me, however, was the connection Cameron had to the larger world — his research was partly funded, for example, by the CIA’s MK-ULTRA project. The MK-ULTRA link to this tragic tale of misguided medical practice puts the idea of mind control into play. Ideas about medicine, the state and social control also figure into understanding what happened in that building up on Mount Royal.
The drug used in these experiments was lysurgic acid diethalymide (LSD) — acid, for the initiated. A powerful psychedelic, LSD combined with intense sensory deprivation and/or exposure to white noise was believed to have the potential, at least in Cameron’s mind, to “wipe clean” a “diseased” brain; hence the term “brainwashing.” The word “brainwashing” is actually quite recent, historically speaking, dating to a newspaper article written in the early 1950s about the possible threat to soldiers fighting in Korea who were captured by the enemy. John Frankenheimer’s The Manchurian Candidate (1962) made the concept iconic…
So, from a particular and contextual situation you could find yourself branching off into all sorts of promising and intriguing directions (some even of a positive slant, too, if you followed the LSD line along the psychedelic path to Leary and even Pinchbeck). To get budding researchers started, I’ve proposed a brief bibliography (with title!):
Brainwashed: The CIA, the Allan Memorial Institute and D. Ewen Cameron’s Mind Control Experiments.
D. Ewen Cameron, Objective and Experimental Psychiatry (New York: Macmillan, 1935).
Anne Collins, In the Sleep Room: The Story of the CIA Brainwashing Experiments in Canada (Toronto: Key Porter Books, 1997 ).
George Cooper, Opinion of George Cooper, Q.C., Regarding Canadian Government Funding of the Allan Memorial Institute in the 1950s and 1960s (Ottawa: Department of Justice, 1986).
____, Appendices to the Opinion of George Cooper, Q.C., Regarding Canadian Government Funding of the Allan Memorial Institute in the 1950s and 1960s (Ottawa: Department of Justice, 1986).
Robert A. Cleghorn, “The McGill Experience of Robert A. Cleghorn, MD: Recollections of D. Ewen Cameron,” Canadian Bulletin of Medical History 7 (1990): 53-76.
Don Gilmour, I Swear By Apollo: Dr. Ewen Cameron and the CIA-Brainwashing Experiments (Montreal: Eden Press, 1987).
J.D.M. Griffin, “Cameron’s Search for a Cure,” Canadian Bulletin of Medical History 8 (1991): 121-26.
John D. Marks, The Search for the “Manchurian Candidate” (New York: Times Books, 1979).
David Seed, Brainwashing: The Fictions of Mind Control: A Study of Novels and Films Since World War II (Kent, OH: The Kent State University Press, 2004).
Gordon Thomas, Journey Into Madness (London: Bantam, 1988).
Harvey Weinstein, A Father, A Son and the CIA (Toronto: James Lorimer, 1988).
____, Psychiatry and the CIA: Victims of Mind Control (Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Press, 1990).
You could do pretty well for a start with this info…It’s mostly history of medicine, but there’s a cultural studies take that’s really good (Seed) and the definitive journalistic treatment, Anne Collins’ In the Sleep Room, is here. No non-fiction book that I could find has ever used the title “brainwashed”, so that’s a keeper. I even have a few notes from the foreword to Harvey Weinstein’s Psychiatry and the CIA by psychiatrist and medical historian Robert Jay Lifton, who writes that:
Cameron “was one of the world’s most prominent psychiatrists at the time, and his professional corruption was associated with claims of scientific omnipotence, an alliance with cold war intelligence operations, and a quest for personal glory.” (ix).
Discussing mind control, Lifton advances the intriguing idea of “ideological totalism.” (x).
He further notes the irony that “Cameron tended to connect his interest in behavior control with the combating of Nazi-like tendencies in people.” (x).
Lifton also outlines “…a series of general principles that tended to prevail in a thought-reform – like environment anywhere – those of milieu control, mystical manipulation, the demand for purity, the cult of confession, the sacred silence, loading the language, doctrine over person, and the dispensing of existence.” (xi).
Cameron’s research is seen by Lifton as an expression of scientism and “the belief in the omnipotence of scientific knowledge and techniques.” (xi).
Finally, he adds that “physicians are especially vulnerable to participation in destructive schemes associated with demagogic political forces. The Nazi doctors were the most extreme example, but there are others.” (xii).
You’d need to write the dissertation at McGill, or at least use the library there for research. But the university, or really any university, would likely dissuade you from pursuing the topic. Why? Well, for the most prosaic reason of all, of course — records, documents and evidence. Most (essentially all) of what has already been said here is a matter of public record, but if you were to delve further into this line of inquiry, you’d hit a dead end of missing or destroyed documentation (let’s face it, the CIA turned paper shredding into an art form long ago). This is the great disappointment of the historian — when the record falls silent the story is just getting interesting. Beyond lies the realm of fiction.
OK, so maybe not a dissertation, but how about a novel?
This is an important piece of 20th century history, is poorly known, and should be remembered…whether as fact or as myth. Anyway, these days, what’s the difference…