Some theorize a hypnotized assailant carried out the attack of multiple famous public figures and even believe such acts might occur while a separate mental suggestion could wipe the killer's memory leaving them a hapless pawn. It is wholly reasonable to support a person can be manipulated, lied to, and indoctrinated given enough time and isolation. If these actions were coupled with repeated negative psychological treatment, torture, or the use of drugs, a person's will can be drastically reduced or their memory can be permanently clouded. However, there is no scientifically proven way to render someone a programmed killer without any self-determination or memory despite the repeated public assertions it might occur. The erroneous modern concept of limitless mental control began decades ago with the assistance of government propaganda and resulting public speculations.
Many claims of mind control attribute rapid occurrences and not the extensive process some governments utilized relying on extensive mental or physical abuse. The related term brainwashing was "coined by a journalist named Edward Hunter, who had served in the Morale Operations section of the U.S. Office of Strategic Services during the Second World War." He spent most of "his time in Asia and became an outspoken anti-Communist" offering the concept of brainwashing to explain why Communism would appeal to a person rather than address less diabolical motivations. Hunter wrote the text "Brainwashing in Red China: The Calculated Destruction of Men's Minds" in nineteen fifty-one and states "brainwashing" is his translation of a Chinese term meaning a "cleansing of the mind". He asserts hearing the term during conversations with "Europeans who had been caught inside China in 1949, the year of Mao's revolution."
This idea had multiple variant definitions, "For Hunter-who turned out to be an agent of the CIA's propaganda wing-it was a mystical, Oriental practice that couldn't be understood or anticipated in the West...But for scientists who actually studied American POW's once they returned from Korea, brainwashing was altogether less mysterious...The men had been tortured."i However, the indoctrination methods condemned by Hunter confirm months and years in captivity might render someone willing to commit violence but days or weeks could only procure a speech or feigned submission to likely stop torture. The quick conversions required extensive mental or physical abuse in recorded cases and was not permanent but eventually ceased when the victim was outside a captor's influence. Claims that direct physical abuse can be quickly replaced with psychological methods for shorter periods are not supported by most verified data. "Had Chinese and Soviet Communist really uncovered a machine or method to rewrite men's minds and supplant their free will? The short answer is no-but that didn't stop the U.S. from pouring resources into combating it."ii
This spurred the Central Intelligence Agency to launch its attempt at mind control codenamed MKULTRA using "hallucinogens (like LSD) and biological manipulation...to see if brainwashing were possible. The research could then, theoretically, be used in both defensive and offensive programs against the Soviet Union. Project MKULTRA began in 1953 and continued in various forms for more than 10 years...The files revealed the experiments tested drugs (like LSD), sensory deprivation, hypnotism and electroshock on everyone from agency operatives to prostitutes, recovering drug addicts and prisoners-often without their consent." This intrinsic forced approach never produced actual brainwashing using aforementioned methods, what they did create were traumatized people.iii The more traumatized a person the more violent behavior is possible but increasing unpredictability reduces the benefit of using them for intelligence operations. The Agency of course attempted to destroy all records of these failed attempts to develop mind control due to the potential and later actual damage exposure rendered.iv
The United States Army issued a report in nineteen fifty-five regarding the indoctrination of prisoners of war, four thousand soldiers were interviewed and many had "underwent intensive indoctrination by Chinese Communists. The Chinese had carefully segregated the prisoners they identified as incorrigibles, sometimes housing them in separate camps, and had subjected the prisoners judged to be potential converts to five hours of indoctrination a day, in classes that combined propaganda by the instructors with 'confessions' by the prisoners. In some cases, physical torture accompanies the indoctrination, but in general the Chinese used the traditional methods of psychological coercion: repetition and humiliation over extended periods." Yet this subversion of a prisoner's will did not render a willing assassin and the more quickly suggestions diverged from a subject's normal behavior the more difficult further indoctrination became.
Though Communist's did mentally influence captured American troops during the Korean War, less exotic means than later imagined were employed. One captured American soldier who "delivered a radio speech consisting of North Korean propaganda" two days following his capture disturbed Western officials and such fears compounded after several imprisoned soldiers repeated the event on multiple occasions. By the conflict's end, estimates of troop collaboration numbered one in ten, twenty-one soldiers chose not to return to the United States, forty men had converted to Communism, "and fourteen were court-martialed" resulting in eleven convictions. The United States Army discovered that a shocking number of prisoners had, to one degree or another, succumbed."
Chinese agents used these methods to break the will of prisoners and it resulted in broken detainees signing false statements that were accepted by many internationally to be accurate. Extended mental torture could over larger periods of months and years traumatize someone into substantial complicity but not seemingly in the short term. The widely held public belief in brainwashing or mental control does not distinguish any reasonable limitations inferred by scientific evidence and study. The military's report would inspire a public obsession with the topic and media sources spread prisoner stories as the word brainwashing "became a synonym for any sort of effective persuasion". Some writers compared it to advertising and psychological treatments while a public mixing of verifiable political indoctrination, texts on Pavlovian classic conditioning, and comparisons to hypnotism combined in certain instances. Reported brainwashing alarmist Frederic Wertham even published a book named "The Seduction of the Innocent" denouncing the asserted subtle control that comic books wielded over American youth. All of these varying levels of fact and myth began to swirl into a muddy concept some would claim is reliable but lacks sufficient demonstrable examples of mind control. Despite the verifiable facts, the specter of mind control ironically hypnotizes several people limited only by their worst imaginings.
Scientific experts and inquiry reveals the vast majority of such mental conditioning has a limited duration and psychiatrist Robert Jay Lifton following his interview of returning prisoners of war "concluded that the indoctrination of prisoners was a long-term failure. All of the 'converts' eventually returned to the United States, and the former prisoners who had come home praising the good life to be had in North Korea soon reverted to American views." Seemingly, there were no permanent brainwashing methods beyond regular indoctrination augmented with additional environmental stress. The entire proven method does not result in total control but influencing a person to act as desired.
During nineteen fifty-nine, movie publicist Richard Condon wrote a piece of best-selling fiction titled "The Manchurian Candidate" that spurred a film of the same title to achieve minor cult status.v Condon's experience as a promotions man could partially explain the idea's endurance coupled with Cold War politics, pulp fiction, and prior more realistic circumstances. Richard Condon seemingly capitalized on the growing fear and paranoia regarding Communism during the Cold War by making vast assumptions regarding the powers of the Red Menace. Condon's addition to the already large mixture of factual and fictional details further clouded the issue publicly. The terms mind control; brainwashing, indoctrination, and hypnotic suggestion have now melded into a seemingly amorphous mass of ideas.
The central problem with claims of hypnotic or mental domination is they rely on depriving a person of complete will and assert being able to utterly wipe subsequent memories. Among the vital portions of successful hypnotism attempts is the participation of the subject, they must be willing to accept the proposed ideas and the subject must also develop an extended rapport with the person attempting hypnotism. Notably, there is not a single verifiable related instance of rendering a human being without the ability to resist unless physical force or extended suppressive methods are employed. Unlike the entertainment-based claims of stage hypnotism one might observe at state fairs or school assembly, the snap of someone's fingers and soothing words alone do not render effective hypnosis. Stage hypnosis can produce reactions on stage when employing a very suggestible volunteer or in less honest cases a planted actor. Consider that stage hypnotism occurs in front of audiences with the expectation of a performance, a participant's desire for becoming part of the spectacle, and in several instances does not initiate even minor hypnotic effects. One popular "stage hypnosis" show affirms, "Hypnotized people are NOT mindless automations subject to the bidding of the hypnotist. It's extremely difficult to get a hypnotized person to do anything against their moral principles."vi
One related psychological study offers, "Brainwashing theories serve the interests of those espousing them in a number of ways." Such ideas lacking most verifiable evidence can generate interest in the longstanding fascination people have with the human mind and its manipulation but are founded upon less than credible science. "The hard determinism approach assumes that human can be turned into robots through the application of sophisticated brainwashing techniques."vii The modern tendency of many to embrace determinism in brainwashing or mental conditioning via psychological techniques does not comport with reality. Some people are not easily susceptible to influencing methods such as indoctrination and most related experts recognize humans beings are "more complex entities" than some psychological brainwashing advocates might appreciate. Yet facts would not subsequently prevent one hypnotist from claiming that Lee Harvey Oswald, the alleged assassin of President Kennedy, might have been hypnotized by the Soviets.viii The effectiveness of past official propaganda to influence public ideas regarding exaggerated hypnotic powers becomes increasingly clear.
Later attempts to deprogram assertedly "brainwashed" people using methods that include hypnotism exposed not hypnotic methods but the will of the subject to change their behavior is the prevailing factor. At least one prior study of such attempts concluded the subject of cult deprogramming must desire to change their behavior just as they originally had for indoctrination based on mental or social influences. There is a proven voluntary element required to allow external influences to direct our actions, no person can be utterly deprived of all control to perform a series of complex tasks with hypnotism. Even the subject's expectation that hypnotism can be successful or future sessions will be helpful can influence the results demonstrating the voluntary nature possible success is based on.ix One professor studying related phenomenon notes that concepts of brainwashing similar to hypotheses on radicalization may obscure more than reveal factual circumstances. "Both terms could be a lazy way of refusing to inquire further into individual histories, inviting the assumption that the way people act can be known in advance."
A preposterous idea is that hypnotism can render someone temporarily into a violent person and then erase all memory of this transition and resulting acts. Professional hypnotism can increase chances of augmenting some behavior such as quitting smoking or enhancing pain relief via concentration techniques and relaxation but fifty-six academic studies on hypnosis confirm it does not assure changed or programmed behavior. Basic problems with hypnosis include lacking a set definition, techniques can vary based on practitioners or education, and no "common or standard intervention technique" can be assessed. One United States Health and Human Services study offers that independent review of nine different hypnotherapy studies "found insufficient evidence to support hypnosis as a treatment for smoking cessation." Hypnosis is not a reliable universal method to explain aberrant behaviors defying our expectations but can be used to assist invoking desired results similar to meditation. There is not enough verifiable data to prove it has any significant effect and if actions the subject desires to occur repeatedly fail, how more unlikely is the chance forced hypnotism might occur. Professor of Psychiatry at Northeastern Ohio Medical University and President of the American Society of Clinical Hypnosis Moshe Torem states, "Hypnosis is just a tool that helps in making what you're trying to do easier."x
The assassination of Senator Robert F. Kennedy presents scientific evidence and witness testimony that Sirhan Bishara Sirhan did not fire the shots killing Robert Kennedy, but he did fire several bullets into a small area full of people. He is not innocent of all guilt but he did not have the means to possess the alleged murder weapon until he was assisted. Nevertheless, some asserting hypnotism venture beyond the facts desiring to grant Sirhan utter innocence and claim he remembered nothing about the act because he was a mentally programmed assassin. They appear to consider him a later-day Manchurian candidate, as per the movie, yet there is no substantial evidence to support the idea despite the volume of those promoting it.
Sirhan's conscious decisions to self hypnotize effectively made him more susceptible to influence by outside forces and prone to irrational beliefs. It proves untenable to suggest that an emotionally traumatized, mentally injured, and unwilling subject committed involuntary violence in a short time contrary to his own morality. Even one of Sirhan's advocates Emile Zola Berman reveals hypnotism does not prevent a person from lying or having false memories based on associated scientific analysis that sets additional factual limits upon the assumed power of hypnotism.xi Despite this, advocates of hypnotic control deny Sirhan's willing participation in the attack but among the key elements for effective hypnosis is "relaxation" and this would largely preclude violent instructions unless the subject viewed them favorably.xii Additionally, due to a prior serious head injury Sirhan was an unpredictable subject at best, no deep scientific study of his injuries and to extent they affected his memory or behavior occurred at the time. While a temporary memory loss due is common following some forms of hypnosis, this not the extensive selective memory rewriting offered by proponents of mental control.
Evidence details the occurrence of at least one alleged criminal conspiracy officials suppressed between Sirhan and his brother Munir. Further witness statements affirm the realistic possibility of others being involved in guiding these events as well and repeated official actions to suppress and destroy evidence while discrediting contending accounts. However, none of those facts and legal statements requires mind control and similar unproven hypnotism assumptions to declare a conspiracy. Without substantial evidence that can survive psychological inspection and demonstrate these vast improbable claims in a legal setting, there is no justified reason to embrace them.
i. Lorraine Boissoneault, (May 22, 2017), The True Story of Brainwashing and How It Shaped America, Smithsonian Magazine, smithsonian.com
ii. Louis Menand, (September 15, 2003), Brainwashed : Where the Manchurian Candidate came from, New Yorker Magazine, newyorker.com
iii. Assassination Record Review Board, Files of Analyst Manuel Legaspi, MKULTRAT.WPD, June 22, 2017
iv. United States Senate Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with respect to Intelligence Activities, Miscellaneous Records, No Title, April 24, 1975, National Archives and Records Administration Identification Number: 157-10014-10218, pp. 5-7
v. L. Menand, Brainwashed
vi. Eric Kand, (n.d.), Myths about Hypnosis-Is Hypnotism Real?, Erik Kand Stage Hypnotist, hypnosisevents.com
vii. James T. Richardson, (December 10, 1999), A Social Psychological Critique of "Brainwashing" Claims about recruitment to new religions, Center for Studies on New Religions, censur.org
viii. President's Commission Document 121, FBI Wilson Report re: Oswald, Theory advanced that Russian trained Lee Harvey Oswald for Assassination of President Kennedy through Post Hypnotic Suggestion, December 6, 1963
ix. Mark P. Jensen, Tomonori Adachi, Catarina Tome-Pires, Jikwan Lee, Zubaidah Jamil Osman, and Jordi Miro, ( Janaury 1, 2016), Mechanisms of Hypnosis, United States Health and Human Services Department, National Institute of Health, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov, pp. 34-75
x. Luke O' Neil, (May 6, 2105), Can You Quit Smoking Through Hypnosis?, The Atlantic, theatlantic.com
xi. Supreme Court of California, People v. Sirhan Bishara Sirhan, Testimony of Emile Zola Berman, March 21, 1969, p. 6924
xii. Susan Krauss Whitbourne, (July 7, 2012), The How-Tos of Hypnosis, Psychology Today, psychologytoday.com
Micro Macro Mind Control