It's About More than Brainwashing . . .

Film We all know the moment in the great classic, The Manchurian Candidate. Korean War hero Raymond Shaw enters the convention hall disguised as a Catholic priest, climbs up to a hidden chamber and aims his rifle at the Presidential nominee. We believe him to be the brainwashed killing machine his mother and her Communist superiors have successfully created. After being captured in Korea, Soviet and Chinese military “scientifically” altered Shaw’s mind and turned him into a ‘sleeper’, a robot living in America that could be triggered by a deck of cards to do everything they wanted him to do, even murder. But their conspiracy finally fails: the U.S. military learns about the plot and is able to counter it by similar psychological methods. In the decisive moment, before he kills himself, Shaw does not shoot the person he is supposed to kill but instead fires at the Vice Presidential nominee and his wife – that is, at his mother and stepfather – and thus saves the country from Communist takeover.

Film The idea of ‘brainwashing’ was both frightening and fascinating at the same time. In different forms it resonated in many unexpected areas of daily life – in schools, in churches, in medical centers, on TV shows, and in the halls of Congress. The Manchurian Candidate, first the 1959 novel by Richard Condon, turned into the classic Hollywood political thrillers by John Frankenheimer in 1962, contains both the motivation and the argument of this website project. The site uncovers similar attempts at mind control; how they were successful or how they failed; how they were ‘scientifically’ constructed, but ultimately still rested on the contingent cultural settings of family, religion, or education. The Manchurian Candidate reminds us that, among many other things, the Cold War was also a ‘race for the mind’, a huge experiment in trying to control, shape, alter, manipulate, or liberate the minds of people.

This site explores and analyzes this aspect of the Cold War and demonstrates how complex these efforts were, how many different actors were involved in them (politics, the military, science, religion, medicine, but also writers, artist and ordinary people), how unstable and insecure their results sometimes were, and how these efforts and programs still influence our lives even today. They have created deep ruts in our social fabric. But sometimes they can only be seen clearly when we mark out their Traces.


What is a Trace?

A Trace can be many things . . .it may a visible mark left by the passage of a person or event. A Trace might be the vestige of a former presence – something once here but now long gone. A Trace can be the path laid out by others that provides a barely perceptible but still evident direction to follow. As we seek to capture the essence of the mind control project in the Cold War era and its long term effects, Traces that reveal; Traces that mark; and Traces that can still be seen in long buried historical paths provide the most illuminating framework.

We have provided a sampling here - eight of those Traces are laid out on this website. They each highlight a certain practice which proved essential to the idea of mind control in the Cold War period. The Traces on this site are: Teaching, Experimenting, Treating, Selling, Praying, Reforming, Brainwashing, and Sex. Each Trace provides the opportunity to see the link between past and present. The Traces reveal the connection between attempts at coercion and repression and their counters, successful efforts at rebellion and resistance. As the Traces reveal, these practices never worked in an isolated way. Persons, ideas, and methods circulated widely and constituted a dense cultural “mind control paradigm” during the Cold War years. The end of the Cold War in 1989 hardly signaled the conclusion to the Mind Control story. The Traces continue well into our own day. You can explore the Traces by exploring the Brain on the home page or navigating to each Trace through the menu on the top right of the page.