Pulling the Strings: A Look at Brainwashing Throughout History

Essay by CorsicaUniversity, Bachelor'sA+, April 2004

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From silent movies to modern films, classic literature, to comic-books, the concept of mind control, or brainwashing is a theme that has been prevalent. Bram Stoker's Dracula has held the fascination of generations of readers and movie goers alike with his ability to bend the will of his victims with the power of his compelling gaze. In Stanley Kubrik's A Clock-Work Orange a futuristic society attempts to cure the violent tendencies of its criminals by subjecting them to painful stimuli while forcibly subjecting them to view repeated violent images. Frank Sinatra stars as a man conditioned by the Koreans through the utilization of hypnosis and drugs to be an unwitting political assassin in classic film The Manchurian Candidate. While popular novelist Dean Koontz' tales abound with insidious top secret experiments in brainwashing conducted by the CIA.

Despite the many instances, including the specific cases to be explored in this paper, in which there is compelling evidence to show that brainwashing techniques can and have been utilized with chillingly effective results, experts continue to disagree as to whether brainwashing is an authentic scientific phenomenon, or as much a fiction as the films and novels in which it is popularly portrayed.

The majority view--holding brainwashing to be little more than science fiction-- is manifested in the fact that the assertion that one was being mentally controlled or coerced by another generally fails as a defense to criminal charges. This is most notably observed in the cases against Patty Hearst, the Manson accomplices, and those who participated in the atrocities committed in the name of the Third Reich's "Final Solution" during World War II.

The argument can be made that although evidence of brainwashing was quite convincing at least in the cases of Patricia Hearst--an heiress who was kidnapped and supposedly brainwashed...