[ Editor’s note: Since epidemics and wildfires occupy the news now, it seems like a good moment to revisit a VT Classic by Paul Fitzgerald and Elizabeth Gould-Fitzgerald as they take us back to the years when military intelligence influenced the music of the anti-war movement, more covertly. In case anyone missed the 1960s… ]
“Of course the people don’t want war. But after all, it’s the leaders of the country who determine the policy, and it’s always a simple matter to drag the people along whether it’s a democracy, a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism, and exposing the country to greater danger. It works the same way in any country.” — Hermann Goering, Nazi Reichsmarshall, Luftwaffe-Chief and founder of the Gestapo, at the Nuremberg trials
– First published 6 December 2018 –
by Paul Fitzgerald and Elizabeth Gould
The CIA and the 1960s West Coast Music Scene
We had written an article about mind control that included the role of a top-secret CIA research project known as Project MK-ULTRA. MK-ULTRA operated from the early 1950s through the 1960s by using Americans, (without their consent) as guinea pigs in an illicit research project to alter mental states and brain function.
The project remained secret for two decades until 1975 when the Church Committee Hearings revealed the CIA’s illegal activities. We knew that MK-ULTRA was involved in experiments in sensory deprivation and sexual abuse. But what really got our attention back then was the confirmation that MK-ULTRA had infiltrated the New Age anti-Vietnam War Movement to undermine its legitimacy which included the widespread distribution of psychedelic drugs.
As teenagers growing up in the 1960s, the San Francisco and Laurel Canyon music scenes and the antiwar movement were synonymous. A new age was dawning and our generation wanted to believe that we could keep war from becoming part of it. What we didn’t know until recently was how much influence military intelligence and the CIA had in forming what we believed was an organic outgrowth of popular sentiment.
The Laurel Canyon Connection
Before bands such as The Mothers of Invention, The Byrds, The Mamas and The Papas and The Doors became famous; the songwriters, musicians and singers who would form those bands flocked from all over North America to Laurel Canyon. What was strange about this sudden migration of musical talent to Laurel Canyon was the absence of a music industry in the area at the time.
What it did have though was Vito Paulekas and the Freaks; a regular feature of the Sunset Boulevard Club scene starting in 1964. Paulekas became well known for supplying a corps of wildly frenzied dancers to stir up interest in the new Laurel Canyon bands and is credited with their early success. Having materialized a musical revolution out of thin air, he has also been credited as the inspiration for the Hippie movement, its fashion and its free love communal lifestyle.
Another oddity of the Laurel Canyon phenomenon was that a large percentage of the artists who arrived descended from America’s most influential ruling families, came with military or intelligence backgrounds or were somehow connected to high ranking military personnel or intelligence operatives.
One example of this unusual confluence of talent is Frank Zappa, (Mothers of Invention) who spent his youth at the Edgewood Arsenal Chemical Biological Center where his father worked as a chemical warfare specialist. It also happens that the Edgewood Arsenal was connected to MK-Ultra’s chemical mind control program.
Major Floyd Crosby, father of David Crosby (Crosby, Stills and Nash) was an Annapolis graduate and WWII military intelligence officer descended from a prominent New York elite founding family, the Van Rensselaers. Crosby’s mother’s family the Van Cortlandts started their American adventure in 1637.
And then there were The Doors. According to Wikipedia, keyboardist Ray Manzarek served in “the highly selective Army Security Agency as a prospective intelligence analyst in Okinawa and then Laos” in the run up to the Vietnam War. The Doors producer for their first five albums, Paul Rothchild also served a stint in the same elite Military Intelligence Corps in 1959.
When the Music’s Over Turn out the Lights
The most enigmatic of all, Jim Morrison, was the son of U.S. Navy Admiral George Morrison.
In August of 1964, U.S. warships, under Admiral Morrison’s command, claimed to have been attacked while patrolling Vietnam’s Tonkin Gulf. Although the claim was false, it resulted in the U.S. Congress passing the Tonkin Gulf Resolution, which provided the pretext for an immediate escalation of American involvement in the emerging Vietnam quagmire.
Morrison never spoke publicly of his father’s role in creating the “false flag” that was used to deceive the American people into accepting a war against Vietnam.
More intriguing still was Morrison’s apparent lack of interest in music until he suddenly transformed himself into one of the most glorified rock stars of all time!
Along with becoming the Door’s lead singer, Morrison also played a major role in forming the band’s identity.
He chose the band’s name from one of his favorite books, Aldous Huxley’s The Doors of Perception. It turns out that Huxley’s “doors” opened through the use of psychedelic drugs. Not so coincidentally it also happens that Huxley was a key player behind MK-Ultra as one of the original promoters of the use of psychedelic drugs for social control. In a letter to George Orwell in 1949 Huxley described their use as “more efficient…than prisons.”
As an avowed acolyte of the Greek god Dionysus and the Dionysian Mysteries – the most famous religious rites of ancient Greece – Morrison reveled in the use of drugs, drink and frenzied dancing. Morrison was so enamored of this Greek god he almost named the band after him, until settling on The Doors.
MKUltra’s objectives had much in common with the Dionysian Mysteries and with Jim Morrison’s philosophy of life who once said of his own behavior “I believe in a long, prolonged, derangement of the senses in order to obtain the unknown.” Morrison was also described by those who knew him as a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. The Doors Manager Paul Rothchild explained it this way, “You never knew whether Jim would show up as the erudite, poetic scholar or the kamikaze drunk.” Given his lineage, the question remains; was Jim Morrison in control of his own mind?
In view of current New Cold War plans to mount a full scale global war against China and Russia, Americans need to look back and reconsider the turning points that brought our country to this crossroads.
How did we as Americans come from being so much against war in Vietnam in the 1960s into preparing for a world war against just about everyone on the planet today?
Was the Laurel Canyon scene the only operation subtly sabotaging the legitimacy of the anti-war movement by co-opting its message?
Or was the CIA responsible for another popular piece of counter-culture showmanship intended to permanently wrap the anti-war movement and public dissent in a beaded cloak of freaked out hippies, communal sex and acid trips on LSD?
The 1950s and 60s saw the United States in direct competition with the Soviet Union not only for military superiority but also for the world’s hearts and minds. With an emphasis on “freedom of expression”, the Cultural Cold War waged by Washington embraced a broad swath of cultural activities that were intended to outshine anything done by its communist rival.
Given the nature of this cultural competition in literature, music and the arts, is it so surprising that the American intelligence community should have had a hand in the creation of uninhibited performance, free from the rules and strictures of the past? A successful psychological warfare campaign to break down traditional patterns of behavior would require a willingness to participate and the blueprint had already been laid out in 1953 by the CIA’s Psychological Strategy Board’s comprehensive doctrine for social control known as PSB D-33/2. With an emphasis on the strange and the avant-garde, the CIA began bringing artists, writers and musicians into what was known as its “Freedom Manifesto”.
The CIA would come to view the entire program, beginning with the 1950 Berlin conference, to be a landmark in the Cold War, not just for solidifying the CIA’s control over the non-communist left and the West’s “free” intellectuals, but for enabling the CIA to secretly disenfranchise Europeans and Americans from their own political culture in such a way they would never really know it.
As historian Christopher Lasch wrote in 1969 of the CIA’s secret co-optation of America’s non-communist left,
“The modern state … is an engine of propaganda, alternately manufacturing crises and claiming to be the only instrument that can effectively deal with them. This propaganda, in order to be successful, demands the cooperation of writers, teachers, and artists not as paid propagandists or state-censored time-servers but as ‘free’ intellectuals capable of policing their own jurisdictions and of enforcing acceptable standards of responsibility within the various intellectual professions.”
While declaring itself as an antidote to communist totalitarianism, one internal CIA critic of the program, PSB officer Charles Burton Marshall, viewed PSB D-33/2 itself as frighteningly totalitarian, interposing “a wide doctrinal system” that “accepts uniformity as a substitute for diversity,” embracing “all fields of human thought — all fields of intellectual interests, from anthropology and artistic creations to sociology and scientific methodology.” He concluded: “That is just about as totalitarian as one can get.”
The evidence that the birth of the psychedelic 1960s West Coast New Age music scene was guided by the invisible hand of military and intelligence operatives is well documented. But what about the American Tribal Love-Rock Musical HAIR that swept the world from its debut in 1968 after opening to rave reviews on Broadway?
We lived our personal experience with HAIR when we became a part of the Boston production in 1970 while college students. HAIR was on the front lines of the anti-war movement and we waved the banner every night for a year before sold-out audiences. To us, the Vietnam War was nothing more than what Daniel Ellsberg described as a neocolonial enterprise repeating France’s mistakes.
America’s Winter Soldiers applauded our efforts and joined us on stage to celebrate our right to dramatize the undoing of American society by the terror being inflicted on Southeast Asia. Boston’s old guard wanted the production shut down. The challenge went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. Their effort failed but in the end our victory was not what it appeared.
HAIR was a worldwide phenomenon with original casts in every major U.S. city and nineteen productions outside North America. Its main theme was strongly anti-war and was shared by the millions of Americans who watched and participated in it. Every HAIR cast was local to the city it performed in and established new standards for racial diversity unheard of at the time.
Almost 50 years on, we still receive letters from people whose lives were profoundly changed by the performance. HAIR made the war and its impact on human beings personal in ways that nothing else could. But that impact and the anti-war momentum it had accrued was soon lost, and within a short time channeled away from the universal peace we believed was possible.
Was HAIR’s popularity just a fluke; the beneficiary of some temporary anti-war fad?
Or was it part of a cultural cold war experiment to influence public opinion that succeeded beyond expectations and was then made to go away?
A post-Vietnam 1977 revival at the Biltmore Theatre where it had run for 1750 consecutive performances from 1968 to 1972 was attacked by the New York Times as “too far gone to be timely; too recently gone to be history or even nostalgia.”
With its antiwar message derided and dismissed as reminiscent of “something of the old battles re-fought quality of an American Legion reunion,” and with President Carter’s Russophobic National Security Advisor, Zbigniew Brzezinski taking over foreign and national security policy at the Carter White House, the new message was clear. The antiwar movement would not be coming to power in Washington in 1977 and never would be.
When the film version of HAIR by Czechoslovakian New Wave director Milos Forman was released in March of 1979 – completely rewritten and fundamentally detached from the original Broadway version – the show’s passionate and prominent anti-war theme was gone. With LBJ, Richard Nixon and Vietnam disposed of; the West’s endless war against Russia could be put back on the fast track.
By the time Ronald Reagan was elected president in 1980, the anti-Vietnam War movement had been reduced to a “Syndrome” and cured with an unprecedented World War II size defense budget that transformed the U.S. from a creditor to a debtor nation.
The earmarks of a PSB D-33/2 cultural operation are hidden in plain sight. HAIR may even have been used as a prototype for the so called color revolutions and Arab Springs that followed in the breakdown of the old Soviet bloc. Alongside authors Jim Rado and Jerry Ragni the celebrity arm of the non-communist left was well represented at our February 22, 1970 HAIR opening night in the presence of Peter, Paul and Mary’s Peter Yarrow and the Broadway show’s executive producer Bertrand Castelli; a member of Europe’s cultural cold war elite that hobnobbed with the likes of Jean Cocteau and Pablo Picasso.
Yarrow’s famous song, “Puff, the Magic Dragon” became the anthem of the pot smoking 60s hippie movement and whether by design or coincidence his Ukrainian born father Bernard was a charter member of the CIA’s European cultural front organization known as the National Committee for a Free Europe.
Having served during World War II in the OSS (with distinction) and after joining no less than Sullivan and Cromwell, the Dulles brothers‘ law firm, Bernard helped to found the CIA-funded Radio Free Europe and became its senior vice president.
Along with numerous members of the early 1960s music scene who wound up in Laurel Canyon, Peter Yarrow played an early and active role in the civil rights and peace movements. He even acted as referee between the Old Left’s Pete Seeger and the New Left at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival when Bob Dylan decided to move from “folk” music to rock and roll.
In a famous confrontation over what many considered Dylan’s sellout, Seeger threatened sound engineer and future Doors’ Manager Paul Rothchild that he would cut the cable with an axe if he didn’t turn off “that” distortion; but the distortion stayed.
Following Vietnam, Yarrow transferred his antiwar activism to the issue of Soviet Jewry and their emigration to Israel – a major component of the rising neoconservative agenda. Through Yarrow’s leadership, by the 1980s the issue had become a key platform of the Reagan administration to use against any détente with the Soviet Union.
As for HAIR, stripped of its antiwar message, it was reduced to being the poster child of a 1960s debauched hedonism. Or as Bertrand Castelli, the executive producer of the original Broadway production labelled a revival in 2008, “It’s though everything in ‘Hair’ turned into a nightmare, …
“Everything that was joyful and harmless became dangerous and ugly.”
Everything must be rethought
Dangerous and ugly is not the way we remember our year-long experience with HAIR. Nuclear war and Vietnam were dangerous and ugly and in the intervening 50 years that danger and ugliness has returned to haunt us.
If HAIR was part of a top secret psychological warfare campaign to energize the youth of America and the world to political action in the pursuit of peace, flowers, freedom and happiness it succeeded. But if the ultimate objective of this Hobbesian campaign was to then crush that freedom and numb us to the growing danger of permanent war in a haze of disease, opioid addiction and suicide, it too has succeeded.
At the time, HAIR’s success helped us believe that we had changed our future for the better. The war ended, the troops came home and life resumed. But we now accept that as of 2018 that new age we sought was nothing more than an illusion.
War is Insane, Endless War is Suicide
President Eisenhower warned us what would happen if our country dedicated itself to war. War makes you mad. Endless war puts you in a hell of madness from which there is no escape. The madness of that war on the world has come full circle and is now in our schools, parks, bars and homes.
It was of course always there as part of our nature, but we have given in to it. We have given in to that part of our nature that should have matured and been processed but instead has remained aloof and separate from our humanity. That part of our nature has remained unlearned and untamed. We are the victims of our own design and therefore we can change it.
Through various means the CIA did succeed in redirecting the American peoples’ anti-war sentiment towards accepting permanent war (clearly illustrated by the longest war ever in American history in Afghanistan).
To paraphrase Hermann Goering’s 1946 observation:
People don’t want war, nobody does, but people can easily be brought to the bidding of their leaders by instilling fear or denouncing the pacifists for exposing the country to danger, no matter where or when and works the same way in any country.
Our only course is to step outside today’s war narrative and see where we are in the paradigm.
The false narratives that control our thinking will fall away as we replace them with the deep knowledge and acceptance of what we have actually lived through. As the past finally becomes prologue; we can imagine the genuine future we truly want and start to make it happen!
Copyright © 2018 Fitzgerald & Gould All rights reserved
Paul Fitzgerald and Elizabeth Gould are the authors of Invisible History: Afghanistan’s Untold Story, Crossing Zero The AfPak War at the Turning Point of American Empire and The Voice. Visit their websites at invisiblehistory and grailwerk.com