Science Behaving Badly V.
The Tragedy of Dr. D. Ewen Cameron
By Richard D. Flavin
Donald Ewen Cameron, M.D. (Albany Medical School, Research Professor).
Dr. D. Ewen Cameron (1901-1967) was an experimental psychiatrist who employed controversial techniques in attempts to fix or repair perceived mental defects in his patients. Cameron’s methods have achieved a degree of infamy, historians of science will undoubtedly continue to pursue a better understanding of his accomplishments, though beyond simple documentation, it remains to be asked, “What was he thinking?” Science and human nature are seldom as intimately coupled as they are with the tragedy of Cameron’s career and legacy and, I advance, establishing motive behind method should assist future investigations.
In our American legal system we hold that anyone accused of a crime is innocent until proven guilty. Mistakes, of course, are made occasionally on both sides of the court bench and it is a fact that sometimes the innocent are condemned and the guilty granted freedom. We qualify our sense of humanity by allowing for error. With Dr. D. Ewen Cameron and his “depatterning” (or “brainwashing”) method for treating schizophrenia and other neurological disorders, we confront profound mistakes in judgement complicated by years of inaccurate historical accounts. “What was he thinking?” is a question of due process and, as such, requires an answer.
Consensual reality acknowledges, indeed, encourages debate about human nature. Its ongoing definition currently holds that “debate” is a cornerstone in the foundation of our sentient structure–we are star-stuff moving between Cartesian loftiness and Joe the Plumber mundaneness. Dr. D. Ewen Cameron wrote textbooks, served as president of many psychiatric societies, was the first director of McGill University’s Allan Memorial Institute of Psychiatry, and is most often associated with his work on human memory. Such a legacy should not be casually tarnished and, with error and mistakes respectfully considered, Cameron’s own words and descriptions from both the beginning and end of his career should greatly help in answering the question, “What was he thinking?”
When Cameron wrote the 1948 article, “The Current Transition in the Conception of Science,” he already had the experience of several years of experimenting with insulin-induced hypoglycemic comas (Cleghorn 1990, pp. 56 & 59), procedures he at one time believed were effective for treating schizophrenia, though he lived long enough to see clinical studies in the early 1960s which suggested the comas had little or no therapeutic benefits. It is with such new and untested treatments that Cameron seized upon as his unique specialty and his 1948 article sought to establish how science should function with, “A number of men are now feeling confident enough to work in an open rather than a closed system. By an open system, I mean one in which there are no final facts, no unchanging truths, where everything is relative and conditional and, above all, fluid and plastic (Cameron 1948, p. 555).”
Later, in the same article, Cameron justified his radical methods by declaring, “We have the responsibility not only to create new tools and the new concepts but we also have a most serious duty to assist in finding means to destroy the old and the obstructionist (ibid, p. 558).”
Psychiatry in the 1940s was a young discipline and Cameron was undoubtedly eager to exploit the latest procedure, drug or therapy which might help those who were suffering. The popular Greek myth of Prometheus has long described the consequences of introducing a new technology, yet it is common to overlook Epimetheus, Prometheus’ brother and Titan whose name means “hindsight.” Of pertinence here, with regard to Cameron’s understanding of science, is his stated duty to “destroy the old and obstructionist,” by which he implied religion, superstition, and a determinist model of the universe (ibid, p. 554).
Cameron thus assumed the role of protagonist in a drama of his own creation with religion as the antagonist. His challenge that “...no man can with full effectiveness prosecute scientific studies of human behavior and at the same time maintain beliefs that behavior is subject to unpredictable transcendental control” may be regarded as a gauntlet tossed down in front of spirituality (ibid, p. 554).
A telling and explicit example of Cameron’s position is presented near the end of his 1948 article (ibid, p. 557) with, in a consideration of ‘memory’, “We can see at a glance in our fairy tales, in the folk stories of powerful figures, in our father-image myths, beliefs, and creeds. Many of the effects of this species insecurity are less immediately obvious. . . . . But we have an overpowering need to preserve our sense of identity, of fixity, in this rapidly changing world–hence, this illusion.” Dr. D. Ewen Cameron would thus appear to hold human memory and self-awareness as whimsical relics of recent evolution owing more to vanity than survival instincts. “What was he thinking?” could be answered here, though it would be premature and incorrect with only a general position article as a sample of Cameron’s motives.
A single tool is seldom sufficient, as mechanics and cooks know, and Cameron utilized several in his most difficult treatments. Rebecca Lemov, a teacher and historian of science has written that Cameron used “‘sleep’ drugs for around two months . . . intermittently ‘depatterning’ [his patients] ...with electroshock and frequent doses of LSD to eliminate past behavioral habits (Lemov 2005, p. 215).” Actually, Cameron went beyond merely removing “habits,” as the title of a recent BBC documentary reflects, he destroyed people’s memories (McWilliam 2005). Simply put, Cameron believed that he could better serve his patients by removing their memories and actualizing the theoretical concept of the tabula rasa or a “blank slate” and building their personalities anew. He attempted to heal, but instead caused much hurt.
Dr. Robert A. Cleghorn, who followed Cameron as director of McGill University’s Allan Memorial Institute of Psychiatry, has written about “depatterning” (Cleghorn 1990, 72) with: “One of his major endeavors, begun in the early 1950s, involved the use of analgesic sleep and repetitious use of ECT [electroconvulsive therapy-RDF]. Sir Aubrey Lewis characterized it to me in 1957 at the Zurich psychiatric meeting as ‘barbaric’. The idea was to blot out psychotic behavior and re-educate the patient. The theoretical basis was not only slim but dubious and led ultimately to some unfortunate results: lawsuits for memory loss which went into the 1980s. It was a sad denouncement to a career which had built so much. A colleague has wondered if the technique was not designed to exorcise the witch-like specter of schizophrenia! If it had been successful, a Nobel Prize was there, as Cameron well knew, and at one time he wistfully remarked to me on the number of investigators who had achieved the prize in the field of RNA, which he was also exploring.”
“What was he thinking?” would be better answered by comparing his earlier writing with his comments during a 1962 lecture delivered before the Royal Medico-Psychological Association. Cameron said: “Intelligence may be the pride–the towering distinction of man; emotion gives colour and force to his actions; but memory is the bastion of his being. Without memory, there is no personal identity, there is no continuity to the days of his life. Memory provides the raw material for designs both small and great. Thus, governed and enriched by memory, all the enterprises of man go forward (Cameron 1963, p. 325).”
To understand how a renowned psychiatrist could praise the merits of memories after more than a decade of destroying them it’s essential to distinguish between a treatment for mental disease and research into the various origins and solutions to the problem of mental loss due to old age. In his 1962 lecture, Cameron conjectured about the basic processes and components of memory and extolled the benefits of oral and intravenous RNA therapy (a practice now discredited, though Cameron was mentioned as late as 1966 in a major newspaper article by teacher and science writer, Isaac Asimov; see Asimov 1966). Concerning RNA research, Cameron said, “For over twenty years we [at McGill University-RDF] had been working in an attempt to find some substance which would correct the memory deficit found in the aged (Cameron 1963, p. 329).”
Cameron went on to remark, “...once the dimensions and nature of the patient’s memory deficit are defined, we select only those patients whose deficit is relatively stationary and who are not suffering from mood disorders, or any serious physical condition which might in any way disturb the memorial capacity of the individual (Cameron 1963, p. 330).” Such procedural conduct and distinction must have been important for Cameron, however, Dr. Cleghorn’s account of the final two years of “depatterning” at McGill University suggests disparity. Cleghorn wrote, “Apparently Cameron saw that there were limits to the numbers and types of cases susceptible for depatterning therapy because he appointed me to chair a committee to look into the matter . . . . Few cases were allowed through our net. We very much doubted the acumen of this man who in other respects had shown a cavalier attitude to responsibilities. Hence the committee which I chaired cut the cases for ECT drastically (Cleghorn 1990, p. 68).”
As is well known, medicine is not an exact science and sometimes doctors are not able to save the lives of patients who are ill or injured. Medical doctors still swear to abide by the Hippocratic Oath, as they reportedly have done since the 4th century BCE. Contained in that oath is the promise, “I will not cut for stone, even for patients in whom the disease is manifest; I will leave this operation to be performed by practitioners, specialists in this art.” This line was written for a doctor of general medicine and specifically mentions that the surgical removal of kidney stones should be performed by specialists, i.e. surgeons. Surgery has always been an invasive procedure of a last resort performed by specialists. I offer that Dr. D. Ewen Cameron considered himself a specialist in matters of the human mind, its memories, and was not able to “save” all of his patients.
Trepanation, or the perforation of the human skull, has been practiced since Neolithic times and is thought to be mankind’s oldest surgical procedure. Evidence for the operation is found on every continent except Antarctica, demonstrating a global awareness that sometimes dangerous steps must be taken to save a life. Indeed, every surgeon who has ever amputated a limb to save the rest of a body must have experienced the profound results of such an irreversible decision. As mistakes are made in medicine and with the recognition that the human brain, like other organs, is susceptible to disease and injury, it follows that errors are bound to occur when doctors, even specialists, attempt to treat mental disorders or illnesses. A significant number of Cameron’s colleagues and peers disagreed with his “depatterning” treatment technique, perhaps asking “What was he thinking?” as well. Here, I argue, is where distinguishing between treatment and research is critical in understanding Cameron.
In Cameron’s 1948 discourse on the “scientific point of view,” he expressed the opinion, “We are greatly plagued, both in lay thinking and in our scientific work, by the tendency to use dichotomies–good and bad, introvert and extrovert, conscious and unconscious, higher and lower functions. How far is this dependent upon the fact that we exhibit in ourselves the phenomena of sidedness? You will recall a number of schizophrenic patients who convert sidedness into just such terms as I have used. They refer to the right side as good, and to the left as the side on which they have fallen down–the bad side (Cameron 1948, p. 557).” Did Cameron believe it was his responsibility as a scientist to avoid evaluation designations and encourage judgement making to be free of personal values, that a scientist does neither right or wrong, but just does?
Such hubris may be claimed for Cameron, though his 1962 lecture on ‘remembering’, given at the same time in which his “depatterning” procedures were in the process of being discontinued by McGill University (see Cleghorn’s account above), provides an example that Cameron was aware that honesty was a basic human value, akin to the facts before a court of law or data before a scientific researcher, and that his ECT methods yielded unpredictable and inexact results. Cameron wrote: “In the electro-shock procedure, we have a means of producing graduated amnesia, and it is of interest to note that there is a proportional relationship between the number of electroshocks given within a period of time and the extent of the amnesias. It is quite possible, for instance, to produce a long-lasting, probably permanent, amnesia by setting the number of electroshock treatments to be given within a predetermined period (Cameron 1963, p. 328).” This admission of “probably permanent” by Cameron regarding his ECT methods should be weighed with the second half of his “depatterning,” that is to “re-educate” the patient. Both halves of the treatment regime failed and Cameron was aware of this.
Science and human nature collided in the work of Dr. D. Ewen Cameron. While it remains a pedantic game for some to attempt an argument against the existence of an invariant and unique combination of instincts and learned behaviors which constitute a human “nature,” such speculations will never divorce the human brain and its “mind” from being the seat where human “nature” resides. As it’s in a bomb’s “nature” to explode and in a broken clock’s “nature” to be correct twice a day, so too with Cameron as a specialist in experimental psychology in an era with radical and new procedures and drugs with little or no governmental or peer oversight, that it was in his “nature” to err.
The early accomplishments of psychology as it weaned itself from philosophy meant little to Cameron, in fact he rejected nearly all of it and likely regarded those first gains as related somehow to a new and unnamed religion. His long-time colleague at McGill University, Dr. Robert A. Cleghorn, was somewhat aware of this when he wrote: “Cameron was clearly concerned with the well-being of men, regardless of national barriers, race or religion. He opposed bigotry, and entered public debate with ecclesiastical pundits whose views he attacked by spoken and written word, perhaps a bit recklessly. He engaged a local Anglican bishop in debate over basic religious tenets, he being an agnostic, if not an atheist. This can be seen as the rebellious boy challenging a clerical father (Cleghorn 1990, p. 70).” Cleghorn was eventually instrumental in bringing an end to Cameron’s “depatterning” treatments and it remains a stark fact of history that a great many people and patients would have wished that he’d done so sooner.
Cameron appreciated memories, indeed, it was his life’s work, and he removed damaged ones from his patients with radical, if not bizarre techniques. He further faltered with not having a good plan in place to help his patients acquire new, presumably healthy, memories. A charge could be brought against Cameron that he placed science (or, rather, his perception thereof) before the needs of his patients. It could also be argued that he was probably ‘too’ eager and relaxed scientific standards for the chance of a breakthrough success.
In answer to the “What was he thinking?” question, I suggest that foremost he considered science as a medical tool. This conceptualization stayed with Cameron throughout his professional career and was never modified, amended or retracted – science changed, but Cameron’s view did not. Further and finally, I suggest, his motive was to do his upmost for his patients and that he believed he was performing in their best interests. The tragedy of Dr. D. Ewen Cameron continues into a final act as those ex-patients of his still struggle, more than four and a half decades later, to deal with their missing memories.
Asimov, Isaac. 1966. “Pills to Help Us Remember?” New York Times. Oct. 9, 1966; p. SM-20. ProQuest Historical Newspapers.
Accessed on 12-22-08.
Cameron, D. Ewen. 1948. “The Current Transition in the Conception of Science.” Science. 107, 2787: 553-558.
Cameron, D. Ewen. 1963. “The Processes of Remembering.” British Journal of Psychiatry. 109: 325-340.
Cleghorn, Robert. 1990. “The McGill Experience of Robert A. Cleghorn, MD: Recollections of D. Ewen Cameron.” Canadian Bulletin of
Medical History. 7, 1: pp. 53-76. Extracts from “A Fifteen Year Search for Meaning in Hormones and Humans” by Robert A. Cleghorn, a
92pp. unpublished manuscript.
Lemov, Rebecca. 2005. World as Laboratory: Experiments with Mice, Mazes, and Men. New York: Hill and Wang. See especially Chapter
10 “The Impossible Experiment.” [Note: Lemov (and others) have incorrectly accused Cameron as participating in the Nuremberg Trial
which addressed the despicable acts of certain Nazi doctors (Medical Case). He did not, but rather was asked to access the mental
capabilities of Rudolph Hess (Rees, J. R. 1947. The Case of Rudolph Hess; A Problem in Diagnosis and Forensic Psychiatry.
London/Toronto: William Heinemann LTD. See: pp. 165, 166 & 214-216). This material was later introduced at the Major War Criminals
trial. Also, the many statements that Cameron “worked” for the American government CIA are wrong as well. The CIA partially funded over
a hundred various university clinics and labs, a handful of researchers were aware of the CIA’s involvement, but no direct evidence has thus
far been brought to light that Cameron knew he was accepting CIA funding.]
McWilliam, Ross. 2005. “The Memory Thief: The Story of Dr. Ewen Cameron.” Frontline Scotland. Accessed 12-10-08; available online
through YouTube and the BBC website at: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/scotland/3696920.stm.
I recently received an e-mail regarding my Cameron article:
Could I ask you a question? In: “Tragedy of Dr. D. Ewen Cameron,” Bibliography, five lines from the bottom, is the quote: “Also, the many statements that Cameron “worked” for the American government CIA are wrong as well. The CIA partially funded over a hundred various university clinics and labs, a handful of researchers were aware of the CIA’s involvement, but no direct evidence has thus far been brought to light that Cameron knew he was accepting CIA funding.” Gordon Thomas in “Journey into Madness” New York: Bantam Books, 1989, p. 91-93, writes that Ewen Cameron knew Allen Dulles’s wife, Clover and treated her psychiatric problem. Thomas indicates that Allen Dulles was a friend of Cameron, and on p. 102-3, p. 121, Cameron knew other members of the MKULTRA program and was being recruited by the CIA. Thomas indicates that Cameron’s relationship with Allen Dulles began in the war years when Cameron served on an “ultra secret” committee that informed Allen Dulles et al as to the psychiatric profiles of Nazi leaders, p. 153. And further: “Dr. Cameron was one of the few non-Agency (CIA) men who turned up regularly at the parties.” (With Allen Dulles; William Buckley, etc.) p. 194. While there is no “smoking gun” to my knowledge such as a letter in Cameron’s own hand stating that he was doing research for the CIA and or receiving money directly or indirectly from the CIA (via [the] Society for Study of Human Ecology—a front group used to funnel CIA funding to researchers), there seems to be circumstantial evidence that Cameron did indeed have a close relationship with Dulles and the principles of the MKULTRA program. It seems unlikely that Cameron did not know of the source of his research support or the specific goals of the CIA in behavior “mind-control” research. It also seems unlikely that the rather detailed and extensive relationship between Allen Dulles and other principles in MKULTRA and Ewen Cameron described by Gordon Thomas was fiction. Do you have thoughts regarding the above? Thanks.
It’s taken me several weeks to formulate a fitting reply. If I was a gambler I’d wager that the following won’t be the last I’ll write about Dr. Cameron.
Nazis and Spooks: An Addendum to 'The Tragedy of Dr. D. Ewen Cameron'
Allen Dulles's O.S.S. identification, Dr. D. Ewen Cameron, and the Dulles’s headstone at Green Mount Cemetary.
CAMERON, D(ONALD) EWEN, psychiatrist; b. Bridge of Allan, Scotland, Dec. 24, 1901; s. Duncan and Margaret Isabel (Conacher) C.; M.B., Ch.B., U. Glasgow, 1924, M.D. with distinction, 1924; D.P.M., U. London 1926; m. Jean Carruthers Rankine, Aug. 5, 1933; children–Duncan Hume, Airlie A. C., D. Stuart, James R. Intern, resident surgeon Glasgow Mental Infirmary, 1924-25; Henderson research scholar in psychiatry Johns Hopkins, 1926-28; volontairarzt Burgholzli Clinic, Zurich, Switzerland, 1928-29; physician charge reception unit Province mental Hosp., Brandon, Man., Can., 1929-36; sr. research psychiatrist Worcester (Mass.) State Hosp., 1936-37, resident dir. research, 1937-38; prof. neurology and psychiatry Albany Med. Coll., also neurologist and psychiatrist in chief Albany Hosp., 1938-43; prof. chmn. dept. psychiatry McGill U., also psychiatrist in chief Royal Victoria Hosp., dir. Allan Meml. Inst. Psychiatry, Montreal, 1943-67; cons. psychiatrist Montreal Gen. Hosp.; dir. psychiatry and aging research labs. VA Hosp., Albany, N.Y., 1964-67; research professor of psychiatry Albany Med. Coll., 1964-64. Mem. expert adv. panel mental health WHO, 1952-67; mem. bd. examiners Am. Psychiat. Assn., 1938-39, bd. psychiat. examiners State N.Y., 1941-43. Hon. President Manfred Sakel Found. Diplomate Am. Bd. Psychiatry and Neurology. Fellow N.Y. Acad. Medicine, Am. Psychiat. Assn. (pres. 1952-53), Royal Coll. Physicians and Surgeons Can.; hon. fellow Am. Geriatrics Soc.; member A.M.A., Brit., Que. Indsl., Canadian medical assns., World Fedn. Mental Health, Royal Research Nervous and Mental Disease, Que. Psychiat. Assn. (pres. 1962-63), World (pres. 1961-66), Canadian, Que. (pres. 1956-57) psychiat. assns., Soc. Biol. Psychiatry (pres. 1965-66). Author: Objective and Experimental Psychiatry, 1935; Remembering, 1947; Life is for Living, 1948; General Psychotherapy: Dynamics and Procedure, 1950; Psychotherapy in Action, 1968. Contbr. profl. Loudonville NY Died Sept. 8, 1967, cremated.
And, of course, it'd be best to compare and contrast Cameron's listing with that of Dulles (Marquis 1973; p. 199):
DULLES, ALLEN WELSH, lawyer, born Watertown, N.Y., Apr. 7, 1893; s. Allen Macy and Edith (Foster) D.B.A., Princeton, 1914, M.A. 1916; LL.B., George Washington U., 1926, LL.D., Brown University, 1947, Temple University, 1952, Columbia, 1955, Princeton, 1957, Boston U., 1961, U.S.C., 1962, Williams Coll., 1965; m. Clover Todd, Oct. 16, 1920; children–Clover Todd, Joan, Allen Macy. Teacher English, Allahabad, India, 1 yr.; entered U.S. Diplomatic Service, 1916; apptd. sec. Of Legation, May 17, 1916, and assigned to Vienna, Austria, trans. To Berne, Switzerland, 1917; with Am. Commn. to Negotiate Peace, Paris, Dec. 1918; trans. to Berlin, Germany, Oct. 29, 1919; assigned to Dept. of State, 1920; with Am. Commn., Constantinople, Turkey, Oct. 1920; chief. Div. Of Near Eastern Affairs, Dept. of State, Washington, D.C., Apr. 14, 1922 to Apr. 14, 1926; delegate of United States to Internat. Conf. on Arms Traffic, Geneva, Switzerland, May 4-June 17, 1925; mem. Am. Delegation to Preparatory Disarmament Commn., Geneva, Switzerland, June-July 1926; legal adviser to Am. Delegation Three Power Naval Conf., Geneva, 1932-33; resigned October 1926, to practice law, with Sullivan & Cromwell, N.Y.C.; dep. dir. Central Intelligence Agy., 1951-53, director, 1953-61; of counsel, Sullivan & Cromwell, 1962-69. Mem. Pres.’s Commn. on Assassination of Pres. Kennedy, 1963-64. Trustee Princeton Univ., 1961. Served during World War II with O.S.S. Decorations: Medal for merit, also Medal of Freedom, 1946; Officer Legion Honor (France), 1947; Order of S.S. Maurizio e Lazzaro, Italy, 1946; Belgian Cross of Officer of Order of Leopold, 1948; National Security Medal, 1961. Recipient of the ann. citation Salvation Army, 1960; Golden Rule award St. George Assn,; Bernard Baruch gold medal Vets. Fgn. Wars Mem. Council Fgn. Relations (dir.), Phi Beta Lappa. Presbys. Clubs: Century Assn. Piping Rock (N.Y.C.); Alibi, Metropolitan (Washington). Author: (with Hamilton Fish Armstrong) Can We Be Neutral?, 1935, Can America Stay Neutral?, 1939; Germany’s Underground, 1947; The Craft of Intelligence, 1963; The Secret Surrender, 1966. Editor: Great True Spy Stories, 1968; Great Spy Stories from Fiction, 1969. Home: Washington DC Died Jan. 29, 1969; buried Baltimore MD[.]
Cameron and Dulles both excelled in their fields. The senior Dulles achieved fame with government service which entailed both gentlemanly diplomacy and ungentlemanly, though necessary, clandestine assignments. His high-profile family name guaranteed him sustained media coverage (Anonymous 1920, 1941). Dulles held various positions in the intelligence community spanning from pre-war Germany to Cold War post-Korea and his accomplishments are today regarded, however debated, as noteworthy, if not notable, history. His Office of Strategic Services (O.S.S.) efforts during WW II were rewarded with many national and international honorifics and awards.
As Dulles “got in on the ground floor” with modern America’s intelligence agencies, so too did Cameron participate in the emergence of biological psychology over Behaviorism. Cameron’s early professional interest in memory was maintained throughout his career, he was widely regarded and often utilized as a leading expert in the field, yet his actual research in several areas, particularly RNA and memory, lacked the necessary originality to affect future investigations. Indeed, interest in RNA waned not long after his passing.  Cameron’s roles as practitioner, teacher, and author were all adequately respectable, but it was in his leadership positions he appears most credited. As the first director of the Department of Psychiatry at McGill University, Gleghorn described Cameron as “creative, resourceful, enterprising, and blessed with administrative skill (Cleghorn 1990, p. 54).” His organizational talents were acknowledged with fellowships and offices in learned and professional societies, with his appointment as the first president of the World Psychiatric Association being his lasting titular legacy (Cameron 1967a, 1967b; Cleghorn 1967, p. 895; Anonymous 1967, p. 31).
An immediate observation, flippant, but not insignificant, would be that both Dulles and Cameron shook a great many hands during the course of their careers. Of contrasting relevancy would be the distinction between who was offering money and who was asking for it. While the enticements of free drinks, hors d'oeuvres, and maybe a meal are enough for some socialites to frequent stylish soirées, basic opportunities for a spy and a fund-raiser seem baldly sufficient to guarantee frequent attendance to as many dinner parties, formal or informal functions, get-togethers, etc., as they could manage. As both frequented Washington D.C. and New York City regularly, it would be deemed remarkable if Dulles and Cameron did not encounter one another eventually.
Such narrative commercial histories, especially of the mystery or thriller sub-genre, as Gordon Thomas’s Journey Into Madness: The True Story of Secret CIA Mind Control and Medical Abuse (Thomas 1989) are inherently structurally suggestive, vague, tantalizing, and evocative, if they are to be successful in their market. Thomas continues to be a very successful writer and includes mention of the service of Allen Dulles in his latest effort (Thomas 2009), though at least one recent reviewer brings the Welsh author to task for “fumbling” with American details (Rutten 2009). I would add to any erstwhile critique of Thomas charges of poor chronology, a purposeful lack of clarity to the point of deliberate misrepresentation, and too much gauche (read: cheap) reconstructing of events.
“[Dulles] had received invaluable insights into the enemy’s mentality from Dr. Cameron and other psychiatrists who were members of an ultrasecret committee meeting regularly in the offices of the American Psychiatric Association in Washington to assess the changing attitudes of Germany and its leaders. Dr. Cameron’s insights into the German mentality made it easier for Dulles to have manipulated Himmler’s Gestapo toward overthrowing Hitler, and helped him to use German liberals to spread hysteria among the population. Dr. Cameron had synthesized the techniques in documents like “Mass hysteria in a war situation” and “The mechanics of civilian morale and wartime pressure.” Some of Dr. Cameron’s suggestions had struck Dulles as original and far-reaching – such as his proposal that after the war each surviving German over the age of twelve should receive a short course of electroshock treatment to burn out any remaining vestige of Nazism (Thomas 1989, p. 152).”
The above passage from Thomas follows an introduction which sought to explain how the relationship between Dulles and Cameron “extended back to the war years, back to the days when spymaster and clinician had formed a common alliance to help destroy Nazism.” The above passage is in turn followed by a reconstruction of the first meeting, first shared dinner, and when “Dulles first swore Dr. Cameron to secrecy (ibid pp. 152-153).” Thomas writes that this occurred the evening after “a late autumn day in 1945.” A surer chronology might improve Thomas.
While I have no direct evidence for or against any “ultrasecret” meetings at the Washington D.C. APA offices attended by Cameron, who had begun to set up the psychiatry department at McGill in 1943, an April 27, 1945 article in The New York Times describes a conference, naming Cameron as a participant, which capped off several months of meetings between scientists of various disciplines who had met and discussed methods of reintegrating post-war Germans into global society (Anonymous 1945). The meetings and conference were held at Columbia University, likely to generate interest in the newly formed Columbia University Center for Psychoanalytic Training and Research, co-founded by Dr. Nolan D. C. Lewis, the first practicing American Freudian psychoanalyst.
Rudolph Hess at Nuremberg, Drs. Lewis and Sakal (Stafford 1938), and Dr. Donald O. Hebb.
April 27, 1945, and the several months leading up to it, seems a fair period to begin a discussion of Cameron and Nazis. Cameron spent the better part of his life commuting between upstate New York and Canada, and assuming an equal propensity to drive the other direction to New York City, that he’d attend a series of meetings at Columbia even though he was busy setting up his own department in Canada seems par for the elbow-rubbing course. Trains and planes to Washington D.C. are, of course, regular and dependable means of transportation, but from upstate New York one would assume an extended stay rather than a grueling regular commute. Perhaps, somehow Cameron was associated with “ultrasecret” meetings in Washington D.C., the U.S. Post Office worked pretty well back then, but he was physically placed at Columbia in early 1945 and late 1944, in a context which includes post-war Germans, and I would suggest that it's at Columbia a discussion of Cameron and Nazis should begin. .
According to a Nov. 20, 1945 memorandum addressed to Brigidar-General Wm. L. Mitchell, General Secretary for the International Military Tribunal, Cameron examined Rudolph Hess on Nov. 15 and 19, 1945 (Rees 1947, p. 218). The four signatories to the memorandum were Cameron, Dr. Jean Delay, Col. Paul L. Schroeder, M.D., a U.S. Army neuropsychiatric consultant, and Dr. Nolan D. C. Lewis of Columbia University. Lewis was an early supporter of both Sakel’s insulin coma therapy (ICT) and Kalinowsky’s electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) treatments (Shorter & Healy 2007, p. 77). The April 27, 1945 article in The New York Times alludes to “irreconcilables” and their “permanent internment,” but no mention is made of giving ECT to 12-year-old Nazis. Maybe such a suggestion was put forth by Cameron, the 1944-1945 Columbia meetings likely produced many different ideas and approaches to the problem of reintegration, but without an exact citation further speculation would be counter-productive. As that memorandum was introduced into evidence Nov. 24, 1945 at Nuremberg (the signatories were not required to be present and, indeed, had already begun to return to their respective home countries), it stands as significant that in the official commission appointment (U.S. 1946, p. 98), the list names three Russians, three Brits, then introduces “Dr. Nolan D. C. Lewis, assisted by Dr. D. Ewen Cameron and Col. Paul Schroeder, M.D.” The tenth and final name is “Professor Jean Delay,” a French psychiatrist from the School of Medicine at the University of Paris. By this account, Lewis headed the American medical and psychiatric team and brought Cameron along for his expertise in memory.
Hess claimed selective amnesia, brought about after his parachuting into Scotland on May 10, 1941 and being arrested. This was before the June 22, 1941 German invasion of Russia and well before the Dec. 7, 1941 Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, and the subsequent Dec. 12, 1941 American declaration of war against Germany. Hess was absent from the entire American and Nazi Germany conflict due to his incarceration by the British. Maj. Douglas McG. Kelley, Medical Corps, Army of the United States, examined Hess on Oct. 16, 1945 and determined a strong hysterical component to claims of amnesia. All subsequent examinations supported this diagnosis. Hess was a sad clown and later admitted to faking amnesia, much like the antics of Vincent 'Chin' Gigante, the mobster who walked the streets of Greenwich Village like a clown in his robe and slippers mumbling to pigeons, in fact, Hess was so goofy at the trial, that Göring refused to sit next to him. Though once regarded as a top-level Nazi, a personal confidant of Hitler, it was in his role as astrologer/advisor that Hess’s opinions were sought. The military staff of the Third Reich, officers such as Göring and Himmler, showed little courtesy beyond indifference to Hess. Hess had impressed, if not frightened, a young Hitler as a new arrival in Munich, with tales of the occult and membership in the Thule Society, a German variation of the local “secret society” as inspired by the lodges of freemasonry, theosophy, and the British ritual magic groups splintered from the Golden Dawn, and later, from Crowley (Levenda 2002, p.72). Sure, Crowley went on to claim Hitler as his “magickal child,” a remark one would expect from a dark clown, and its in the spirit of that disturbing pretension, of mysticism, that Hess was tolerated, but not encouraged, as Hitler had outlawed all occult secret societies soon after gaining political power. Hess’s stay at Spandau Prison in West Berlin, especially after the 1966 release of Albert Speer and global media attention, was a last-gasp, anti-Nazi, stubborn Soviet policy to wring the last cry of pain from an enemy, though Hess had no role in the Nazi invasion of Russia. Spy fiction, conspiracy theories, and alien abductions are fine for an evening’s bedtime reading, but not for the study of history. Hess was delusional, a cheerleader for a new “Volkish” Aryan mythology, a crackpot, and a clown. Thomas’s narrative of Dulles asking Cameron to perform a physical exam on Hess to determine identity is either a lie or an elaboration of a lie which Thomas encountered from some unnamed source. It’s engaging fiction, much like the recent Hollywood version of the beginning of the C.I.A., The Good Shephard (Universal 2006). It wouldn’t surprise me to learn that the writer of the movie, Eric Roth, mined the party narratives of Gordon Thomas's Journey Into Madness – they read well as spy stories and drama, but are unbelievable as history. The character of “Phillip Allen” in The Good Shepard, played by William Hurt, is said to have been based on Allen Dulles.
One might as well order a plate of verisimilitude, with some innuendo, and a side of mixed facts. House dressing on the mixed facts, of course. Cameron was picked by Lewis to assist in examining Hess as part of the American delegation of psychiatrists, not as a representative of Canada, but as a newly (ca. 1943) naturalized American citizen (Illson 1953). A brief journal article on the examination of Hess by psychiatrists from “four geographically widely separated countries, speaking three different languages and coming from other cultures” presents the account as a historic occurrence of international cooperation, that is, modern nations uniting to agree that Rudolph Hess suffered from “hysterical amnesia” and should get over it (Anonymous 1946), which he did. Other than participating in some well-attended discussions on post-war German mental health at Columbia, and spending a couple of weeks in Nuremberg comparing elbow-patches with his international colleagues, twice being able to examine Hess, no further conjunction of Cameron and Nazis seems at the ready. He had no role in the Nazi Medical Case trial at Nuremberg and the horrors which were brought to light. Cameron never actually testified at Nuremberg, however, his signatures on several documents were submitted to the Military Tribunal as evidence in the Major War Criminals trial. Cameron as Dulles’s personal Nazi profiler? Well, Skinner was busy trying to get pigeons to peck their targets and likely wasn’t available for a quick consult.  The allegation that Cameron actively assisted Dulles in the war effort against the Nazis is ludicrous, as Dulles spent much of the war in Berne, Switzerland and would have used local resources. For dessert, I’d recommend a slice of Black Forest cake.
The Nazi connection between O.S.S. Dulles and Cameron is just a feinte and the true attack is on C.I.A. Dulles and the 1957-1960 covert partial funding of Cameron’s “depatterning” procedures and other studies.  Such funding was confirmed by the Church Committee in 1975 (U.S. Senate 1976), slowly disseminated by the media, then further demonstrated as fact in two major civil lawsuits, one in America (Shenon 1988), and the other in Canada (Farnsworth 1992). A perennial strawman argument against Cameron is that he knowingly accepted C.I.A. funding, reported the results of his experiments and treatments through intelligence channels, and that much of his work has been generally regarded as poor science and unethical. As if Cameron’s mistakes weren’t heinous enough to warn us, many seek to make him more of a monster ( < Lat. monēre, to warn) by claiming he knew that the C.I.A. was behind the Cornell Medical Center-based Society for the Investigation of Human Ecology and either didn’t care or approved of American government investment in his work. The strawman is political intrigue, gossip, and speculation that Cameron designed his experiments and treatments to satisfy the Spooks at the C.I.A., he willingly worked for The Company, and like any patriotic American mad scientist, he used Canadians as guinea pigs. As an administrator, Cameron likely mimeographed reports and results (or had a secretary or another underling make copies) and shared such with whoever indicated a need to possess more paperwork. Cameron’s actual treatments? The C.I.A. withdrew their partial funding in 1960, he left McGill in 1964 as his procedures were discredited, and history has yet to reach a consensus between monster and tragically incorrect.
Some historians of science and social historians, as well as such shock and slander historians as Gordon Thomas, have deliberately focused on Cameron’s alleged passive cooperation with the C.I.A. Why? Are they attempts to somehow make Cameron’s failed “depatterning” procedure even more wrong? Evidence? Thomas’s "single bullet" is buried at the back of his Journey Into Madness (Thomas 1989, p. 372) and is given as “Sources: Documents l. Cameron was aware of CIA interest in the brainwashing experiments he conducted (Def. No. 29-31, 42-45, 48).” This “evidence,” a sworn statement in a civil suit (Orlikow v. USA 1988), alleges “awareness of CIA interest,” which is not, nor ever will be, the same as evidence proving that Cameron knowingly accepted money from the C.I.A., received instructions from the C.I.A. (contra Illson 1953), followed said instructions and reported the “results” of his so-called “experiments” (actually, procedures or treatments would be the correct terms) to the C.I.A. Those who continue to allege that Cameron worked for the C.I.A. are factually incorrect. Various sources financially backed Cameron’s programs and the C.I.A.’s investment of $60,000, while substantial, was just one funding grant Cameron received out of many.
For over a decade there’s been an Internet rule (UseNet, actually) concerning online discussions: if someone calls someone else a “Nazi, ” compares someone to a Nazi, or even mentions a Nazi for any off-topic reason, the discussion is for all intents and purposes over, as the chances any online discussion could recover civility after evoking the horrors of Nazism are nil to none. This Internet rule is known as Godwyn’s Law (Godwyn 1994) and seems applicable offline as well as online. Take for instance the article (McCoy 2007), “Science in Dachau's Shadow: Hebb, Beecher, and the Development of CIA Psychological Torture and Modern Medical Ethics," by Prof. Alfred W. McCoy (history, University of Wisconsin-Madison). Are Nazis, specifically evil Nazi doctors and Nazi scientists discussed? Yes, as doing horrible experiments at Dachau on high-altitude sickness and hypothermia. Is there a direct connection between Nazis and Dr. Donald O. Hebb (psychology, McGill University)? Is there an indirect connection, i.e. did Hebb read, study, or use Nazi documentation? No, to both questions. What about Dr. Henry K. Beecher (anesthesiology, Harvard Medical School)? Yes, Beecher did some shady hallucinogen studies in post-war Germany and interviewed an ex-Nazi scientist. So, what does Hebb have to do with Nazis and why would an author make such a shock and slander accusation?
Hebb did great work and, perhaps, some not so great work. His approach to memory as being based on “cell-assemblies,” now known as Hebb’s Law and paraphrased as "Neurons that fire together wire together,” arose from his efforts right down the hall from Cameron at McGill University (Hebb 1949). However, much forced suspicion has been generated due to Hebb’s 1951-1953 isolation studies (Heron et al. 1953) which were encouraged by the British and funded by the Canadian government. Here, much like the situation with Cameron and the C.I.A., matters get confusing. Some claim that Hebb’s work was covertly funded by the C.I.A. (Milner & Milner 1996, p. 202), while others, notably McCoy, claim that the C.I.A. asked the Canadians to back Hebb and share the results (McCoy 2007, pp. 404-405). Hebb knew his funding was coming from the Canadian government, he later admitted such, but it remains to be demonstrated that he knew or cared about the C.I.A. connection. Regardless, Hebb’s isolation work did not involve Nazis or the Dachau concentration camp medical experiments and McCoy’s choice for a title is petty sensationalism.
Regarding Martha Clover Todd Dulles: her husband’s job required him to spend much of their marriage away from home, his marital infidelity was infuriating, and her decades of being “on the verge of a nervous breakdown” all combine in a sad and dysfunctional American way, yet she encountered Dr. Cameron during his “depatterning” period and apparently got off with just a few prescriptions. Lucky Clover, indeed!
The answers to such questions as “Would Dr. Cameron have treated his patients with his ‘depatterning’ procedure without covert C.I.A. funding?” are, as Suetonius and Sir Thomas Browne remind us (Mackay 1991, p. 42), “not beyond all conjecture.” I opine Cameron sought to better his patients and the institutions he worked for, as well as advance the frontiers of science with experimental psychiatry. It’s a tragedy his work failed, his patients became victims, and that history is taking its time differentiating between what’s possible, probable, and unlikely.
 Apart from Cameron being incorrect, and the irony of Hebb’s “cell-assemblies” model for memory gaining acceptance, a Twilight Zone coda of sorts developed with investigations into RNA, memory, and common flatworms or planarians beginning with the 1955 paper “Classical conditioning in planarian, Dugesia dorotocephala” by Drs. Robert Thompson and James V. McConnell (Thompson and McConnell 1955). The experimental psychologists sensitized flatworms to light, cut them in half, and observed that both regrown halves maintained a sensitivity to or “memory of” light conditioning. Pushing the boundaries of ethical science, several years later McConnell conducted more experiments in which he repeated the flatworm light training, then cut up the sensitized flatworms and cannibalistically fed them to other flatworms (McConnell 1962). A short-lived journal arose from these “efforts,” though the series is now considered more of a obscure oddity than an academic resource (McDonnell 1965). And, as only unchecked science can, boundaries were further pushed when researchers moved up the cannibal food-chain and began to feed mice and rat brains to other mice and rats (Frank et al. 1970; Frank et al. 1972). Unethical or just not for the squeamish? Forced cannibalism is a tough call, inherently controversial, and seems to have retreated back under the media radar. On November 15, 1985, Dr. McDonnell suffered permanent partial hearing loss when an assistant of his opened a package sent by the anti-modern technology domestic terrorist, Asst. Prof. Theodore J. Kaczynski, (mathematics, University of California, Berkeley), a.k.a. the Unabomber.
 Skipping the chase: was Cameron an intellectual cuckold? Or, did he just like to watch? I would argue he was neither. In the case of B. F. Skinner, the Behaviorist purposefully sought public service, perhaps with a little too much “pay attention to me, because I’m so smart,” yet with all of his demonstrations of needy, pretentious pseudo-expertise in various non-psychological fields, most (except for certain animal-rights extremists and soccer-moms) regard his “heart” as being in the right place. And, following closely upon the heels of the “readily apparent,” the C.I.A. wished to monitor Skinner’s post-war work. So, the Spooks instructed the Cornell Medical Center-based Society for the Investigation of Human Ecology to provide Skinner with a funding grant to enable the writing of his Beyond Freedom and Dignity (Price 2002, p. 20). Skinner’s ego was apparently conducive to cooperative acceptance, which may be described as minimalistic altruism, but he still put a baby in a box (Skinner 1945; passim Rutherford 2000). Ditto with Cameron, though with much more tragic results.
 There’s been much discussion about “brainwashing,” yet few agree on its definition, and fewer still on whether such “mind-control” methods have ever existed at all (Biderman 1962; West 1964; Carruthers 1998; Jowett 2005). In theory, “brainwashing” is any intentional persuasion which affects an individual’s behavioral and belief systems, typically coerced and involving such considerations as political agendas or ethical and religious choices. The procedures of “depatterning” and “Psychic Driving,” Cameron’s controversial treatments for mental illness ca. 1953-1963 (Cameron 1956; Cameron 1957; Cameron et al. 1962), were developed to remove an aberrant consciousness and construct a normal one in its place. Despite his claims, while he successfully destroyed his patients' minds and memories, Cameron time and again failed to restore any conventionally accepted semblance of mental health in them. Brainwashing is thought to be a means of changing a person’s views on one or a few topics or “programming” them into performing an act they wouldn’t normally do; Cameron’s treatments didn’t concern change, but removal. Dr. Cameron didn’t “wash” brains, he broke them. It’s no surprise that the C.I.A. stopped its covert funding, but it is surprising that it took so many years for the friends and families of Cameron’s victims to speak out. And, sadly, if it wasn’t for the political embarrassment aspect of the C.I.A. funding, if it was just about an experimental psychiatrist who went wrong, the victims probably wouldn’t have received any compensation at all.
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