April 13, 1953 — The CIA launches the MK-ULTRA project

CIA director Allen Dulles ordered the creation of the MKUltra project intending it to create techniques to fight what was believed to be an extensive Communist brain-washing program (at various times identified as being conducted by one of, or some combination of, North Korea, China and the USSR). Its scope became broader than that, attempting to create drugs for mind control, for compelling the truth from interrogation subjects, for duplicating the symptoms of various diseases, for stimulating or retarding aging, and more. Often, subjects were experimented on without their knowledge or consent, leading to several nervous breakdowns and at least one confirmed suicide, as people who did not know they were drugged assumed that they were losing their minds.

The project ran from 1953 through to 1973, although many of the records of it were destroyed in 1974 (a measure ordered by CIA director Richard Helms as the Watergate scandal mounted). This lack of records helped to conceal the extent and outcomes of the program when they were investigated by both the Church Committee and the Rockefeller Commission, but enough was found to confirm much of what was suspected of the program, and the information made public. A further investigation took place in 1977, after the discovery of MKUltra records that had escaped the destruction of the rest due to being misfiled. Afterwards, several of those drugged in the program sued the government for the lack of informed consent, not all of them successfully. Even now, it is not clear whether we know everything about the MKUltra program.

1953 — Ray Bradbury publishes “Fahrenheit 451”

Bradbury’s best known novel is a savage and dystopian satire of media trends in Bradbury’s day. He foresaw such implausibilities as wall-sized tv screens with hundreds of channels of aneasthetizing pap playing 24 hours a day, while literacy was not merely rare but close to outlawed. It was a world where firemen start fires instead of putting them out, but only to burn books.

As such, it played into the prejudices that every new medium has faced, that it would enfeeble the minds of those who followed it. “Fahrenheit 451” depicts a world where every channel is Fox News (or some close affiliate), and the only escape is to destroy it all and start anew in the ashes of the world – although Bradbury himself (an Emmy winner) presumably has a more nuanced attitude to the glass teat than this novel would indicate