A new docudrama film in limited release at theaters now throws some important new light on the early 1950’s roots of the so-called “counterculture” that succeeded in a dramatic shift in the American social ethos that occurred between the mid-1960’s and mid-1970’s.
“Magic Trip,” a film by Alex Gibney and Allison Ellwood, includes extensive never-before-released film footage and audio tapes compiled by participants in “acid-head” Ken Kesey’s “Electric Kool Aid Acid Test,” as Tom Wolfe titled his 1968 written account.
The film fills in important gaps in the national consciousness, revealing like Robert McNamara’s “The Fog of War” critical missing pieces in the era that saw a drug-hazed “counterculture” and the Vietnam War transform the country.
The transformation was not for the better. In 1965, America was still advancing an unprecedented post-World War II agenda of global generosity of spirit and compassion. By 1975, the idealism and can-do optimism of the civil rights movement and programs like the War on Poverty had morphed into a self-centered hedonism and consumerism that brought on the Reagan Revolution.
The end of World War II marked a hoped-for end to more than 30 years of global horror and chaos, when the optimism of the Romantic era crashed in a hideous sequence of the Great War, deadly flu epidemic, fascist and communist totalitarianism, the Great Depression, the Holocaust and a second world war.
Americans were never prouder of their collective resolve to defend democratic values and lift the downtrodden from tyranny and oppression than during that post-World War II period. The United Nations was formed, and Eleanor Roosevelt spearheaded the widespread advocacy of the “International Declaration of the Rights of Man.” American generosity lay behind its Marshall Plan to rebuild Europe, and the reconstruction of Japan.
Domestically, a moderate President Eisenhower launched the Interstate Highway System and spoke out fiercely against the horrors of war.
But at the same time, there were forces at work in the U.S. to carry forward a sinister, pro-fascist agenda, including by many “military, financial and industrial complex” types who were pro-fascist in the U.S. prior to the war. These folk, prior to FDR, called out the U.S. Army on U.S. citizens in Washington D.C., the “Bonus Army” citizens petitioning for their pension checks from World War I. The pro-fascists fought tooth-and-nail against everything FDR stood for, mortified and furious that he’d betrayed his privileged class to empower labor unions and the poor.
These people invented the “Iron Curtain” and the “Cold War” after the war (in reality, the Soviet Union was very weak, having barely survived the war) and used them as pretexts to launch the domestic witch hunts aimed at capturing the nation in a grip of fear and paranoia, the McCarthy Era, in an effort to undermine the prevailing, progressive national spirit.
The target, in other words, was not the Soviets, but American democracy, itself.
Covert intelligence capabilities developed during World War II under the aegis of the OSS morphed into the CIA and a strengthened FBI after the war, and many of methods learned in the war, including from the Nazis, were incorporated. The pro-fascists used these assets to wage its covert war on America from within.
In 1952, they launched a covert operation called “MK-Ultra,” a program to dull the resolve and sensibilities of the U.S. population, especially its youth and minorities, by the mass proliferation of mind-altering and highly-addictive drugs.
(This was documented in depth by the findings of the mid-1970’s Rockefeller Commission and the Church Hearings in the U.S. Senate, despite the internal order given by the head of the CIA in 1974 to destroy all documents pertaining to the operation. Some key documents wound up filed in the wrong filing cabinet, so they survived the destruction).
In the case of the “Magic Trip,” the story of Ken Kesey’s seminal role in this covert operation begins coming to light, illuminated when evaluated in the context of Wolfe’s “The Electric Kool Aid Acid Test.”
Importantly, the film includes footage of poet Allen Ginsburg testifying before Congress about MK-Ultra.
To be continued.