Anthropological Intelligence: The Deployment and Neglect of American Anthropology in the Second World War

Anthropological Intelligence: The Deployment and Neglect of American Anthropology in the Second World War

by David H. Price
Pub. Date:
Duke University Press Books


View All Available Formats & Editions
Current price is , Original price is $28.95. You
Select a Purchase Option
  • purchase options
  • purchase options


Anthropological Intelligence: The Deployment and Neglect of American Anthropology in the Second World War

By the time the United States officially entered World War II, more than half of American anthropologists were using their professional knowledge and skills to advance the war effort. The range of their war-related work was extraordinary. They helped gather military intelligence, pinpointed possible social weaknesses in enemy nations, and contributed to the army’s regional Pocket Guide booklets. They worked for dozens of government agencies, including the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) and the Office of War Information. At a moment when social scientists are once again being asked to assist in military and intelligence work, David H. Price examines anthropologists’ little-known contributions to the Second World War.

Anthropological Intelligence is based on interviews with anthropologists as well as extensive archival research involving many Freedom of Information Act requests. Price looks at the role played by the two primary U.S. anthropological organizations, the American Anthropological Association and the Society for Applied Anthropology (which was formed in 1941), in facilitating the application of anthropological methods to the problems of war. He chronicles specific projects undertaken on behalf of government agencies, including an analysis of the social effects of postwar migration, the design and implementation of OSS counterinsurgency campaigns, and the study of Japanese social structures to help tailor American propaganda efforts. Price discusses anthropologists’ work in internment camps, their collection of intelligence in Central and South America for the FBI’s Special Intelligence Service, and their help forming foreign language programs to assist soldiers and intelligence agents. Evaluating the ethical implications of anthropological contributions to World War II, Price suggests that by the time the Cold War began, the profession had set a dangerous precedent regarding what it would be willing to do on behalf of the U.S. government.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780822342373
Publisher: Duke University Press Books
Publication date: 06/09/2008
Pages: 400
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.20(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

David H. Price is Associate Professor of Anthropology at Saint Martin’s University in Lacey, Washington. He is the author of Threatening Anthropology: McCarthyism and the FBI’s Surveillance of Activist Anthropologists, also published by Duke University Press. He was a member of the American Anthropological Association’s 2006–7 Ad Hoc Commission on the Engagement of Anthropology with the U.S. Security and Intelligence Communities.

Read an Excerpt

Anthropological Intelligence



All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-8223-4237-3

Chapter One

American Anthropology and the War to End All Wars

Anthropologists lack a clear and sensible perception of their discipline. In the era of Boas, and under his influence, one might imagine that anthropology would resemble a secular religious order, above the rivalries and conflicts of nations and parties, and embracing an ethos of reverence for the separate and distinct cultures of peoples lacking literacy and power. In effect, anthropologists were to be their voice, and their protective mediators in a world whose market economy and whose imperialisms threatened to overrun them. -MURRAY WAX (2002: 4)

As the First World War engulfed Europe, Americans were divided on the question of joining this foreign war. In 1916, American voters elected Woodrow Wilson to the presidency on an antiwar platform, only to watch him reverse his campaign promises by committing America to join the war. American opposition to the war was widespread, and new forms of political coercion were developed by the Wilson administration to silence critics of a war seen by dissenters as fought for business interests.

The Wilson administration's efforts to mold public opinion to support the First World War limited American political dissent. It was the First World War's tense political climate that gave rise to America's first formal conceptualization of principles of academic freedom. When the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) developed its first statement championing the rights and principles of academic freedom in 1915, it also limited the exercising of these rights to those with disciplinary expertise (see Price 2004a: 18-20). The historian James Cattell was fired from Columbia University during the war under charges of "disloyalty" after he publicly advocated that the war should only be fought with a voluntary army. Cattell believed that wars in democratic societies should be fought by those who supported the actions, not by one class pressed into action by another. But the AAUP founder Arthur Lovejoy was uncomfortable using the newly (and weakly) delineated concept of academic freedom to allow professors to speak in opposition to the war. Instead, Lovejoy "felt professors who opposed American military actions should preserve silence during wartime" (Feuer 1979: 465).

Despite intense public pressure for academics to either support the war or remain silent, even from groups advocating for principles of academic freedom, the Columbia University anthropology professor Franz Boas openly spoke in opposition to American involvement in the war. On March 7, 1917, Boas publicly read a statement entitled "Preserving Our Ideas" expressing his disdain for the anti-intellectual campaigns supporting the war and degrading those opposed to the war. Boas's statement was made partially as a reaction to Columbia's formation of a committee investigating reports of individual faculty members' disloyalty, but it was also an expression of his feelings regarding America's involvement in Europe's war. Boas attacked the committee's right to examine faculty scholarship and beliefs, and he criticized the American educational system's promotion of nationalism. Boas believed that the first duties of scholars "are to humanity as a whole, and that, in a conflict of duties, our obligations to humanity are of higher value than those toward the nation; in other words, that patriotism must be subordinated to humanism" (Boas 1945 [1917]: 156).

In a climate where the White House, churches, business groups, and homegrown patriots were demanding militaristic unity-or, at least, silence-Boas's proclamation that his academic obligations were "to humanity as a whole" was radical. Boas faulted the American educational system for so easily facilitating the rapid militarization of the American public, writing:

I believe that the purely emotional basis on which, the world over, patriotic feelings are instilled into the minds of children is one of the most serious faults in our educational systems, particularly when we compare these methods with the lukewarm attention that is given to the common interests of humanity. I dare say that if all nations cultivated the ideals of equal rights of all members of mankind by emotional means such as are now used to develop passionate patriotism, much of the mutual hatred, distrust, and disrespect would disappear. The kind of patriotism that we inculcate is intended to develop the notion that the members of each nation, and that the institutions of each nation, are superior to those of all others. Under this stimulus the fact that in each country, normally, people live comparatively comfortably under the conditions in which they have grown up is too often translated by the citizens of that country into the idea that others who live under different conditions have a civilization or institutions of inferior value, and must feel unhappy until the benefits of his own mode of feeling, thinking, and living have been imposed upon them. I consider it one of the great objects worth striving for to counteract this faulty tendency. If it is not sufficient to train children to an intelligent understanding of the institutions and habits of their country, if these have to be strengthened emotionally by waving of flags and by singing of patriotic songs, then this emotional tendency should be supplemented by equally strong emotional means intended to cultivate respect for the love that foreigners have for their country, and designed to instill into the minds of the young respect for the common interests of humanity. I should prefer, however, to inculcate intelligence, love and respect for all human endeavor, wherever found, without trying to destroy the possibility of clear, intelligent thought by emphasizing the emotional side of patriotism. (Boas 1945 [1917]: 156-59)

Boas's anthropology and progressive political beliefs informed this critique, and while his critical interpretation of the cultural inculcation of patriotism can now be seen as a theoretical analysis of social superstructure, during the war such views were simply seen as subversive. When such views came from a German émigré, they could be seen as traitorous. This was a radicalized Boas who was shocked at how easily the American public had been led into a foreign war.

While Boas's words irritated Columbia's administration, they did not influence those in power, and once America entered the war, protests from academics like Boas were widely silenced. Some who spoke out found themselves unemployed. It only took a few such firings for others to learn to self-censure their criticisms if they did not want to join the ranks of the unemployed. In 1917, the Smithsonian's Bureau of American Ethnology (BAE) fired the ethnologist Leo J. Frachtenberg because of his personal opposition to America's involvement in the First World War. Charles Walcott fired Frachtenberg for "utterances derogatory to the Government of the United States" (Hyatt 1990: 128). Marshall Hyatt writes, "Shocked at the firing, Frachtenberg contacted Walcott immediately and begged for an appointment to clarify his position. He assured Walcott that he had made no statements derogatory toward the United States. He confessed only to 'grumbling against the rising cost of living and Congress' unwillingness to curb these rises,' but denied doing anything more serious" (Hyatt 1990: 128). Frachtenberg asked Walcott to reconsider his decision and not turn him out "penniless and jobless" (Hyatt 1990: 128).

Boas, James Mooney, and Elsie Parsons lobbied in support of Frachtenberg without success. He was not reinstated, despite the lack of evidence that Frachtenberg had broken any laws or specific employment policies. Frachtenberg left anthropology after he was fired by the BAE; his next position was as a factory supervisor (Hyatt 1990: 129). Frachtenberg's firing, and Boas's own experiences with the limits on wartime academic freedom at Columbia, left a deep impression on Boas as he became "convinced that individual freedom no longer existed in America ... [where] scientists and academics, blinded by patriotism, behaved irrationally" (Hyatt 1990: 129).

The war limited the speech and prospects of critics, and it brought new opportunities for anthropologists and other social scientist supporting the war. These new interactions between anthropologists and military and intelligence agencies established some new social-science applications. While the uses of anthropologists were limited in the First World War, many of these roles provided templates for the expanded role that the social sciences would contribute to the next world war.

Boas's position as a representative to the National Research Council (NRC) brought complications as the council began organizing scientists to contribute to the war effort in 1916. Given Boas's public statements in opposition to the war, "It is not surprising that when the Executive Committee of the Council decided to organize a Committee on Anthropology, they turned to William Holmes and his associate Ales Hrdlicka at the National Museum rather than to America's leading anthropologist" (Stocking 1968b: 287). This committee matched anthropologists' abilities with the needs of war.

Social Scientists and the War to End All Wars

A wide variety of social scientists contributed to the war effort. The American Psychological Association (APA) oversaw the formation of a dozen committees harnessing the findings of psychology for the war, while the American Anthropological Association (AAA) remained much less directly committed to formally supporting the war (Leahey 1991: 226). The APA coordinated the construction, administration, and interpretation of intelligence tests used on the masses of drafted citizen soldiers who were to be sorted into groups of infantrymen and officers. These psychological tests were also "welcomed by eugenicists, eager to prove their point about racial intelligence differences with the help of data from the military. They received prompt and solicitous attention from psychologists, who announced, as scientific dogma, that black solders were inferior and that there existed a mental hierarchy pegged to nationality: Anglo-Saxons were at the top while the unsavory representatives of recent immigrants groups languished far below" (Herman 1995: 65). These tests fostered the illusion that there was a scientific basis for the class-based methods of sorting military conscripts. In the postwar years, Boas and other anthropologists were still battling the peacetime domestic social damage leveled by these biased wartime tests.

The military draft also generated vast amounts of anthropometric data to be analyzed and abused by the Harvard-trained eugenicist Charles Benedict Davenport and others. Davenport's 1919 Defects Found in Drafted Men (Davenport 1919b) and his government report Army Anthropology examined anthropometric data gathered from inductees. Davenport used the physical measurements of draftees to support his theories claiming a biological basis for social class. The Carnegie Institution published Davenport's Naval Officers, Their Heredity and Development (1919a), which examined environmental and genetic influences in the formation of naval officers and conflated the advantages and attitudes of class with biological propensities. The Prudential Insurance Company published Frederick Hoffman's analysis of induction data in Army Anthropometry and Medical Rejection Statistics. Homan also reported his findings to the Committee on Anthropology of the NRC. British anthropologists conducted similar analysis of draftee measurements (Keith 1918).

American social scientists worked for a variety of governmental war agencies, but all forms of analysis were not equally welcomed. Thorstein Veblen worked as an analyst at the wartime U.S. Food Administration until he was fired for his ardent recommendations that the government end its campaigns against the Industrial Workers of the World (Chomsky 1978: 17). At the National War Labor Board and the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the sociologist William Ogburn developed new quantitative research techniques and wrote a series of publications that helped him secure a postwar academic position at Columbia University (Keen 1999:56).

European social scientists also used their professional skills to assist the war effort. In Britain, W. H. R Rivers and C. G. Seligman treated shell-shocked British soldiers (Fortes 1968: 160; Slobodin 1978). O. G. S. Crawford used his archaeological-photography skills to photograph and map battles and trenches at the front until he was eventually taken prisoner by the Germans (Crawford 1955). Some European social scientists generated wartime propaganda. L. T. Hobhouse wrote pro-war political analyses for the Manchester Guardian, while Émile Durkheim wrote propaganda pamphlets for the French government that were designed to convince the United States to join France in the war with Germany.

For Durkheim, the most immediate effect of the war was the death of his son and intellectual protégé, André. One of Durkheim's most promising students, Robert Hertz (later to become a significant intellectual influence on E. E. Evans-Pritchard), was killed by German machine guns while leading an attack on Marchéville as a second lieutenant in the French infantry (Needham 1979: 295). The war also killed a significant number of Durkheim's students who were part of the European lost generation that did not survive the war; Durkheim died in despair in late 1917. Most of the German sociologist Georg Simmel's students met a similar fate in the war, a fate that slowed the influence of his work in Germany, Europe, and the Americas.

The German Army Reserve Corps officer Max Weber wrote articles and position papers for the Frankfurter Zeitung, in which he argued that "the Great War was Germany's last chance to achieve imperial greatness and prevent 'the swamping of the entire world' by the decrees of Russian officials on the one hand and the conventions of Anglo-Saxon society on the other" (Ashley and Orenstein 1995: 266). Wilhelm Wundt and Max Scheler supported the German war effort by writing passionately anti-American and anti-British propaganda tracts (Coser 1968; Leahey 1991: 54). The specifics of some of these European social scientists' embracing of roles of public intellectuals advocating the militaristic policies of their governments suggests comparisons with contemporary intellectuals' work at the Council on Foreign Relations and other think tanks aligned with the geopolitical interests of the nation state.

German anthropologists took extensive measurements of soldiers held in prisoner of war camps. These initial studies were linguistic surveys, but soon the anthropologists Egon von Eickstedt, Paul Hambruch, Felix von Luschan, Rudolf Pöch, and Otto Reche began taking extensive anthropometric measurements of prisoners. Without consent, prisoners were subjected to various body measurements and were photographed in the nude or in seminude positions designed to identify specific national racial features. Andrew Evans argued that "practicing anthropology in the camps helped to reorient German anthropologists toward European subjects in ways that contributed significantly to the erosion of the categories at the heart of the liberal tradition" (Evans 2003: 201). That these measurements were taken among prisoners subjected to the demands of martial law, where all prisoners were categorically treated as enemy aliens, contributed to the development of a German racial analysis that "was a short step from a nationalism that coded Germany's enemies as non-European to a view of Europeans as racial others" (Evans 2003: 219).


Excerpted from Anthropological Intelligence by DAVID H. PRICE Copyright © 2008 by DUKE UNIVERSITY PRESS. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Preface     xi
Abbreviations     xxi
American Anthropology and the War to End All Wars     1
Professional Associations and the Scope of American Anthropology's Wartime Applications     18
Allied and Axis Anthropologies     53
The War on Campus     74
American Anthropologists Join the Wartime Brain Trust     91
Anthropologists and White House War Projects     117
Internment Fieldwork: Anthropologists and the War Relocation Authority     143
Anthropology and Nihonjinron at the Office of War Information     171
Archaeology and J. Edgar Hoover's Special Intelligence Service     200
Culture at War: Weaponizing Anthropology at the oss     220
Postwar Ambiguities: Looking Back at the War     262
Notes     283
Bibliography     317
Index     353

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See All Customer Reviews