The Making of the Cold War Enemy: Culture and Politics in the Military-Intellectual Complex

The Making of the Cold War Enemy: Culture and Politics in the Military-Intellectual Complex

by Ron Theodore Robin



Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780691011714
Publisher: Princeton University Press
Publication date: 02/04/2001
Pages: 256
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.25(h) x (d)

About the Author

Ron Robin is Professor of History and Dean of Students at Haifa University in Israel. He is the author of Enclaves of America: The Rhetoric of American Political Architecture Abroad and The Barbed Wire College: Reeducating German POWs in the United States during World War II (both Princeton).

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The Making of the Cold War Enemy

Culture and Politics in the Military-Intellectual Complex
By Ron Robin

Princeton University Press

Ron Robin
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0691114552

Chapter One

Throughout most of the Cold War rumors of an enemy plagued the United States. The nation's policy makers and military strategists stalked and feared an elusive predator based on suggestion and autosuggestion, the blurring of fact and fiction, and the projection of collective fears and desires. Much like everyday rumors, the enemy-as-rumor represented an attempt to resolve uncertainty, compensate for crucial information voids, and reframe a chaotic world in familiar forms. Rumor-an amalgam of opaque knowledge and cultural codes-transformed a distant adversary into a clear and present danger. Plausible, yet unauthenticated explanations replaced an uncomfortably ambiguous reality.1

This powerful rumor induced periodic harsh twists and sudden turns in the nation's global and domestic policies. The mutant enemy appeared everywhere-in foreign lands and at home. Exorcising his presence became a national obsession. Occasionally the rumored enemy unleashed dangerous forms of escapism. The "cult of the superweapon"-the dependency on superior American technology as a substitute for a painstaking assessment of enemy strengths and weaknesses-was the most prominent example of the impulse to circumvent rather than confront theenemy.2 These and other reactions to the presence of the Cold War enemy shared a crucial common denominator: the image of the enemy was derived from an uneven mixture of fragmented information and unauthenticated presumptions. It was a rumor.

The concept of a rumor does not deny the presence of existential threats facing the United States during the course of the Cold War. In fact, the predominant image of the enemy was, at times, quite realistic. Nevertheless, veracity had little to do with the rumor's reception. The rumor spread because it provided a culturally compelling explanation for an uncertain predicament; fact and accuracy played a supporting role only. The sinister face of the enemy emerged primarily from a common "universe of discourse" and a pool of "shared assumptions" permeating American society at mid-century.3 Its resonance was derived from, and coincided with, the collective codes and values of the time.

Much like other forms of contagion, this rumor would not have spread without the presence of powerful vectors. The rumor colonized the innermost fiber of the American body politic and confronted negligible resistance due to the privileged status of its agents. A variety of public opinion leaders participated in the transformation of assumptions, fears, and selective information into a plausible, widely accepted construction of the enemy. And, as is often the case with everyday rumors, the clients and consumers of this imaginary enemy were swayed by the credentials of its agents rather than the accuracy of their testimony.

Few of the many groups of opinion leaders responsible for the spread of the rumor could match the resonance of its academic agents. Most Americans at mid-century still regarded science as being fundamentally more reliable than other forms of discourse. The idea that scientific theory may be "accepted for reasons other than evidence-for simplicity, agreement with common sense," or political prudence-was rarely entertained.4 The academic community still basked in the triumphs of World War II accomplishments. Its lingering prestige obviated any critical analysis of academia's observations on the significance of the Cold War in general and the face of the enemy in particular. Thus, it comes as no surprise that absorption of the rumor into contemporary scientific discourse was of particular importance. It transformed a speculative version of the enemy into a powerful working hypothesis. It is with these thoughts in mind that I offer this study of the academic alchemists responsible for transforming a welter of ambiguous data into an authoritative portrait of the enemy.

The following pages move beyond the familiar tale of mercenary science and the brutalization of knowledge-seeking in the national security state. Cold War academia did, indeed, labor in "the shadow of war." However, I do not accept the conventional analysis of a one-way conduit of influence, in which academia developed a pathological dependency on government, the military, and attendant foundations. There is, of course, little doubt that the underwriters of the warfare state affected the evolution of disciplinary knowledge, influenced academia's social structure, and imperiled the notion of academic freedom. Nevertheless, Michael Sherry reminds us, "militarization, like industrialization, was complex and multifaceted: individuals and interests could grasp one aspect of it and resist another."5

The academic co-production of this critical rumor was informed by numerous intellectual developments that were not directly or exclusively related to the military-industrial complex. The national security state was far from being a seamless, monolithic operation, and there was never a unitary militarization of academia. The academic construction of the enemy was powered as much by internal intellectual developments as by the impingement of external political forces. "The way in which universities, other institutions, and the larger culture responded to the cold war," Rebecca Lowen observes, "was determined not simply by the tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union but also by concerns that preceded" or developed contemporaneously with, or independently of, the Cold War.6 The transformation of the university from a "community of scholars" to a "loose collection of academic entrepreneurs," the rise of new disciplinary frameworks, generational shifts within the universities, and the burgeoning of interdisciplinary paradigms are just some of the factors affecting the construction of the enemy that were not the exclusive products of national security imperatives.

Most of the academic warriors involved in the making of the Cold War enemy were behavioral scientists, a new, multidisciplinary academic coalition for addressing the nation's social and political concerns. I have not approached these behavioralists as the compliant prisoners of institutional benefactors. Moreover, I intend to demonstrate that the much-maligned government-supported behavioral research was often ingenious and intellectually stimulating. I argue that the major fault of Cold War behavioralism was not its mercenary nature, but, rather, its pervasive contempt for complexity, the uncritical acceptance of contemporary cultural mores, and the denial of its intellectual limitations. Behavioralists and their intellectual kin failed to acknowledge that the creation of theoretical knowledge and the formation of practical policy were fundamentally disparate activities. The criteria for success in the theoretical domains of academic inquiry-innovation, originality, speculation-were of little relevance in the domain of policy, where applicability, tangible results, and cost-effectiveness-economic and political-were the overriding criteria. The conflating of theory and policy in the Cold War military-intellectual complex caused havoc and eventually ruined the credibility of the nation's academic establishment.7

My analysis of the behavioral sciences parts company with Ellen Herman's important study of twentieth-century social research. Herman dismisses the behavioral sciences as a label for a loose institutional coalition, a conduit for facilitating the flow of funds from government to privileged projects. She prefers to focus on one discipline-psychology-as the core of most crucial intellectual and solcial developments. By contrast, I have approached the behavioral sciences as a quintessential paradigm and major disseminator of fundamental intellectual and institutional shifts in American academia at mid-century. No one discipline, however broadly defined, could have accomplished such a mission.8 Born in the immediate post-World War II years, the behavioral sciences challenged the traditional intellectual and social arrangements in the so-called soft sciences. The behavioralist creed rejected, in particular, the social sciences' division of the spheres of human experience-politics, society, and biology-into discrete units. Believing that disciplinary divisions weakened the validity of scientific findings, behavioralists espoused a unified theory of human action; all social knowledge was one and indivisible.

Freed from the checks and balances of conventional knowledge creation, with its rigid departmental divisions and its respect for disciplinary enclosures, behavioralists produced provocative, multidisciplinary, yet often whimsical intellectual concepts for government consumption. In contrast to traditional modes of university research, cognizant of divisional limitations and wrapped in a protective cover of disciplinary qualifications, behavioralists offered a cosmic cogency, clarity, and resolution. Gone was the world in which human conduct was obscure, the product of undiscovered motives and unpredictability. Reality, according to the Cold War behavioralist, could be deciphered by a unified theory of human action. The quest for an inclusive supertheory assumed that human conduct adhered to a series of behavioral "laws"; even accidents appeared to follow a predictable path.

Quantification was the chosen method for routinizing peculiarities and standardizing different behavioral phenomena. The quest for precision, the discovery of regularities, and demands for verification and testability were the ostensible reasons offered for this "trust in numbers." In actual fact, a distinct, sometimes covert, and, often, unacknowledged social conservatism underscored such declarations of detachment and objectivity. As a rule, behavioralists were suspicious of diversity and social change, and avoided the role of social critic. They discounted the power of ideas and values as motivating forces in the human experience, preferring, instead, to treat ideology and belief systems as mere rationalizations of behavioral modes. Thus, behavioralists argued that individuals, rather than formal groups or institutions, were the proper units of analysis. Groups, whatever their size, shape, or social origins, were approached as collections of autonomous, self-seeking individuals.

This focus on measuring rather than critiquing, as well as the preoccupation with conduct rather than ideas, relieved behavioralists of the need to probe and question existing political, economic, and social arrangements. Quantification reflected as well an insistent denial of ambiguity in human affairs. Given their suspicion of nonmeasurable observations, behavioralists ignored fuzzy cultural circumstance and historical happenstance, preferring to approach the human experience as the sum of a crisp, quantifiable, and predictable combination of sociological, psychological, and biological reactions.

In the field of defense research, the subject of this book, this behavioralist impulse produced a shrinking agenda of complexity. Issues that could not be measured were either ignored or trivialized in order to fit the paradigm. In fact, the more distant and inscrutable the subject matter, the more relevant and intimate it appeared to be. Culturally distant people and events were translated into measurable ideal types, mostly by fostering a series of primitive pictures of the Other. Complex cultural phenomena were reduced to basic human instincts of violence, greed, or sexual drives. In defense-related research such concepts offered little autonomy for the enemy. "It was never necessary to inquire what the enemy wants to do, but only what the enemy can do," a critical Anatol Rapoport recalled. "If he can blackmail us, he will. If he can do us in, he will."9 The remote and the strange had to appear ruthlessly simple. Essentially different behavioral phenomena were given an underlying structural similarity; peculiarities were routinized.

Portrayals of the enemy as primitive, brutal, and unchanging were not solely the result of methodological bias. These constructs drew upon deep institutional and cultural sources and, presumably, compounded and reflected widespread contemporary insecurities as well. Behavioralists were both spectators in, and creators of, what sociologist Gabriel Weimann has called in another context the "theater of terror," a repertoire of scenarios aimed more at reducing ambiguous or unknown phenomena to a familiar, brutal, and dramatic format, rather than deciphering its complexity.10 The behavioralists' image of the enemy dramatized, simplified, and accepted uncritically the clear and present dangers that seemed to lurk around every corner. Such brutal choreographies were, of course, related to methodological bias. However, they were nurtured first and foremost by common cultural and political codes.

Using the rise and fall of the behavioral sciences as point of departure and final destination, this study traces the role of academia in producing an authoritative version of the enemy during the course of the Cold War. I have not attempted to provide an exhaustive chronology of behavioralism in action. Instead, I have exhumed and examined several exemplary projects prepared at the behest of government and military clients during a crucial period of the Cold War, from the late 1940s to the mid-1960s. The research projects analyzed here resonated far beyond the confines of specific problems or strictly military affairs. These projects were generated by, or contributed to, the creation of new paradigms, were part and parcel of the founding of new academic fields, such as mass communication studies, and nurtured a potent coalition of disciplines claiming affinity with the behavioral sciences.

Contrary to the majority of studies on academic advisors in the Cold War, I have paid particular attention to the masters of conventional warfare. Most historical inquiries of the military-intellectual complex in the Cold War are concerned with weapons development or academia's nuclear strategists.11 In the conventional analysis of the Cold War as a series of strategical threats and nuclear gambits, the period's numerous hot wars appear as distracting sideshows of the main event. Invariably, these studies ignore those defense intellectuals who were not among the creators or theorists of weapons of mass destruction. Here, I move beyond the "Wizards of Armageddon" and focus, instead, on a less visible group of scholar-warriors who were preoccupied with defining strategies for addressing limited, conventional warfare in the thermonuclear age. It is the contention of this study that crucial observations on the nature of the enemy-observations informing both nuclear theorists and prominent "national security managers"-were produced by the analysts of conventional warfare.


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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations ix

List of Abbreviations xi

Acknowledgments xv

Introduction: Rumors of an Enemy 3


1.Inventing the Behavioral Sciences 19

2.The Culture of Think Tanks 38

3.Psychopolitics and Primary Groups: Theories of Culture and Society in Cold War Academia 57


4.The Obstinate Audience: The Art of Information Management in the Cold War 75

5.The War of Ideas:Ideologyand Science in Psychological Warfare 94

6.Deus ex Clinica : Psychopolitics and Elite Studies of Communism 124

7.Collective Behavior in Totalitarian Societies: The Analysis of Enemy POWs in Korea 144

8.Prison Camps and Culture Wars: The Korean Brainwashing Controversy 162


9.Vietnam: From "Hearts and Minds" to "Rational Choice" 185

10.Paradigm Lost: The Project Camelot Affair 206

11.Epilogue:Report from Iron Mountain and Beyond 226

Notes 239

Index 271

What People are Saying About This


A first-rate book by a first-rate historian. Among works on the Cold War, Ron Robin's book stands out on account of the sheer quality of its exposition and analysis and because of its attention to the less-studied and distinctly problematical field of behavior sciences. The Making of the Cold War Enemy will attract readers interested in the Cold War and its culture, American intellectual history, and the Korean and Vietnam wars.
Michael S. Sherry, Northwestern University

Marilyn B. Young

Ron Robin has written a fascinating account of the ideology of Cold War America,focusing on the emergence of the behavioral sciences. Most historians take as a given the intellectual assumptions of the Cold War. But few have offered a critical examination of the thinking behind the entire enterprise and/or analyzed in any detail how and why particular concepts became dominant. Robin does both,brilliantly,in this book.

Michael S. Sherry

A first-rate book by a first-rate historian. Among works on the Cold War,Ron Robin's book stands out on account of the sheer quality of its exposition and analysis and because of its attention to the less-studied and distinctly problematical field of behavior sciences. The Making of the Cold War Enemy will attract readers interested in the Cold War and its culture,American intellectual history,and the Korean and Vietnam wars.


Ron Robin has written a fascinating account of the ideology of Cold War America, focusing on the emergence of the behavioral sciences. Most historians take as a given the intellectual assumptions of the Cold War. But few have offered a critical examination of the thinking behind the entire enterprise and/or analyzed in any detail how and why particular concepts became dominant. Robin does both, brilliantly, in this book.
Marilyn B. Young, New York University

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