The War on Campus – David H. Price

Price, David H. (2008). Anthropological Intelligence: The Deployment and Neglect of American Anthropology in the Second World War. Durham, NC:Duke University Press.

The fourth chapter “The War on Campus,” studies the mechanisms of support existent within universities from anthropologists during the Second World War, a conflict that profoundly shaped campuses and the role of anthropologists. This chapter shows how greatly influenced was the field of anthropology by politics at the time, through their involvement in the war effort.

During the Second World War, anthropologists proved their relevance to the country – legitimizing the study of other cultures thus enhancing their possibilities to expand research. Their understanding of the relationship between culture and human interactions and reactions was recognized by the military and intelligence community, who also recognized the practical utility of this knowledge. Their extensive fieldwork experiences and interest for linguistics placed them in the position to learn and teach languages useful in the context of warfare. The Intensive Language Program (ILP) was important in preparing language course material by anthropologists and linguists to prepare the country for a totalitarian world-wide war. The language guides were prepared and handed to the soldiers with secrecy to avoid spies from getting information on the troops destinations. The study of unwritten languages of the Orient was also of crucial importance, which lead linguists and anthropologists to find speakers of these languages. Language courses were adapted to diverse milieu through university courses, hand-outs, and even teachers travelling in war boats. By 1942, the ILP was teaching sixteen languages on fourteen university campuses. Anthropologists were also important in Area Studies, as they possessed extensive knowledge of the culture, history and workings of a wide array of societies. The Area Study centers founded during these years were also useful later on during the Cold War. The Army Specialized Training Programs (ASTPs) were put in place for the study of language but also of the culture and history of regions of interest. Anthropologists and archaeologists acquainted with their region of expertise had valuable knowledge on the geography, the culture, and language of regions of interest. Margaret Mead, in 1943, proposed teaching soldiers to become regional ethnogeographic specialists because of the exhaustion of anthropologists, who were massively enrolled in war work.

The motivation of Mead and many other anthropologists show their genuine involvement in the war effort. On the one hand, Mead, Kluckhohn and many other anthropologists were giving their full effort to the cause of the war, which makes us see the depth of their involvement. However, some anthropologists lost their jobs or were greatly silenced because of their position vis à vis the war. Clyde Kluckhohn produced work for the ASTP and the Council of Intercultural Relations on intercultural contact and argued that it was important to understand cultural change. The understanding of the Other would help Americans and Allies avoid certain errors leading to events like Pearl Harbour. Kluckhohn makes clear that a better understanding of cultural practices and values is beneficial for controlling populations and understanding opponents. Mead encouraged instructors to invite cultural informants to better understand the alien culture in an experience of fieldwork and observation, this would serve the purpose of thinking like the Other.  The top anthropology departments, such as at Harvard and University of Chicago, assisted or developed such courses. This interest was not restricted to anthropologists but universities also had great motivation to participate. Was this related to the grants that they could attract or to their reputation increasing or to some governmental pressure? Universities tried to maintain contact with their students during the war and this correspondence was at times published in newspapers, such as Euphoria.  

Universities were shaped in unmeasurable ways, as the emphasis of certain areas of studies and ideological commitments remained in the post war period. The outcome of the war shows interesting developments related to gender and class relations within university campuses. In 1940, 61 percent of American colleges and universities had anthropology departments and as the war started student enrollment in the departments decreased as they were volunteering or drafted for military service. This changed the demographics of the campuses, as more female students were entering undergraduate and graduate degrees with great motivation. However the end of the war lead to the disappearing of this group of students, replaced by incoming male veterans. The after war transformation of campus life started with the GI Bill which funded college education for a generation of veterans. This opened the door of prestigious universities to working-class background veterans who would become influential anthropologists. Anthropology departments after the war were more valued and funded, and they were realign to serve state interests.

The work of anthropologists in the war effort during the Second World War raises ethical questions surrounding the use of information gathered for violent purposes, this concern is briefly raised in Price’s analysis of the war on campus. He argues that:

“[…] it is surprising that Mead, Kluckhohn, and others do not appear to have seriously pondered the implications of using participant-observation techniques as a tool of warfare; nor do they appear conflicted about teaching to military personnel. Mead’s and Kluckhohn’s correspondence does not show them as concerned that the military might be a hungry master with needs that stretched beyond the conflict at hand.” (90)

The author questions the involvement of these academics for the purpose of the conflict and their lack of awareness or preoccupation for the use, by the distinct agencies, of the data provided  for more imperial goals. However, he does not clarify what he might see as problematic in his action or what these implications are. Price argues that the institution profiting from anthropological work is the military, this “hungry master” who uses anthropologists to get overarching power. Indeed, the military is profiting extensively through the instruction of their soldiers on language, culture, and history of regions where they operate during this war. However, it is also arguable that the war and the participation of anthropologists was to profit the government and multiple institutions, including universities and private businesses.

This chapter raises important questions on the influence of politics in the work of anthropologists and universities, how these events influenced the interests of universities and academics, and the ethical issues that are raised by the commitment of anthropologists to the war effort. These are concerns that are of current relevance as today’s field has been shaped through the outcome of the decisions made by past anthropologists and universities. Although this chapter incites the reader to ask herself these questions, it does not provide many answers or opinions. Is it because of a lack of available data or to detach the author from a positionality unfavorable to the nation? Even today, academics are restricted by the interests of the institutions that distribute grants, by pressure of governments and academic institutions on what is acceptable, and by the market that will receive the published outcome.  


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