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A Special Supplement: Anthropology on the Warpath in Thailand

Yet usable ideas are scant. There is some crude talk of rewarding “cool” areas and depriving “hot” areas of the benefits of development; of using monks to “push social change”;10 of supporting democratization in order to “get the villagers to share in the responsibility for the failure of some programs.”11

Brief attempts at a more sophisticated account of regional and ethnic differences in Thailand alternate with simplistic clichés about reward and punishment as means for inhibiting aggression. One anthropologist notes: “I would want to work on some problems if I could get an unclassified paper out of it.”12 Another reaches the comforting conclusion that “there is little distinction between basic and applied research.”13 Apparently the credibility of the SS community remained low, for the government found the services displayed inadequate and refused to buy, at least this time round.

The proposals in the second set of documents seem more sophisticated and proved more convincing. The main proposal submitted by the American Institutes for Research of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in December, 1967, to the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) of the Department of Defense was entitled “Counter-Insurgency in Thailand: The Impact of Economic, Social and Political Action Programs.” American Institutes for Research (AIR) has a rather mixed ancestry: The Special Operations Research Office (SORO) at American University in Washington, which managed the Camelot disaster in Latin America, was thereupon supplanted by CRESS (American University’s Center for Research in the Social Sciences), and, subsequently, AIR. The project itself asked for—and got—more than a million dollars for a study which seems as horrifying as it is banal. It states:

One of the key problems in designing preventive counter-insurgency measures has been that we do not know which kinds of economic, social, and political action are the most effective in building national unity and in reducing vulnerability to insurgent appeal.14

It then proposes not only to close the gap between our obvious capacity to wage conventional warfare and our actual mediocre performance in counter-insurgency, but also to increase our ability to deal with “the social science aspects” so that it matches the level of our technology. To accomplish this

…techniques for obtaining meaningful feedback on social impact are clearly essential. And, since it has been the same methodological problem that has most hampered social action programs in the United States, the potential spinoffs of the proposed project are also exciting.15 [italics added]

To develop “techniques for obtaining meaningful feedback on social impact,” the project promises to make comparisons between communities where insurgent pressures are countered by “action programs” and communities hit by insurgency but which lack such programs. The proposal is presented in a baroque display of “inputs,” “feedback,” “ultimate criterion measures,” “evaluations of incidental effects.”

(The results that may be expected when proposals such as this one are put into effect are suggested by a report of AIR personnel after a trip to Amphoe Nong Han, Changwad Udon, May 28-June 6, 1969, which is included in the documents.16 From this we learn that: “Villages differ. If the village rather than the villager is the primary unit for analysis (as had always seemed probable) there will be variance.”)

As it continues, the 1967 proposal for research on counter-insurgency grows more ominously banal:

…the effect of a given stimulus element on a given individual at a given moment in time is shaped by the experiences of that individual in responding to that stimulus in the past.17


…conditions that change established stimulus-response patterns—either by changing the individual’s history of experiences with that stimulus element or by changing the contemporaneous circumstances on which the effectiveness of that stimulus element depends…we shall call disposing conditions.18

For example,

The offer of food in exchange for certain services affords a convenient example. If this has in the past been a strong stimulus, it can probably be weakened by increasing local agricultural production. If it has been a weak or neutral stimulus, it can probably be strengthened by burning the crops.19 [italics added]

The proposal brings its point home:

The potential applicability of the findings in the United States will also receive special attention. In many of our key domestic programs, especially those directed at disadvantaged sub-cultures, the methodological problems are similar to those described in this proposal; and the application of the Thai findings at home constitutes a potentially most significant project contribution.20 [italics added]

Are these social scientists serious or are they only trying to peddle their wares? To those who are aware of the growing market for social science research on the poor in this country, it is all too clear that they are serious. Professor Martin Nicolaus’s ironic remarks at the American Sociological convention in 1968 seem appropriate here:

What if the machinery were reversed? What if the habits, problems, secrets and unconscious motivations of the wealthy and powerful were daily scrutinized by a thousand systematic researchers, were hourly pried into, analyzed and cross referenced, tabulated and published in a hundred inexpensive mass circulation journals and written so that even the fifteen-year-old high school dropout could understand it and predict the actions of his landlord, manipulate and control him?

The third set of documents stems from the efforts of a group called American Advisory Council for Thailand (AACT) to serve under the umbrella of AID in that country. The purposes of AID operations in Thailand are not secret, but have not been widely publicized. They were stated in open testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Government Operations, Foreign Operations and Government Information Subcommittee, June 16, 1969, by Robert H. Nooter, acting assistant administrator for East Asia, AID. There we learn that our aid “is concentrated largely on assisting Thai counter-insurgency programs of various sorts.”21

Except for a modest amount of technical assistance projects, most of which we are gradually phasing out, our assistance in Thailand is concentrated on counter-insurgency activities, approximately 75 percent of our total effort in this field.22

And again,

Our largest single project in Thailand consists of assistance to various elements of the Thai National Police Department.23

This is quite all right with AACT:

The subject local authority in Thailand, including the implications for village security, should be first priority.24

And again, top priority is given to

Strengthening civil security at the village level: principally through aid to the Thai national police department.25

Other concerns, such as studies of cultural patterns and land tenure problems in Thai society, “including land as an incentive and land tenure as related to security,” are considered less important. But a more balanced view is expressed by the secretary of AACT: “The USOM (US Operations Mission) objective is to increase economic development without upsetting security and vice versa.”26 We would not have thought that “scientists” who pride themselves on their “value-free” approach would have accepted such restrictive definitions of their research task. In fact they volunteer to do so:

The basic work of AACT is to draw together…knowledge in any given case that is relevant to a well-defined, program-related question or topic; and presenting this knowledge in a form useful to USOM operations. In this way, AACT’s work will be organized to be as much as possible part of the operations of USOM.27

To facilitate this basic work, AACT signed a contract committing the University of California at Los Angeles to work with the Advisory Council.28

The reiterated goal of AACT’s “basic work” is counter-insurgency; the agency involved in countering insurgency seeks professional advice, and the professionals respond by volunteering answers to “well-defined, programrelated questions.” Thus counter-insurgency remains not merely a military and political technique for creating compliance through coercion; it also turns out to be a technique for creating consensus in the minds of its practitioners, including the academic volunteer.

But the problem extends well beyond the voluntary activities of scholars. By their actions, they commit not only themselves but the professional activities and reputations of others. “AACT,” says the acting administrator of the Office of the Administrator, AID, Department of State, in a letter of July 8, 1969, to an inquiring senator, J.W. Fulbright, chairman of the Committee on Foreign Relations,

was established under the auspices of the Southeast Asia Development Advisory Group (SEADAG). Shortly after its formation, SEADAG began to consider the advisability of an academic advisory role in direct relation to a Southeast Asian AID Mission…. Therefore, on the recommendation of a SEADAG task force, the Academic Advisory Council for Thailand was formed.

But the academic advisers soon began to convert the parent body, SEADAG, into a front organization for the activities of its offspring, as can be seen in the minutes of an AACT meeting in mid-1969:

In regard to SEADAG there was considerable discontent expressed regarding the organization, development, and particularly the management of the SEADAG grant during the past year. It was agreed that AACT should seek a more active role in the granting of funds for research in Thailand through SEADAG next year.

As a first step toward this it was agreed that we should seek to have Professor X appointed a member of the SEADAG Executive Committee. In addition to that it was agreed that AACT should seek a role in the screening of grants and the establishment of areas of priority for research to be funded through SEADAG in Thailand.

In regard to the community of Thai scholars, it was was agreed that AACT should abandon its pretensions to be representative of that group. It should accept its role as basically a consultative body to AID. Nevertheless, it was agreed that efforts should be made to extend the range of activities to include as wide a selection of Thai specialists as is feasible.29 [italics added]

Thus the association between scholarship and counter-insurgency has wider ramifications. It not only affects the original sellers of academic skills, but also seeks to implicate innocent colleagues, much as bad money drives out good.

Jason, AIR, AACT are not the only organizations involved in linking the “SS community” to the purposes of the government. Although the documents copied by SMC make no reference to them, anthropologists have known for some time of the operations of a Tribal Research Center at Chiang Mai, Thailand, which underwrites large convocations of scholars and other interested parties, maintains a considerable staff, has installed a computer, provides facilities for occasional users of their resources, and other amenities. For example, in January, 1970, social scientists from several countries gathered at Chiang Mai at a “Consultants’ Meeting,” together with representatives from forty-three organizations, including ARPA, Military Research Development Center, United States Operations Mission, South East Asia Treaty Organization, Thailand Police Department, Thailand Department of Central Intelligence, Thailand National Security Council, United States Information Service, the Peace Corps, and eleven Christian missions.

The Dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences, Lanna Thai Social Science Research Center, Chiang Mai, described the meeting as a first step toward establishing communication among agencies interested in the “Tribal Data Center.” His group, he said,

  1. 10

    Ibid., June 28, 1967, pp. 4-5; June 29, 1967, p. 8.

  2. 11

    Ibid., June 29, 1967, p. 5.

  3. 12

    Ibid., July 5, 1967, p. 2.

  4. 13

    Ibid., July 4, 1967, p. 2.

  5. 14

    American Institutes for Research, “Counter-Insurgency in Thailand,” a research and development proposal submitted to the Advanced Research Projects Agency (Pittsburgh, 1967), p. ii.

  6. 15

    American Institutes for Research, “Counter-Insurgency,” ibid.

  7. 16

    Trip Report: Visit to Amphoe Nong Han, Changwad Udon, 28 May-6 June, 1969, p. 3.

  8. 17

    American Institutes for Research, “Counter-Insurgency,” p. 6.

  9. 18

    Ibid., p. 8.

  10. 19

    Ibid., p. 7.

  11. 20

    Ibid., p. 34.

  12. 21

    Testimony, p. 2.

  13. 22

    Testimony, p. 3.

  14. 23

    Testimony, p. 3.

  15. 24

    Meeting of the American Advisory Council for Thailand; Minutes, October 19, 1963, p. 3.

  16. 25

    Meeting of the AACT, Minutes, January 24-25, p. 1.

  17. 26

    Meeting of the AACT, Minutes, June 10-11, p. 6.

  18. 27

    Executive Secretary, American Advisory Council for Thailand, Trip for AACT to Thailand, November 22 to December 17, 1968, p. 1.

  19. 28

    Amendment No. 3 to the Contract between the United States of America and the Regents of the University of California, PIO/T 493-190-3-60152-A1, PIO/T 493-000.2-3-90050.

  20. 29

    Meeting of the AACT, Minutes, June 10-11, 1969, p. 8.

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