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A Special Supplement: Anthropology on the Warpath in Thailand

I

On March 30 of this year, the Student Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam submitted documents to us implicating American social scientists in counter-insurgency activities in Thailand. We shall summarize these documents in this article, but it is important first to make clear the situation in which we received them and the controversy which has arisen over them among scholars.

At that time, one of us, Wolf, was chairman and the other, Jorgensen, a member of the Ethics Committee of the American Anthropological Association, a committee which had been set up in the aftermath of a Statement on Problems of Anthropological Research and Ethics adopted by the Fellows of the Association in 1967. Clearly, this statement had been framed against the immediate background of the war in Vietnam (the Association condemned the war in 1966), but more generally it sought to guard the integrity of anthropologists whose specific knowledge and experience, based on field work in the third world, obviously commend them to the executors of government policy for counter-insurgency and related forms of clandestine research.

The problem that confronted the Association and the Ethics Committee has dogged anthropologists from the inception of the discipline. European conquest and colonialism had, after all, provided the field for anthropology’s operations and, especially in the nineteenth century, its intellectual ethic of “scientific objectivity.” But “scientific objectivity,” we believe, implies the estrangement of the anthropologist from the people among whom he works. Lévi-Strauss has defined the issue very well:

Anthropology is not a dispassionate science like astronomy, which springs from the contemplation of things at a distance. It is the outcome of an historical process, which has made the larger part of mankind subservient to the other, and during which millions of innocent human beings have had their resources plundered, their institutions and beliefs destroyed while they themselves were ruthlessly killed, thrown into bondage, and contaminated by diseases they were unable to resist. Anthropology is the daughter to this era of violence. Its capacity to assess more objectively the facts pertaining to the human condition reflects, on the epistemological level, a state of affairs in which one part of mankind treats the other as an object.1

On the other hand, anthropology, as Stanley Diamond has pointed out, was inherently “a revolutionary discipline,”2 which, in the tradition of Montaigne and Rousseau, radically questioned the pretensions to superiority of Western civilization, while seeking alternative visions of man. This latter aspect of the anthropological consciousness has always been recognized in the United States, to the enduring credit of such men as Franz Boas, Robert Redfield, and Paul Radin. Throughout the history of the profession anthropologists have condemned the assault of the American government on American Indians (although the “solutions” they suggested were not, and perhaps could not have been, better than those from any other source); and the Association has defended the social and cultural rights of minority peoples, and taken early and unequivocal positions against fascism and racism. The Nazis, it should be noted, understood this aspect of the discipline in Europe and systematically sought to cut the heart out of German anthropology, reducing it to a reflex of the regime. They were not, of course, impressed by any claim to scientific objectivity.

Most recently, anthropologists have been in the forefront of the protest against the war in Vietnam. The concept of the teach-in was in fact invented by an anthropologist, Marshall Sahlins of Michigan; Eric Wolf was a founder of the movement, and anthropologists contributed disproportionately to the organization of the first teach-ins on campuses throughout the country. Therefore, although we did not solicit the information that was handed to us by the Student Mobilization Committee, it was understandable that they should have contacted us.

Immediately afterward, the SMC held a press conference in Washington which was covered by The New York Times in a confusing report. Nevertheless, some anthropologists had now been alerted to the issue. On April 2, excerpts from the documents were published in a special issue of the Student Mobilizer, an SMC publication which was devoted exclusively to the exposure of counter-insurgency research in Thailand. Copies of the Mobilizer were subsequently distributed at the annual meeting of the Association of Asian Studies in San Francisco: names were given, reputations were questioned, tempers flared, and, once again, the integrity of social scientists was challenged.3

Independently, and without any knowledge of the steps planned by SMC, Wolf, as chairman of the Ethics Committee, privately wrote to each of four anthropologists whose names were most prominently and repeatedly mentioned in the documents, asking them for clarification and assuring them that the “announced purpose of the Ethics Committee [is] to deal with cases on as anonymous a basis as possible, in an effort to develop an approach—without penalizing any individuals.” With these letters we enclosed the following statement:

Since these documents contradict in spirit and in letter the resolutions of the American Anthropological Association concerning clandestine and secret research, we feel that they raise the most serious issues for the scientific integrity of our profession. We shall, therefore, call the attention of the American Anthropological Association to these most serious matters.

Predictably, our request for clarification provoked a storm of protest—not from all, but from those who felt themselves maligned by the disclosures. Therefore, on May 2, at our regularly scheduled meeting in Chicago, the Ethics Committee speaking as a group announced formally that:

Our examination of the documents available to us pertaining to consultation, research and related activities in Thailand convinces us that anthropologists are being used in large programs of counter-insurgency whose effects should be of grave concern to the Association. These programs comprise efforts at the manipulation of people on a giant scale and intertwine straightforward anthropological research with overt and covert counter-insurgency activities in such a way as to threaten the future of anthropological research in South-East Asia and other parts of the world.

This statement was part of a communication addressed by the Ethics Committee to the president, the president-elect, and members of the executive board of the Anthropological Association. Shortly thereafter, in response to our initiative, the executive board reprimanded both of us for actions beyond the charge of the committee, and instructed the committee to limit itself “to recommendations on its future role and functions.” We rejected what seemed to us a bureaucratic interpretation of the role of the committee, an interpretation which would have the effect of keeping professional peace at the expense of substantive issues, and, in a detailed statement published in the Association’s newsletter this past September, we resigned from the committee.

II

The documents we had received were not classified in the legal sense, but they were copied from the personal files of an anthropologist at a university in California. That is to say, we were presented with Xerox copies of the originals. We regret this action, and would certainly hot have taken it ourselves, nor would we have encouraged anyone else to do so. But the documents seemed to us of such significance that, while taking care to protect the names of those mentioned, we none the less felt compelled to pursue the questions raised by them because of our concern for the integrity of our profession.

The documents consist of the following:

1) Minutes of the Jason Summer Study, Institute for Defense Analysis, Falmouth Intermediate School, Falmouth, Massachusetts, June 20-July 6, 1967;

2) A proposal to the Advanced Research Projects Agency, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, entitled “Counter-Insurgency in Thailand: The Impact of Economic, Social and Political Action Programs,” American Institutes for Research, December, 1967;

3) Trip Report for a visit to Amphoe Nong Han, Changwad Udon, May 28-June 6, 1969;

4) Agenda for an Advisory Panel, American Institutes for Research meeting, June 30-July 4, 1969;

5) Amendment to a Contract between the United States of America, represented by the Agency for International Development, and the Regents of the University of California, to facilitate advice and assistance on the part of the academic community for the Academic Advisory Council for Thailand, September 1, 1968;

6) Minutes of the Academic Advisory Council for Thailand, October 19, 1968-July 24, 1969.

The meetings at which these documents were formulated or presented were not technically classified as “secret,” but were private meetings of which the profession at large was unaware. The proceedings were sufficiently suggestive to cause the participants to worry about a repetition of the notorious Project Camelot4 which had not only sullied the reputation of North American social scientists in Latin America but also had grave political repercussions in itself.

The data themselves give a curious and chilling perspective on the uses of social science. Take, for instance, the first set of papers, which describe meetings of a Thailand Study Group made up of government officials, physical scientists, and members of what the minutes call the “SS Community,” the community of social scientists. The meetings were organized at Falmouth, Massachusetts, in the summer of 1967, by the Institute for Defense Analysis, and designated a “Jason Summer Study.” The IDA was organized in 1955 to coordinate warrelated work on the nation’s campuses; its special Jason Division was set up to involve academics in the solution of military problems. The purpose of the Falmouth meetings was specifically to explore the usefulness of creating an “SS” Jason, complementing the already existing Jason studies carried on by physical scientists.

The minutes reveal a surprising ambiguity of motive: Is the government soliciting social scientists, or is the SS community soliciting government? They raise no doubt, however, about the hardheaded approach to knowledge taken by the government officials present. When one of them is asked if he desires from the SS community “dialogue and indices,” he replies bluntly: “I want tools.”5 He wants hardware, he is not interested in discussion. Repeatedly, participants are dismayed that most social scientists do not want to work for the government. Their feeling is due, some argue, to the “priority” of “ethical” values, i.e., loyalty to the profession or to the country or to a job.6 Others blame the Vietnam war, the unfortunate experiences with Camelot, the difficulty of squaring classified research with the “university’s mission.”7

But, as the minutes of the conference make clear, there are devices for getting around these difficulties: increased salaries, congenial companionship, “interesting problems like existence of Thai communists”; professional opportunities and prestige; support of military officials at universities; closer ties of government with universities; greater support for RAND and Army think tanks; the hiring of top professionals at high costs to enlist and serve as a model for others; the development of administrative anthropologists who, on the British and French design, would become advisers to Empire.8 In the assistance social science can give to counter-insurgency, anthropology can be particularly useful. “Given the apparent importance of local factors to the recruitment of the Northeastern [Thailand] insurgents, it is important to learn the detailed content and credibility of communist recruitment, training, and propaganda messages.”9

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

Moreover,

…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,

…intended to develop systems of collecting, coding, processing, integrating, storing, updating, checking, retrieving and publishing data concerning tribal people of Northern Thailand and contiguous areas. Building and equipment facilities are to be developed into a reference center with in-house study facilities for use by scholars and concerned government and nongovernment agencies and personnel. It is hoped to establish regular communication with those parties who can provide the raw data or who will wish to use the processed data. [italics added]

Gathering raw data, “data storage,” and “data retrieval” appear to be central to the concerns of the Tribal Data Center, for the form letter to each social scientist—personally addressed—goes on to say: 30

We understand that in the course of your work you may be in a position either to supply us with raw data concerning tribal communities, to utilize the processed data, or to give us technical advice as to systems of data collection and processing…. We need such up-to-date information as the location of tribal villages, the number and ethnic identity of the inhabitants, their migratory history, and so on. [italics added]

The type of raw data these seekers after information hoped to collect is made evident by a dummy “Proposal for Village Data Card,” which was circulated along with the invitation and other materials emanating from Chiang Mai. Few of the entry spaces on the card concern the kind of information normally collected by anthropologists or data which could be kept anonymous. The nineteen entry spaces on the card request, for example, exact village location and map coordinates; names of the village headman and other influentials: years of residence in situ and place and duration of residence elsewhere; names, racial affiliation, and occupations of occasional residents in the village; and weapons on hand.

It is hardly conceivable that participants in the Consultants’ Meeting were unaware of the plainclothesmen in their midst, and thus unable to sense the politics of the occasion. It is possible but hardly plausible that members of the conference on shifting cultivation ignored the fact that knowledge of such techniques had allowed aerial surveillance to distinguish ethnic populations from the air, during the Malayan insurgency. It could even be the case that an unusually naïve scholar might not raise an eyebrow at requests for information which violate the anthropologist’s unwritten code: protect the anonymity and privacy of your informants. But only a scholar with an unusual capacity for self-delusion could fail to see what was implied by the letter of invitation, the conference membership, the request for information, and the data card.

Eighty-six scholars and public officials were invited to the Consultants’ Meeting, including a number of American anthropologists, but we do not know how many attended. Fifty-nine names appear in the documents given to us by the SMC. Thirty-two are identifiable as social scientists. Of these, twenty-two are affiliated with US universities.

This number, of course, represents only a fraction of social scientists taking part in Thailand counter-insurgency research. In November, 1969, alone, ARTA/DOD, in addition to nineteen Thailand projects of its own, maintained sixteen external contracts for this purpose, involving eleven universities and private research institutes.31 The total number of social scientists employed in these activities is not known to us, but cannot be negligible.

Since 1962, moreover, the Stanford Research Institute has conducted at least five major research projects in Thailand. By mid-1969, SRI had issued more than one hundred reports on this research. More than thirty of these reports (nine of which were confidential) were written by social scientists; the project and report numbers are known to us but are too numerous to list here. All of the thirty reports specifically concern counter-insurgency operations.

The contributions from RAND Corporation to counter-insurgency in Thailand include a study of “Limited War Patterns: I, Southeast Asia,” in July, 1962; an inquiry into “Certain Effects of Culture and Social Organization on Internal Security in Thailand” by an anthropologist and a political scientist; and “Seminars on Developments and Security in Thailand,” held in November, 1969.32 USOM/AID has, since 1966, turned out forty-three publications, mostly by social scientists, on problems relating to security in Thailand. Furthermore, in a five-month period during 1966-67, one American anthropologist and ten Thai research assistants employed by USOM surveyed twenty-two villages in two provinces, producing forty-six reports on counter-insurgency and “Communist-Terrorist” topics.33

III

The Thailand episode is only the latest violation of the conscience of anthropology; in retrospect we see that anthropological projects calculated to interfere in the affairs of others have a long, and not entirely visible, genealogy.

The advent of World War II, in the words of the outgoing president of the American Anthropological Association, “[provided] anthropologists [with] an unprecedented opportunity to play a variety of applied roles in government.”34 There was, for instance, an opportunity to aid in the forcible relocation of 100,000 American citizens of Japanese ancestry to places east of the Sierras. There was the opportunity to analyze Japanese culture through the analysis of secondary sources and interviews with Japanese in the United States, under the auspices of the Foreign Morale Analysis Division, Office of War Information. There was, further, the chance to write war background studies of individual countries, such as “Siam—Land of Free Men,” under the auspices of the Smithsonian Institution. Finally, anthropologists shouldered the White Man’s Burden in Micronesia, serving as administrators to local populations under the auspices of the Navy.

Throughout this heady period, the Cross-Cultural Survey of Yale University—set up as a purely scientific instrument in the early Thirties—began to provide ready-made information for intelligence and military government purposes.35 The techniques used by the survey staff to produce civil affairs handbooks for the Navy were also employed by the Office of Inter-American Affairs, then directed by Nelson Rockefeller, to organize the available data on Latin America.

As World War II slipped imperceptibly into the cold war of the late Forties, anthropologists found that they could build readily upon the varieties of experience gained during the shooting war. The study of Japan at a distance gave way to the study of European cultures in the Columbia University Research in Contemporary Cultures, under a grant from the Human Resources Division, Office of Naval Research.36 At Harvard University, social scientists, including anthropologists, launched the Harvard Project on the Soviet System, with strategic support from the United States Air Force37 and the Carnegie Corporation.

The Carnegie Corporation, presided over by a former OSS officer, also recognized the potential of Yale University’s Cross-Cultural Survey for both scientific and practical purposes, and sponsored its expansion into the Human Relations Area Files (HRAF) on condition that these files be multiplied and installed in at least five major universities. Funds from Carnegie were further supplemented by the Office of Naval Research, the Rockefeller Foundation, and other university organizations. Use of the files produced some basic work; but their practical possibilities prompted the Army, Navy, Air Force, and the CIA to make annual contributions of $50,000 each in order to build up organized data banks on critical world areas.38

At first none of this research was classified; all materials were deposited in each of the participating institutions. By 1954, however, the federal government decided that it was not getting $200,000 worth of information for its $200,000 spent each year, largely because much of the ethnographic information catalogued was forty or fifty years out of date. Therefore, the subsidy was terminated.

In the same year, however, the Army ruled that continued support of the HRAF would be contingent on the fabrication of classified, as well as unclassified handbooks. The military offered HRAF four million dollars to process sixty-three such handbooks on world areas that they defined as critical. These useful little guides were actually assembled at an HRAF branch office located at American University. Eventually—in 1957—this information depot was closed. However, an up-and-coming research organization known as Special Operations Research Office, or SORO, emerged at American University. HRAF, bereft of its paramilitary satellite, returned to the pursuits of the ivory tower.

By 1960, however, it had become apparent to the government that the study of cultures at a distance was no longer worth the investment. Our growing military engagement in Guatemala, Cuba, and Vietnam created a counter-insurgency mentality among political and military leaders who hoped to stifle spreading “brushfire” wars through the deployment of counter-guerrilla forces of their own. And who, of all available experts, would, presumably, give the best advice not merely on cultures at a distance, but about cultures “on the ground”? Once again, the anthropologist attracted the close attention of the political-military elite. “The old formula for successful counter-insurgency used to be ten troops for every guerrilla,” an American specialist in Thailand is quoted as saying.39 “Now the formula is ten anthropologists for each guerrilla.”

A generation of postwar anthropologists who were eager for field experience and hoped that their science would prove useful to mankind were now potential applicants for the jobs offered: but the universities which trained these new scholars had changed. New connections had been made between the schools, the foundations, and the federal government. The end of the war and the attenuation of the empires maintained by European states had opened the way for the development of a new global American involvement. During the cold war a new political alliance evolved, in which government officials, university personnel, and foundation executives became interchangeable. Area institutes and international studies programs proliferated. In many of our largest and most prestigious universities more traditional branches of learning were resynthesized with “forward-looking” projects in economic development and political nation building.

Nearly everywhere, anthropologists were drawn into the network of information gathering and processing; the demand was for their data, not for their values. The anthropologist was supposed to bring in the “behavioral” information; others would use that information to formulate and execute public policy. Thus the curious quid pro quo which provides current working conditions for a great many anthropologists was established. The researcher would get the chance to carry on field work with a heady sense of engagement in a global welfare operation, punctuated by occasional participation in an international meeting, followed by a dry martini at the airport bar in Bangkok or Dar es Salaam. In exchange, others received the right to play with his data. Many signed their contracts, unwittingly or otherwise, in return for fellowships, research grants, and jobs. Others, more reticent, subcontracted.

Then, suddenly, in the late Sixties a number of paramilitary adventures masquerading as scientific projects were launched, in which anthropologists played a formidable part. The best known of these enterprises was Project Camelot, sponsored by the US Army and the Department of Defense, and channeled through SORO. Despite its connection with leading social scientists at major American universities, it had only the dimmest connection with science; its counter-insurgency orientation severely undermined the credibility of North American social science in Latin America. The American Anthropological Association was quick to condemn the venture; resolutions passed in the aftermath of Camelot’s collapse certified the righteousness of the Fellows.

Yet not long after, in 1968, the university-foundation-government combine was once again caught red-handed, this time in India where the Himalayan Border Project of the Institute of International Studies at the University of California, Berkeley, turned out to have received its funding from ARPA, the Advanced Research Projects Agency of the Defense Department. When the Indian parliament discovered the source of the project’s funds, it immediately terminated the research involved. Subsequently, the Indian government went further and decided that no research project supported by US government funds would receive approval, though in a display of unusual patience it still exempted individual research projects from this ban. The severity of the response was probably influenced by the disclosure just six months earlier that the Asia Foundation, an American organization, had acted as a CIA conduit for research in India.40 Now we have the disclosures of the Student Mobilization Committee on scholarly activities in Thailand.

It is reasonable to anticipate an accelerating effort to centralize power and control resources on a global scale by the US government, and by the multi-national corporations based in the US. Accordingly, we can expect that as people in the poorest and most dependent areas multiply, and as their living conditions worsen, the men at the center of power will demand to know ever more about the deprived, “under-developed,” and oppressed, as groups and as individuals. As the Thailand papers show, the government is less interested in the economic, social, or political causes of discontent than in techniques of neutralizing individual or collective protest. As governments request more information of a particular kind, moreover, they are able also to furnish the technological devices to simplify the gathering of their one-dimensional data. Infrared photography and miniaturized microphones, for example, can help to provide exact descriptions of areas and people, while computers can be used to store and retrieve the information on command.

Obviously, such techniques and goals are anathema to the anthropologist who is dedicated to open and free inquiry, and who feels an obligation to the people among whom he performs his work, people whom he can no longer regard as objects of the goal of “scientific objectivity.” Indeed, the anthropologist’s traditional obligation to the people among whom he works is the critical issue. In order for the anthropologist to work at all, he must learn to trust them and they him. He must learn to depend upon them, and in return, he promises that he will not betray their personal confidences, or permit his findings to be used without their knowledge for political purposes. Furthermore, many anthropologists feel that they should obtain their subjects’ consent to collect and disseminate information, and that, moreover, having received such consent on one topic, the researcher is not free to collect and use information on other topics.

Consent” poses a special problem for the anthropologist because he is usually in the host community for several months, and may become privy—through familiarity and observation alone—to much information which his subjects would prefer him not to possess. In view of the many politically volatile situations in which anthropologists work, e.g., northeastern Thailand, it is clear that data gathered by the anthropologist can serve to hurt people in ways that can be neither anticipated in advance nor compensated for after the fact.

The days of naïve anthropology are over. It is no longer adequate to collect information about little known and powerless people; one needs to know also the uses to which that knowledge can be put. Behind an appeal for pure research, a research grant, a consultant’s fee, an appeal to personal vanity or to patriotism, is a government that may well use the knowledge gained to damage the subjects among whom it was gathered. Perhaps this is the grimmest lesson of all the events of the past years: many a naïve anthropologist has become, wittingly or unwittingly, an informer.

At least one person who was engaged in ethnographic research among the hill people of northeastern Thailand is not present in these documents. He appears to have understood that the request for “raw data” and the eagerness of unnamed persons to “use the processed data” are politically and professionally intolerable. He has, therefore, refused to make available his field research data, and has asked other anthropologists to do the same.41 Furthermore, this lone dissenter has called on anthropologists to help create radical political alternatives for the people among whom they work, people whose social integrity is already—and whose physical existence may soon be—at stake.

This anthropologist states that as a graduate student in a foreign area program in the early 1960s he was engaged in studies in the hill region because US government funds were available, and because his professors who were specialists in the area advised him to do so. He thought it unfortunate that no information on the area existed prior to 1960, and he was pleased to join political scientists, anthropologists, and linguists in filling this gap in ethnographic knowledge. Statements by Thai officials made at the Tribal Research Center, Chiang Mai, in 1967, however, disturbed him, as well as the kind of data gathered at that center. When the Student Mobilization Committee exposed the project in the spring of 1970, the truth was brought home to him.

Furthermore, as he reflected on the conference held at Chiang Mai in 1967, he came to realize that other researchers not only recognized how their basic work had been put to use by the Royal Thai government and its Border Patrol, but that they were aware of the political uses to which their data could be put. They had chosen to comply with the Thai government’s requests for further information, because such compliance guaranteed their continuing research work in the region. If they refused to comply, it was made clear that future anthropological research in Thailand would be closed to them, and their careers would be in jeopardy. Thus the lone dissenter had witnessed how the increased awareness of his colleagues intensified their compliance.

Individual dissent is, of course, honorable, but it is not enough. The issues transcend the individual; they are political, they concern the nature and distribution of political power in our society and in the world.

Admittedly, anthropology was ambiguously conceived. Now, in our view, it must disengage itself from its connection with colonial aims or it will become intellectually trivial. The future of anthropology, its credibility, depends upon sustaining the dialectic between knowledge and experience. Anthropologists must be willing to testify in behalf of the oppressed peoples of the world, including those whom we professionally define as primitives and peasants. As Stanley Diamond has written,

In turning away from the implications of their knowledge, anthropologists, and other academics, were not only false [to those whom they studied] but to themselves. The field is no longer safely enclosed…and it is precisely the objective study, the reified examination, which is proving to be an illusion. In this situation, there can be no more students of Man studying men as fixed specimens in fixed environments. This was a privilege that the Western world preserved for itself as a consequence of domination. There can only be men who learn to bear witness to each other. In the struggle for the creation of culture against collective and dehumanizing forces, no matter [what] their ideological pretension…there can only be partisans.42

Letters

Anthropology on the Warpath: An Exchange April 8, 1971

Africa Research March 11, 1971

  1. 1

    Claude Lévi-Strauss, “Anthropology: Its Achievement and Future,” Current Anthropology, vol. 7, 1966, p. 126.

  2. 2

    Stanley Diamond, “A Revolutionary Discipline,” Current Anthropology, vol. 5, 1964, pp. 432-437.

  3. 3

    The preceding year (October, 1969) in Montreal, the annual meeting of the multidisciplinary African Studies Association disintegrated for analogous reasons. Although the black protest that disrupted the meeting had unfortunate racist overtones, it nevertheless helped to reveal how deeply flawed were African studies in the US. The charges made were not entirely new ones. In the October-November, 1967, issue of Transition, Pierre L. Van Den Berghe of the University of Washington had written:

    Africa offers, of course, a very promising field for the study of counter-insurgency. Last year I was myself approached by one such research corporation led by a man who had received a German doctorate in geo-politics during the Nazi era. I was bluntly asked whether I would sell my knowledge to help the US Defense Department in planning military intervention in a certain African country. (Incidentally, the country in question was not South Africa, Zimbabwe, or the so-called Portuguese territories). I declined…. When I later talked to my colleagues about it I discovered that perhaps one-third to one-half of American scholars in the African field had been solicited by this Agency or similar ones of ethically questionable research. The Octopus is omnipresent, and quite a few scholars are taken in. [italics added]

    At the Montreal convention the African Research Bureau of Cambridge, Massachusetts, distributed copies of a survey, African Studies in America: The Extended Family, which attempted to show that a network of educational institutions, foundations, and government agencies had compromised to some degree the great majority of established Africanists. For a pointed commentary on the African research scene, see “The Responsibility of Scholars” in Stanley Diamond, Nigeria: Model of a Colonial Failure, American Committee on Africa, 1967, pp. 1-6.

  4. 4

    See Irving L. Horowitz, The Rise and Fall of Project Camelot (The MIT Press, 1967).

  5. 5

    Jason Summer Study, Minutes, June 30, 1967, p. 5.

  6. 6

    Ibid., June 27, p. 2.

  7. 7

    Ibid., June 20, 1967, p. 1.

  8. 8

    Ibid., July 5, 1967, p. 3; June 27, 1967, p. 2.

  9. 9

    Ibid., July 3, 1967, pp. 3, 8.

  10. 10

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

  11. 11

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

  12. 12

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

  13. 13

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

  14. 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.

  15. 15

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

  16. 16

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

  17. 17

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

  18. 18

    Ibid., p. 8.

  19. 19

    Ibid., p. 7.

  20. 20

    Ibid., p. 34.

  21. 21

    Testimony, p. 2.

  22. 22

    Testimony, p. 3.

  23. 23

    Testimony, p. 3.

  24. 24

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

  25. 25

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

  26. 26

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

  27. 27

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

  28. 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.

  29. 29

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

  30. 30

    Letter, provisional list of delegates, dummy proposal for village data cards, and agendas of the proceedings of the Consultants’ Meeting for January 14, 1970, and the program on Shifting Cultivation and Economic Development in Northern Thailand for January 18-24, 1970, were dated Chiang Mai, December 23, 1969.

  31. 31

    The Symington Subcommittee of the United States Foreign Relations Committee, Hearing, November, 1969.

  32. 32

    Memo. RM-3786-ARPA, RM-5871 and 5872-AID/ARPA.

  33. 33

    Lists of publications and reports available through USOM Thailand, Bangkok.

  34. 34

    George M. Foster, Applied Anthropology (Little, Brown, 1969), p. 203.

  35. 35

    Clellan S. Ford, Human Relations Area Files: 1949-1969, A Twenty Year Report (Human Relations Area File, Inc., New Haven, 1970), p. 7.

  36. 36

    Margaret Mead and Rhoda Metraux, The Study of Culture at a Distance (University of Chicago Press, 1953), p. v.

  37. 37

    Raymond Bauer, Alex Inkeles, and Clyde Kluckhohn, How the Soviet System Works (Harvard, 1956), p. 3.

  38. 38

    Ford, p. 13.

  39. 39

    Peter Braestrup, “Researchers aid Thai rebel fight: US defense unit develops anti-guerrilla devices,” The New York Times, March 20, 1967.

  40. 40

    Gerald D. Berreman, “Academic Colonialism: Not So Innocent Abroad,” The Nation, November 10, 1969, pp. 505-508.

  41. 41

    See the comments on Joseph G. Jorgensen’s essay “On Ethics and Anthropology,” Current Anthropology (forthcoming).

  42. 42

    Betty Nickerson, ed., Chi: Letters from Biafra, Preface by Stanley Diamond (New Press, Toronto, 1970), p. vii.

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