In response to:
A Special Supplement: Anthropology on the Warpath in Thailand from the November 19, 1970 issue
To the Editors:
As President of the American Anthropological Association during the period when some of the events described by Eric R. Wolf and Joseph G. Jorgensen [NYR, November 19] took place, I must in the interests of the good name of the Association and its officers comment on several points. Professors Wolf and Jorgensen appear to be attempting two things: 1) To justify their actions in identifying themselves as Chairman and member of the Association’s Committee on Ethics in making pronouncements about certain documents bearing upon United States involvement in Thailand; this identification led to a formal rebuke by the Association’s Executive Board, since it disregarded the Committee’s formal charge, and it was followed by their resignation from the Committee. 2) To make it appear by discussing the documents, presented to them by the Student Mobilization Committee, that American anthropologists are deeply involved in counterinsurgency research in Thailand, and that this is but the latest episode in a long series of similar events “in violation of the conscience of anthropology,” projects “calculated to interfere in the affairs of others….” The article presents a one-sided and unfair picture of the reasons underlying the Executive Board action, and it is grossly distorted in attributing to American anthropology a long history of unethical behavior.
To understand why the Executive Board of the Association felt it necessary to rebuke Professors Wolf and Jorgensen, one must know the constitutional limitations of the Association, and the events that preceded the action. The Association is governed by an eight-member elected Executive Board, which includes the President and President-Elect. This Board has “authority to exercise on behalf of the Association all powers and functions of the Association,” as defined in the Constitution and By-Laws, which in the case of committees and other agents includes delegation of authority and supervision of activities including receiving and acting upon budgets, requests, and plans submitted by them. Since legal liability as well as administrative powers and functions are vested in the Board, it is clear that it must exercise close control over all Association committees and other agents.
Except for an ad hoc Elections Committee appointed to count ballots, the Association has no constitutional committees. Committees, whether elected or appointed, derive their authority directly from the Board, and are empowered to act only in those ways charged them by the Board, which constitutionally must accept all responsibility for committee actions.
Because of its increasing concern about professional ethics, the Executive Board in the fall of 1968 appointed an ad hoc (or “Interim”) Ethics Committee, co-chaired by two Board members, and including among its membership Professors Wolf and Jorgensen. The Committee was instructed “to develop standards of conduct at the individual, corporate and Association levels.” Following a two-day meeting in January, 1969, the Committee submitted its report for consideration by the Executive Board at its February meeting. The motion to accept and implement Committee recommendations, which included complete Committee autonomy, was defeated.
Constitutionally the Board could not have granted Committee autonomy. However, important parts of the report were acted upon, including authorization of full publication of the report in the April, 1969, Newsletter of the American Anthropological Association, which is distributed to all members, The Executive Board also approved the recommendation that the ad hoc committee be continued as an elected nine-member standing committee and, to provide continuity until this goal could be reached, three of the original appointed members, including Professors Wolf and Jorgensen, were carried over for one year. At its September, 1969, meeting the Board reaffirmed the establishment of the Standing Committee on Ethics, charging it to “consider the earlier report of the Interim Ethics Committee, the body of AAA resolutions concerning ethical matters, i.e., the Statement on Problems of Anthropological Research and Ethics by the Fellows of the American Anthropological Association (adopted in 1967) and to recommend to the Executive Board what its functions should be” (emphasis added).
In reporting this action in the November, 1969, Newsletter the two Board members serving as Committee co-chairmen wrote:
It is thus clear that although the Board remains concerned about the problem of ethics, it is as yet unclear on just how that problem should be handled. Nevertheless the Board affirms that a standing committee should be in office and should be selected by the membership itself, thus achieving the widest possible and most direct possible representation, and that the Standing Committee on Ethics should take its authority directly from the Board—that is, that it should undertake no action without first obtaining the approval of the Board. In the same way, although the Standing Committee is asked to define what its proper functions should be, it may not take that definition of its proper functions as a mandate without first obtaining the Board’s approval [both emphases added].
Further, in a memorandum to Executive Board members dated October 29, 1969, the (by now single) liaison Board member of the Committee on Ethics wrote, “At present the sole mission of the Ethics Committee is to establish its mission to the satisfaction of the Board.”
And finally, the explanation accompanying the ballot for the 1969 Association election of officers, which included candidates for six places on the Committee on Ethics, read in part: “Note that you are voting for members of a standing committee; that that committee is charged with defining its role and function but that it may not crystalize that role and function until it is authorized by the Executive Board to do so. Hence its activities will be under the direct review and control of the Executive Board, unless and until the Board agrees to relinquish that control.” (Emphasis added.) The Board felt compelled to spell out this matter because of widespread apprehension among many Association members, partially expressed in an unprecedented outpouring of letters to the Newsletter editor, about the intentions and powers of the Committee.
At its January, 1970, meeting the Executive Board was informed by its liaison member that Professor Wolf would request case materials bearing on ethical problems in an early Newsletter. This request appeared in the March, 1970, issue, and read in part:
We ask the Fellows and Members of the Association to acquaint us with the details of cases in which they have been involved, or which they have collected on their own. From such case material we hope to extract or to document general principles for the formulation of an ethical code for anthropologists. Any communication you may wish to make to the ethics committee will remain completely confidential; we are interested in general information in cases, but not in the names of persons or specific localities [emphasis added].
Please keep in mind that the committee is not a judicial body, and cannot take sides in any dispute, nor adjudicate a particular set of issues. We are interested in the circumstances of any particular case only to the extent that they can help us draw up general guidelines for conduct by anthropologists.
The propriety of the actions of Professors Wolf and Jorgensen with respect to the documents provided them by the Student Mobilization Committee, their unanimous rebuke by the members of the Executive Board, and their subsequent resignation, must be judged against this background. The charge to the Committee had been spelled out time after time, in a variety of ways and places, and it was specific and limited: suggest to the Executive Board what you believe to be an appropriate role for the Committee. Nevertheless, writing in “Warpath,” Professors Wolf and Jorgensen say, “We rejected what seemed to us a bureaucratic interpretation of the role of the committee….”
Under the circumstances, and in view of a calculated and deliberate disregard of its instructions, the remarkable thing is not that the Board rebuked Professors Wolf and Jorgensen, but that it did not ask for their resignations.
The rebuke was not for expressing their concern about the Thailand case, but for formally identifying themselves as Chairman and Member of the Committee on Ethics of the American Anthropological Association, thereby seeming to make official their action. That this was their intention is made clear in a letter dated April 26, 1970, which they wrote to one of the anthropologists named in the SMC documents: “In their communications and letters, Jorgensen and Wolf have acted as members of the AAA Ethics Committee. They do not, however, speak for the committee as a whole.”
Had Professors Wolf and Jorgensen not identified themselves as Committee members, the Board would have had no cause to rebuke them. A third Committee member who spoke in San Francisco in even more forceful terms at the Association of Asian Studies meetings was not included in the rebuke, because he did not identify himself as a Committee member. The Board’s unanimous rebuke was worded with great care and thought, formulated one day, set aside for the night, and reconsidered and slightly revised on the following day. It was not framed in the heat of anger.
Now let us consider the documents that the SMC placed in the hands of Professors Wolf and Jorgensen, since the authors of “Warpath” left much unsaid:
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 [what action?], and would certainly not 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 nonetheless felt compelled to pursue the questions raised by them because of our concern for the integrity of our profession.
The SMC documents were removed from the files of a California professor prominently mentioned in the documents, by his research assistant, and Xeroxed and returned to their place without his knowledge or consent. The assistant then delivered them to the Student Mobilization Committee. These, and only these, purloined documents were the basis for Professors Wolf and Jorgensen’s public statements.
The incident is analogous to a hypothetical case in which on the basis of an illegal wire tap the government were to ask a grand jury to indict a suspect, without submitting any substantiating evidence. Yet Professors Wolf and Jorgensen seem hardly concerned about the propriety of obtaining evidence in this fashion, for they say, in effect, “We wouldn’t think of stealing ourselves, nor would we encourage others to steal, but if we are presented with stolen goods of overwhelming interest to us, we can hardly be blamed for succumbing to the temptation to accept and use them.”
Copies of the stolen materials, a two-inch thick packet of Xerox sheets, were made available to Executive Board members by Professor Wolf on May 5, 1970. In his covering memorandum he writes: “I herewith transmit to you xeroxed copies of the documents transmitted to the Ethics Committee by Student Mobilization, on March 30, 1970.” On the same date, namely March 30, Professors Wolf and Jorgensen wrote a memorandum, addressed to no one but apparently intended for the SMC, in which they report, “The undersigned members of the Ethics Committee of the American Anthropological Association have had occasion to see xeroxed copies of the following documents:…” There follow the same six listed in “Warpath.” The memorandum concludes with the paragraph beginning “Since these documents contradict…,” also reproduced in “Warpath.” This paragraph is reproduced verbatim in the SMC news release of April 2, attributed to the authors, and it is mentioned in an April 2 Washington Star story covering the SMC public news conference, which says SMC leaders had “produced a statement from Professor Eric R. Wolf of the University of Michigan, chairman of the ethics committee of the American Anthropological Association, a principal professional society for social scientists. Wolf said the documents ‘raise the most serious issue for the scientific integrity of our profession.’ ”
These documents name a number of American anthropologists, and these names are prominently played up in The Student Mobilizer of April 2, which is devoted to discussion of the purloined papers. As Professors Wolf and Jorgensen point out in “Warpath,” copies of this issue were distributed at the annual meeting of the Association of Asian Studies in San Francisco (apparently on April 3) and “names were given, reputations were questioned, tempers flared, and, once again, the integrity of social scientists was challenged.” Professors Wolf and Jorgensen appear to have been anxious to get into the fray, for they wasted no time in speaking out: documents received, judgment passed and made public, all on the same day. I have spent many hours examining the documents, and I would be irresponsible were I to say what they mean on the basis of a hasty perusal.
Under date of April 3 Professor Wolf (certainly without consulting all Committee members) sent to the Association Fellows mentioned in the documents a copy of his original March 30 memorandum, covering it with this note:
Dear Prof.———: The enclosed note will show you that Joe Jorgensen and I have had occasion to see a number of documents bearing on the involvement of anthropologists in secret research, and we feel that we must raise the issue once again at the next meeting of the AAA Ethics Committee. You will be aware that your name appears in these documents. It is the announced purpose of the Ethics Committee to deal with cases on as anonymous a basis as possible, in an effort to develop an approach to cases without penalizing any individuals; and we shall honor this commitment as much as practicable. However, I should like to invite you to make any statement to the Committee that you wish, especially in view of the past resolutions of our Association on the subject of clandestine research and restricted, non-public publication of research results, [Signed] Eric R. Wolf, Chairman, Ethics Committee, AAA.
Professors Wolf and Jorgensen insist that this series of actions is merely “gathering case material,” and that they did not mention names. After publicly citing, and condemning, documents that named names, documents that almost immediately became available to the public in the Student Mobilizer, whose intention it was that the names be known, it is hair-splitting to insist “we did not name names.” The names were $$$ own, widely discussed in San Francisco and elsewhere, and Professors Wolf and Jorgensen’s role in the dissemination of the information was widely recognized.
They can hardly claim to have kept the information “completely confidential,” as promised Association members in the March Newsletter call for case material, much less avoiding taking sides. On the basis of what must have been hasty examination of stolen documents, Professors Wolf and Jorgensen made extremely serious charges about the conduct of professional colleagues, “concealing” their identities in the most transparent fashion. Then they asked the accused if they had anything to say for themselves. Since the individuals to whom the request for information was sent were, with the exception of the anthropologist whose files were rifled, largely ignorant of what the documents might contain (or at least to have knowledge of the complete set), it is hard to see what response could be expected other than the “predictable” storm of protest.
The Executive Board recognized that such behavior could not possibly be considered mere “collecting of case material,” and it was to prevent subsequent abuses of the same type that the Committee was enjoined from further collection.
The Wolf-Jorgensen memorandum and the April 3 letter from Professor Wolf mention no other Committee members, two of whom tell me they knew absolutely nothing about the acts of their Chairman and co-member until much later, and that they did not see the stolen documents until weeks later. The May 2, 1970, memorandums from the Committee to the Executive Board, which support the actions of Professors Wolf and Jorgensen, are expost facto committee solidarity acts. This support was repudiated by two original signers after they had had time to learn more of the intricacies of the affair. By their hasty and ill-conceived actions Professors Wolf and Jorgensen have jeopardized the Association’s Committee on Ethics, and they have introduced discord between professional colleagues on a scale hitherto unknown.
The AAA is vitally concerned with the problem of the ethical stance of the anthropologist. Because of this concern a distinguished senior anthropologist and past president of the Association, Professor Ralph L. Beals of the University of California (Los Angeles) was asked to spend a full year and, with the assistance of colleagues, prepare a lengthy report entitled “Background Information on Problems of Anthropological Research and Ethics,” published in full in the January, 1967, Newsletter. This in turn led to the “Statement on Problems of Anthropological Research and Ethics” which was adopted by Fellows of the Association as official policy at the Association’s annual meetings in the fall of 1967.
It was also because of concern about ethical problems that the Committee on Ethics was created. But if a Committee on Ethics is to command the allegiance of Association members, and play a constructive role in formulating ethical standards, it must be composed of mature and responsible members who act deliberately and thoughtfully, as a group and not as individuals, and within the terms of reference set for it by the Executive Board and validated by the membership at large.
George M. Foster
American Anthropological Association
To the Editors:
As adviser to the Tribal Research Center from 1966 to 1969, I should like to correct some of the misrepresentations of Wolf and Jorgensen’s article [NYR, December 17, 1970]. The facts surrounding the Center’s operations in the above period are as follows:
1) The TRC, formed in 1965 on the recommendation of a UN report, was affiliated with the Hill Tribe Division of the Thai government’s Department of Public Welfare, which was set up to improve standards of health, education and agriculture among the non-Thai peoples in the uplands of the north.
2) Most of the budget of the TRC was allocated by the Thai Budget Bureau, which annually apportions revenue to all branches of the civil service. Budget averaged around 25,000 dollars per annum. Foreign assistance, predominantly Australian (allocated by the Aid Projects Branch of the Department of Foreign Affairs), contributed an additional 15,000 dollars per annum.
3) Thai research staff totaled about ten persons, including the director. Owing to a shortage of Thai anthropologists initial projects were conducted by foreign scholars—three Australians, one Briton and one American. Of the ten Thai research staff, five were trainees, one working in the field with each of the foreigners.
4) Research was to suggest ways of improving agriculture, health, education and general administration, rather than to be harnessed to specific policy ends. The five projects, each of two years’ duration, were thus characterized by a broad spectrum research strategy. No government placed restriction on the anthropologists with respect to the subject matter of research, nor the location of study areas, and all field reports were mimeographed and freely circulated. No anthropologist with the TRC was in any way pressured to divulge information against his will.
5) The Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) was the main US counterinsurgency research branch operating in northern Thailand. Since connection of ARPA with the TRC would have allowed it to expand its activities through a legitimate Thai government channel, several approaches were made by ARPA officials to the TRC while I was adviser. My Thai counterparts, fearing loss of autonomy, and the gearing of research to military purposes (there is bitter rivalry between the military and civilian sectors of the government), rejected these approaches. Nevertheless, I know of at least one ARPA researcher who capitalized on the good name of the TRC by posing as one of its officers during this period.
Having been rebuffed by the TRC, ARPA approached the Social Science Faculty of Chiang Mai University, and it was not long before the Lanna Thai Research Center (LTRC) came into being. In 1969 the Tribal Data Center (TDC), an information collating branch of the LTRC whose facilities were to be shared with the TRC, was established. I was residing in a hill village for most of 1969 (I left Thailand in October), and although strongly opposed to the drawing together of the TRC and the ARPA-financed TDC, was no longer in a position to make my opposition effective.
By late 1969 or early 1970 the five anthropological studies were complete and the TRC had embarked on research projects in the agricultural field.
In January, 1970, the TDC convened the consultant’s meeting mentioned by Wolf and Jorgensen. There were in fact two meetings at this time: the TDC one, and another organized by the Thai Land Development Department. The latter was entitled “Shifting Cultivation and Economic Development in Northern Thailand.” Many foreign scholars went to Thailand, myself included, with Ford Foundation support, to attend the Land Development Department meeting; most of us boycotted the ARPA/TDC one, organized to take advantage of participants for the shifting cultivation seminar which was, incidentally, attended by agronomists, botanists, and foresters as well as anthropologists. Wolf and Jorgensen ask us to believe that the two meetings were closely related, on the sole ground that invitations to both were dated Chiang Mai, 12/23/69! (My own invitations had different dates.)
Innuendos casting doubts on the integrity of TRC researchers appear throughout Wolf and Jorgensen’s article. A factual basis for these innuendos is notable for its absence. Specifically:
1) The authors say at the outset that “although the documents copied by the Student Mobilization Committee make no reference to them [sic], anthropologists have known for some time of the operations of a Tribal Research Center at Chiang Mai, Thailand,” then later say that a “lone dissenter” had the “truth brought home to him when the SMC exposed the project“! From my reading of these documents, no reference is indeed made to the TRC. Is the implication that they contained such references due to careless writing—or deliberate intention to mislead?
2) Considerable store is placed on the information provided by an anonymous “lone dissenter.” I do not think that much credence can be given to the testimony of a person who lacks the necessary conviction to identify himself; indeed one cannot help wondering whether or not he really exists.
3) The writers state, in effect, that the whole conduct of the Thai government is reprehensible and that anthropologists should have no role in assisting it. But it is evident that they know very little about Thailand (Wolf’s field of research is Central and South America; Jorgensen’s North America), as their consistent reference to the “hill tribes of northeast Thailand” suggest. The hill tribes dwell in the northwest of the country, where social, political and economic conditions are very different from those of the northeast.
The article states that the Thai government placed pressure on visiting anthropologists to divulge information which would compromise their informants, and “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.” To my knowledge this has not been the experience of any anthropologist working in Thailand. (N.B. The facile assumption that the Thai government is a tool of the US government, and the implicit view that all non-Communist governments in Southeast Asia are of the same ilk as the Saigon regime, do Wolf and Jorgensen little credit as social scientists, and simply do not bear examination.)
The present trend of the US government to purchase academics for counterinsurgency research is undeniably a grave threat to the integrity of the social sciences. But on the other hand, the conduct of some opponents to this course of events can only be described as reprehensible. Among the many social scientists of several nationalities who have recently worked in mainland southeast Asia, there is not one I know who has not been accused of collusion with counterinsurgency interests. We all know that there are some anthropologists working in Thailand and elsewhere, either openly or clandestinely, for counterinsurgency agencies. Most of us would deplore such commitments; but we equally deplore the readiness of people like Wolf and Jorgensen to use unsubstantiated claims to expose innocent social scientists before the hysteria which is at present gripping the US. Let them substantiate their claims or publish a retraction. There is an appropriate American expression: “Shit, or get off the pot.”
Department of Anthropology
University of Sydney
To the Editors:
This is one anthropologist’s reaction upon Eric Wolf’s and Joseph Jorgensen’s thought and emotion provoking piece (“Anthropology on the Warpath in Thailand,” NYR, December 17, 1970). I share their indignation, still I think that the ethical issues involved are not as clear-cut as they suggest.
- The authors seem to think that to partake in counter insurgency research is morally wrong per se. However, as Belshaw1 aptly remarks, some radical social scientists who condemn such research in general terms would be quite ready to help the Cuban government prevent an insurgency established from a North American base. The anthropologist engagé cannot very well be against such research on account of its political nature. If he did he would apply a double standard: one for progressive anthropologists, who may (or must) be politically involved, another for conservative ones to whom at best would be conceded a “neutral” or “value free” position. Query: who is going to decide what is the mark of progressiveness or conservatism?
- Similarly, I submit, contrary to what the authors suggest on page 31, that doing research in order that one’s government win a war is nothing to be ashamed of as such. It depends upon the kind of research and the kind of war. As a Dutch citizen who lived under the German occupation I am grateful to US anthropologists who helped defeat Nazi Germany and Japan.
- The authors suggest that one should never dissimulate the real object of one’s research nor do clandestine field work. A noble position indeed! However, this implies a condemnation, among others, of fellow anthropologist Pierre L. van den Berghe, who, in his own words, when doing field work in South Africa, “decided [he] should have no scruples in deceiving the government.”2 I for one, although I see the moral (and tactical) dangers in his attitude, would be the last to pronounce an anathema.
The authors say (p. 34) that social scientists should not betray their informants’ confidences or permit their findings to be used without their knowledge for political purposes. Generally, of course, this is entirely valid. But what if one detected a Ku Klux Klan-like organization which planned mischief? Or take an authentic example: a colleague of mine recently did field work in a district of Tanzania, where he found a “natural” alliance to exist between the well-to-do farmers and the local officials, contrary to the express policy of the Tanzanian government. Would it be wrong to “denounce” these people, of whom many were his informants and friends? Perhaps. But one may as well argue that it would be reprehensible for him not to report his findings truthfully!3 Is it not the inescapable fate of the social scientist, one may ask, to say things that are unwelcome and unprofitable to at least some people?
The documents upon which the authors’ accusations are based were pinched from personal files in order to be copied. The authors do not condone this act but take exception in very mild words: “The documents…were copied from the personal files of an anthropologist…. We regret this action, and would certainly not 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,4 we none the less felt compelled…etc.” (p. 27)
Precisely because I fundamentally agree with the authors’ political stance, I am worried about this episode, although I see the difficult position they were in. I take it that the authors realize that such actions (the stealing of personal documents) smack of McCarthyite tactics, and that they in fact, though not in words, have encouraged the people in question and possibly others to act in this way again, by making use of the materials they offered. Their defense is that their means are justified by their ends. I concede that in extreme situations, as a last resort, this is so. I wonder: was the situation really such as to justify this act? Were there not other, more honest ways to get the necessary data? If really scores of anthropologists are involved I guess there must be.
One may formulate one or two general rules to guide anthropologists along the thorny path of ethics. In line with the authors one may say that no anthropologist should work for an agency with whose objects he fundamentally disagrees, whatever the material rewards or scientific opportunities. Secondly, one may say that the social scientist in doing research should be (not “neutral” nor “value free” nor aloof but) as objective as possible: the quest for truth is a value that all anthropologists as scientists should have in common.
Unfortunately, apart from these rules, I cannot think of an Ethical Code for anthropologists, beyond such trivialities as that one should act rightly or should not act against the interests of the people concerned (but what, pray, are the interests of the people? Not even the “progressives” would agree among themselves). Therefore, those of us who declare ourselves against certain forms of counter insurgency research, or certain forms of dissimulation should not too easily resort to the Normative Rules of Anthropology. We should make it clear that we do so because of our ideal of society which we cannot expect all anthropologists to share. In other words, it is a political decision. Unless, of course, we require a certificate of “progressiveness” (or whatever special brand of it we happen to adhere to) before we allow people into the ranks of anthropology, but let us beware of such bigotry.
Naturally, the fact that there is no hard and fast Ethical Code makes it all the more necessary for the individual anthropologist to decide for himself in every concrete case where to draw the line between the desirable and the undesirable, the moral and the immoral. The days of naïve anthropology are indeed over.
A. J. F. Köbben
University of Amsterdam
Department of Anthropology
Joseph Jorgensen and Eric Wolf replies:
Although we esteem Professor Foster as a scholar and gentleman, we must disagree with some parts of his account. The Ethics Committee was charged with defining its proper functions; at its first meeting in Chicago, on January 24 and 25, the Committee decided that this end would be served best by collecting empirical cases. Wolf, as chairman, was asked to write a letter to the Newsletter of the Association to this effect, and did so on February 6, 1970. The letter was published; the Executive Board voiced no objection.
Given the state of the world, it was perhaps ironic but not improbable that the first such case was handed to us by SMC. It should not be necessary to emphasize once more that the Student Mobilization Committee and the Ethics Committee of the American Anthropological Association are two separate and independent organizations. SMC published the documents in its Student Mobilizer on its own recognizance, and would have done so regardless of any stand, active or passive, taken by the Ethics Committee, AAA. On our part, we were interested only in these documents as reflecting on anthropology and the pursuit of anthropology. We did not give the documents to SMC; they gave them to us. We did not help to prepare the documents for publication, nor did we know how they would be presented to the public. Because of the distance from Ann Arbor to the West Coast, we did not see copies of the Student Mobilizer until after April 15.
We had however received the documents on March 30. In a telephone conversation with Professor Foster—who had called Wolf on another matter—and again by letter, on April 7, Wolf informed Foster of the impending events. Wolf’s letter enclosed copies of a relevant clipping from The New York Times, stated that some members of the Ethics Committee had had occasion to see the relevant documents, and went on to say:
The Ethics Committee will be interested in the implications of these documents as part of its efforts to build up a file of cases on ethical issues. I have written to the people involved, asking them for any communication they may want to send us, and assuring them that the Ethics Committee will attempt to keep personal identities anonymous, as far as this is practicable. The Ethics Committee as presently constituted, however, is in no way a judicial body. The Association is thus left in an ambiguous position with regard to such infractions of its announced norms.
On April 15, Professor Foster acknowledged receipt of this and other messages, and stated that the issue would be discussed in the May meeting of the Executive Board. Copies of the documents were sent to all members of the Board before that meeting.
The statement of the Board, written on the occasion of this meeting, caused our immediate resignation from the Ethics Committee. The introductory material accompanying the statement was written by Professor Foster and not checked in advance with at least two members of the Board, nor with the editor of the Newsletter. Two members of the Board, writing in the Newsletter of the Association, November, 1970, p.8, expressed their opinion that:
The introductory material that accompanied the Board’s motion respecting Wolf, Jorgensen, and work in Thailand in the June 1970 Newsletter had the effect of laying entire stress on Ethics Committee procedures and gave virtually no attention to the substantive issues raised by that Committee…. It is not correct to say that the Board reviewed the documents it received in any full and far-reaching fashion. It is correct to say that it came to no conclusion as a result of such review as it did give to them, but it did not go into them with enough care to say whether they did provide significant evidence on some issues.
It was this emphasis on procedures rather than on issues which caused us to reject what seemed to us “a bureaucratic interpretation of the role of the committee.”
Mr. Hinton provides us with a valuable account of how TRC was organized, but his is only one variant of what seems to be a more complex story.5 Mr. Hinton emphasizes health, education, and agriculture as Center priorities; a letter to us from G. A. Oughton, agricultural adviser, TRC, of December 15, 1970, states that the Center:
…was established some years ago in response to the need for more accurate knowledge of the social and agro-economic factors prevailing in the Thai uplands, in the face of the rapidly increasing population and the problems of narcotics production and the depletion of natural resources.
But General Vargas, the Secretary-General of SEATO (in SEATO Report, 1968-1969), noted that three SEATO member countries had given assistance to the Center since October, 1965, and that:
The Center, with the assistance of well-qualified advisers from SEATO member nations, has produced during the year worthy and timely studies on the hill tribes in Thailand, which reveal their vulnerability to Communist subversion.
In the previous report (SEATO Report, 1967-68) General Vargas had also noted:
The Hill Tribes Research Center, in Chiang Mai in Northern Thailand, continues to make significant progress in its primary task of producing worthy studies on the tribal peoples in Thailand. Such studies are becoming increasingly important as the Communists have concentrated much effort to subvert the hill tribes people of the country. To counteract Communist subversion it is essential to have a wide knowledge of these people.
We are grateful to Mr. Hinton for his account of how ARPA subverted the TRC by joining it with the Tribal Data Center and by sponsoring subsequent meetings held by those Centers, and we appreciate his opposition to this merger—in contrast to its calm acceptance by Mr. Oughton, the agricultural adviser. We are, however, puzzled why Mr. Hinton objects to the wedding of TRC with ARPA, since as adviser to the Director-General of Public Welfare he submitted several reports in the hope that “these reports will assist the planning of both Thai and foreign agencies concerned with the northern uplands.” In one of these reports he stated:
(a) But despite vigorous work, the situation in the hills has deteriorated quite dramatically during the past five years: Communist guerillas now control large sections of the hill country along the Laotian border: large quantities of opium are still produced in and slipped through the hills, and the area under cultivation by upland farmers has increased greatly. Why should this have happened?
(b) As I see it, then, the two prime issues are military and administrative security, on the one hand, and pressure of population on the other. Both are opposite sides of a single coin: there can be no security until the government grapples with the problem of increasing population and decreasing productivity in the hills—areas of agrarian strife have always been fertile grounds for insurgents.
(c)It is beyond my competence to suggest military approaches to the problem of insurgency. However, it has been proved by bitter experience in Malaya, Vietnam, the Philippines and elsewhere, that military gains are soon lost unless the government establishes a just and effective administration in the contested areas. Indeed, I do not think that the following fact can be stressed too strongly: all measures for defense and development in the hills will be unsuccessful unless firm control is also gained by the conventional administrative agencies of the government.6
Mr. Hinton evidently has had some experience in the cave of the Minotaur. Since he has some ambivalence regarding his own role, he ought to be more sympathetic to such “lone dissenters” as Mr. Delmos Jones whose own account of the subject is scheduled to appear in a future issue of Current Anthropology. Mr. Jones exists; indeed, he is alive and well in the City University of New York.
Mr. Hinton attributes to us the view that “the whole conduct of the Thai government is reprehensible.” Our article was concerned with anthropology and anthropologists in Thailand and not with all the activities of the Thai government. The purpose of some members of the Thai government in using anthropologists is stated clearly enough in a dispatch from Bangkok dated January 21, 1971, by Tillman Durdin.7
The anti-insurgency program is badly in need of sociologists and anthropologists to evaluate the impact of rural development and welfare projects the Government has established in an effort to win the support of the people in areas threatened by the Communists.
The United States Agency for International Development is now devoting some $6-million of its $25-million annual expenditure on economic assistance in Thailand to helping counter insurgency efforts.
Aside from police and military action against the guerillas, Thailand is building thousands of miles of rural roads, digging wells, constructing dams, promoting improved cooperative farming, organizing youth groups and maintaining mobile medical teams in areas of Communist activity.
“We badly need to have what we are doing studied and evaluated by competent specialists, preferably persons who already have done sociological and anthropological studies in Thailand,” said Prasong Sukhum, the American-educated director of the program. “We need to know the impact of our programs, what we are doing wrong and what we are doing right, so we can make changes if necessary.”
As to the comments of Professor Köbben, the question that needs to be answered is not “Who is to decide what is the mark of progressiveness or conservatism,” but rather “By what right do social scientists invade the privacy of powerless people, in order to pass on information to powerful third parties for purposes beyond the control of both the anthropologist and his unwitting informants?” We do not believe that anthropologists should use their talents to respond to problems such as the one posed by American Institutes for Research:8
The struggle between an established government and subversive or insurgent forces involves three different types of operations. The first is to make inputs into the social system that will gain the active support of an ever-increasing proportion of the local population. Threats, promises, ideological appeals, and tangible benefits are the kinds of inputs that are most frequently used. The second is to reduce or interdict the flow of competing inputs being made by the opposing side by installing anti-infiltration devices, cutting communication lines, assassinating key spokesmen, strengthening retaliatory mechanisms, and similar preventive measures. The third is to counteract or neutralize the political successes already achieved by groups committed to the “wrong” side. This typically involves direct military confrontation. The social scientist can make significant contributions to the design of all three types of operations. [Emphasis added.]
Professor Köbben compares non-comparable situations when he parallels resistance against the Nazis and against Imperial Japan with assistance programs designed to solidify Royal Thai hegemony over the Thai periphery, and to further the plans of American empire builders throughout Southeast Asia.
Lest we be misunderstood, we should point out that some information is collected under contract and given directly to the US military, US AID, the Royal Thai government, and other agencies of the Thai and US governments. This is one layer of the problem. Another layer comes to the surface when erstwhile researchers become consultants, and grope for ways to sell ideas to the US and Thai governments. As these consultants push to make their efforts politically effective, and as some of them try to influence US-Thai policy toward Thai peasants, the very information they divulge can be used by people in power for their own purposes, regardless of the intentions of the consultants. The consultants thus find themselves compromised and duped in order to provide ideas for people who can use them as they see fit, not as the social scientist sees fit. The dilemmas posed are well illustrated in a recent communication to the Newsletter of the American Anthropological Association.9
Professor Köbben asks how anthropologists should behave when studying mischief-makers such as the Ku Klux Klan. Countless federal undercover men and newspaper reporters are studying the Ku Klux Klan, and we suppose that Tanzania has their counterparts to cope with hanky-panky among Tanzanian local officials and influential farmers. Exposés in the public interest are normally conducted by such parties. We had not thought that the anthropologist, with his claim to free and open inquiry, yet with his obligation to protect the claims to privacy of his informants, was supposed to be doing the same work as undercover agents. Indeed, we do not think that anthropologists should promiscuously mix their roles. The entire Thai case is testimony to the problems which arise when anthropologists masquerade as researchers, security consultants, and professors, playing all three roles at the same time.
Köbben’s reference to McCarthyite tactics is a recent cliché. We did not encourage the “pinching” of documents; but along with Köbben we hope that gentlemen anthropologists who play at counterinsurgency as well as at the pursuits of academe will make honest men of us all by providing all of the documents which shed light on themselves, their universities, and the various foundations and government agencies that employ them.
Professor Köbben is indeed correct in saying that the broad problem of ethical conduct is not one to be solved in simplistic terms; furthermore, ethical problems will continue to plague us. We learned from the papers of the Jason conference And from the project proposal of American Institutes for Research that the results obtained in Thailand could, or so it is claimed, also find application among deprived and oppressed groups in the United States. Now we learn that anthropological research, conducted among the deprived and oppressed in the United States, is also oriented toward helping us to win the hearts and minds of the Indo-Chinese. Thus we read in a dispatch by Anthony Ripple from Guadalupe, Arizona, to The New York Times10 that:
Over the years there have been a variety of projects and plans and studies in Guadalupe.
People are still talking about one of them—a five-year study by J. A. Jones, and anthropologist from Arizona State University. Dr. Jones, who is now at Pennsylvania State University, got grants for $196,931 from the Army Medical Research and Development Command.
The idea was to study the Yaqui culture to find a key to winning over the village leaders in Vietnam. The Yaqui culture, it seems, is similar to that of the Vietnamese.
In a letter to one of us, written on December 8, 1970, and shortly before his death, Oscar Lewis wrote that:
One of the issues raised by your article goes far beyond the specific case of Thailand and concerns the matter of whether or not anthropologists can really protect the anonymity of their informants in many countries including our own, which is becoming increasingly repressive and more and more concerned with the personal lives of its citizens, especially those who have some political convictions and perspective. If things get much worse we will have to encourage our students to do library studies rather than field studies.
April 8, 1971
Newsletter of the American Anthropological Association 11 (1970), no. 8:2. ↩
“The Story of My Experiences with Tyranny” in G. Sjobery, ed., Ethics, Politics and Social Research (Cambridge, Mass.: 1967), p. 185. ↩
It should be added that the anthropologist in question did everything to accomplish the impossible: to report the situation truthfully without endangering the position of the people concerned. ↩
As was to be expected, these names became known very soon afterwards, though not through the authors; the fact that the authors, as members of the Ethics Committee of the AAA, wrote them an accusatory letter will have aggravated their position. ↩
We are grateful to Dr. Chandra Jayawardena for additional data on this point. ↩
Extracts from Defense, Development and Administration of the Uplands of North Thailand, report from Adviser, TRC to Director-General, Department of Public Welfare, Chiangmai, September 7, 1969. ↩
The New York Times, January 24, 1971. ↩
American Institutes for Research, Counter-Insurgency in Thailand, December, 1967, p. 1. ↩
Michael Moerman, “Clarification in the Thailand Case,” Newsletter of the American Anthropological Association, Vol. 12, No. 1, January, 1971, pp. 9-11. ↩
December 29, 1970, p. 18. ↩