Anthropological Intelligence

The Deployment and Neglect of American Anthropology in the Second World War

Anthropological Intelligence

Book Pages: 400 Illustrations: 2 tables Published: June 2008

Author: David H. Price

American Studies, Anthropology > Cultural Anthropology, History > U.S. History

By the time the United States officially entered World War II, more than half of American anthropologists were using their professional knowledge and skills to advance the war effort. The range of their war-related work was extraordinary. They helped gather military intelligence, pinpointed possible social weaknesses in enemy nations, and contributed to the army’s regional Pocket Guide booklets. They worked for dozens of government agencies, including the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) and the Office of War Information. At a moment when social scientists are once again being asked to assist in military and intelligence work, David H. Price examines anthropologists’ little-known contributions to the Second World War.

Anthropological Intelligence is based on interviews with anthropologists as well as extensive archival research involving many Freedom of Information Act requests. Price looks at the role played by the two primary U.S. anthropological organizations, the American Anthropological Association and the Society for Applied Anthropology (which was formed in 1941), in facilitating the application of anthropological methods to the problems of war. He chronicles specific projects undertaken on behalf of government agencies, including an analysis of the social effects of postwar migration, the design and implementation of OSS counterinsurgency campaigns, and the study of Japanese social structures to help tailor American propaganda efforts. Price discusses anthropologists’ work in internment camps, their collection of intelligence in Central and South America for the FBI’s Special Intelligence Service, and their help forming foreign language programs to assist soldiers and intelligence agents. Evaluating the ethical implications of anthropological contributions to World War II, Price suggests that by the time the Cold War began, the profession had set a dangerous precedent regarding what it would be willing to do on behalf of the U.S. government.


Anthropological Intelligence is an extraordinarily timely book for the discipline. . . . [T]his book will become the canonical text for those interested in the relationship between the state and anthropology, particularly as regards intelligence and war.” — Jonathan Zilberg, Leonardo Reviews

“[T]imely. . . . Price’s conclusion is that the government authorities read and cited anthropologists’ reports and recommendations when they conformed to the authorities’ views, ignoring them when (usually) they did not—a continuing practice. Recommended. All levels/libraries.” — A. B. Kehoe, Choice

“David Price makes a major contribution to our understanding of the political history of the field, detailing the multifaceted involvement of anthropologists in World War II, as well as the remaking of anthropological objects and techniques through an engagement with military interests. . . . Written with a sense of urgency, Anthropological Intelligence could well be taught in ethnographic methods courses to engage the larger politics of academic production under conditions of militarization but should be widely read by anyone interested in the militarization of knowledge. Price’s work challenges all of us involved in academic work to engage the larger political contexts of our professional lives and to grapple directly with the uses, and potential misuses, of ethnographic work.” — Joseph Masco, PoLAR

“David Price’s revealing history of anthropological collaboration with government and military authorities during World War II, an earlier and better appreciated conflict, provides important background understanding about what happens when anthropologists go to war.” — Lamont Lindstrom, Pacific Affairs

“David Price, in Anthropological intelligence, has crafted a historical anthropology that is immensely relevant to current debates over disciplinary roles and obligations in wartime. Indeed, as an American anthropologist, I have been looking for this book for my entire professional life. It lays out in painstaking detail the complicated agendas, actions, and ramifications of engagement by anthropologists about whose work I had heard whispers and rumors, yet. . .I had never managed to track down the full story.” — Barbara Rose Johnston, Journal of Anthropological Research

“In patiently scrutinizing his own profession's past for susceptibility to corruption, Price sets a model for self-examination that the United States as a whole might heed. And once we decide upon which core values should define contemporary America, we will need to live up to them.” — Barbara McMichael, Olympian

“Price has been a determined – if sometimes lonely – voice highlighting the risks of anthropological collaboration, both covert and overt, with military and intelligence agencies. . . . One of the strengths of this compendious and diverse book is its careful retelling and rendition of archival sources.” — David Mills, Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute

“Price has done a masterful job of weaving a complex tapestry of American wartime anthropology. . . . Price's work reveals that even in a ‘good war”’like WWII, anthropologists often stood on ethically shaky ground when working for military and intelligence agencies, and some of them came to regret the long-term consequences of their participation. . . . Anthropological Intelligence could not have come at a more critical time as the Pentagon, the CIA, and countless private contract firms (such as BAE Systems and NEK Advanced Securities) aggressively seek to recruit social scientists for positions ranging from ‘Intelligence Analyst’ to ‘Field Anthropologist’ on experimental counterinsurgency teams. Price's work gives us fair warning of the pitfalls that are likely to accompany such collaborations.” — Roberto J. González, Anthropological Quarterly

“Price has written an important account of the flawed and problematical role of anthropologists during a time of national crisis. . . . Price has done anthropology and those concerned about the machinations of government officials a great service in making such information available in such readable, engrossing form. In these present, precarious times the lessons to be learned from this book are especially apt.”
— T.O. Beidelman, Ethnos

“Price's book makes a significant contribution to the continued importance of this debate within anthropology and in other social sciences, especially with the increasing number of jobs with Human Terrain Systems in a world at war.” — Pamela Frese, Journal of Military History

“The larger question this study raises is whether anthropology can be ethically applied in the service of any powerful organization, military or otherwise. If the answer—as Price implies—is no, then what is anthropological knowledge good for? For a discipline striving to refashion itself as relevant for solving practical problems, and not just for creating humanistic understanding or advocating for the interests of marginalized communities, this question is a challenging one indeed.” — Ira Bashkow, American Ethnologist

“This very well-written volume by David Price is one of the best and most important analyses of the relations between anthropology and wider public issues that I have read during the past decade.” — Eyal Ben-Ari, Social Anthropology

“This well-researched book is the most comprehensive account to date on the interrelation of the work of anthropologists with American government policies and practices during World War II. — Margaret Caffrey, Diplomatic History

Anthropological Intelligence is written with vigor. Its author, David Price, is the foremost authority on the way anthropology was transformed by the Cold War and World War II. . . . There are no heroes or villains in this detailed study and this is a testament to Price’s scholarship, careful documentation, and command of the subject matter.” — William J. Peace, Comparative Studies in Society and History

“[A] provocative thesis that deserves to be scrutinized in current debates about the proper role of intellectuals in the societies and polities of which they are members and citizens — and it should be discussed for the sake of clearing away ‘specifically intellectual obstacles to commensuration, communication, and comprehension.’ . . . Anthropological Intelligence assembles a wealth of detailed information, much of it drawn from previously hidden and unusual government archives. . . .” — Richard A. Shweder, Common Knowledge

“David H. Price’s book adds substantially to a historical understanding of social scientists’ service to government and the military during World War II, and it raises troubling questions about the social and institutional roles of knowledge professionals that transcend the temporal conditions of total war. . . . [A] fascinating and important study. . . .” — David Paul Haney, American Historical Review

“One of this book’s great merits is the combination of meticulous documentation with lucid analysis. . . . Although we may not agree with him on all analytical conclusions he draws, the scholarly community still has to be grateful for this impressive scholarly achievement. After all, it provides for the very first time a solid basis for a debate which has been long overdue. In all likelihood, this volume will remain the standard reference book for the years to come. It is an indispensable source of insights not only for anthropologists, who will gain a thoroughly new understanding about their own field’s historical contexts of reemergence after 1945.” — Andre Gingrich, Left History

"A work of immense scholarship, historical importance and, like all his work in this field, courageous. . . .The publication of Anthropological Intelligence is timely, coming as it does when many anthropologists are concerned about the militarisation of their subject through the use of ‘embedded ethnographers’ and the US military's Human Terrain Programme (HTP), which teams social scientists with military units in Iraq and Afghanistan to help soldiers better understand the local culture." — Jeremy Keenan, Times Higher Education

“David H. Price is, without any doubt, our foremost authority on the ways in which anthropologists were used in World War II and the Cold War and on the ways in which those wars changed anthropology. Price knows how to use the Freedom of Information Act like no other anthropologist, and he has succeeded in unearthing a wealth of fascinating information about the military uses of anthropology in World War II. Anthropological Intelligence is at once a fascinating and entertaining source of trivia on anthropology’s ancestors and a keenly argued lament for what war has done to a humane discipline. Showing an encyclopedic command of the facts, Price writes with urbane elegance and a strikingly judicious compassion toward those whom he critiques. Anthropological Intelligence could not be more timely. At a moment when war is once more on anthropologists’ minds, it will become the canonical book on anthropology and the ‘good war’ while raising troubling questions for those in the age of the ‘war on terror’ who would like, once more, to mobilize anthropology for war.” — Hugh Gusterson, author of People of the Bomb: Portraits of America’s Nuclear Complex

“In this objective and scrupulous account, David H. Price performs an invaluable service by raising a central ethical question: To what extent should social scientists lend their skills to national tasks, even if the goals are not those with which they are in agreement? By carefully documenting what American anthropologists did to help win World War II, he illuminates that murky ethical space that lies between patriotism and the tasks of science.” — Sidney W. Mintz, Johns Hopkins University


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

David H. Price is Associate Professor of Anthropology at Saint Martin’s University in Lacey, Washington. He is the author of Threatening Anthropology: McCarthyism and the FBI’s Surveillance of Activist Anthropologists, also published by Duke University Press. He was a member of the American Anthropological Association’s 2006–7 Ad Hoc Commission on the Engagement of Anthropology with the U.S. Security and Intelligence Communities.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Preface ix

Abbreviations xxi

1. American Anthropology and the War to End All Wars 1

2. Professional Associations and the Scope of American Anthropology's Wartime Applications 18

3. Allied and Axis Anthropologies 53

4. The War on Campus 74

5. American Anthropologists Join the Wartime Brain Trust 91

6. Anthropologists and White House War Projects 117

7. Internment Fieldwork: Anthropologists and the War Relocation Authority 143

8. Anthropology and Nihonjinron at the Office of War Information 171

9. Archaeology and J. Edgar Hoover's Special Intelligence Service 200

10. Culture at War: Weaponizing Anthropology at the OSS 220

11. Postwar Ambiguities: Looking Back at the War 262

Notes 283

Bibliography 317

Index 353
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Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-4237-3 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-4219-9
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