March 25, 2007

Intellectuals and war

Filed under: Inquiry, Terror, War — ubikcan @ 2:22 pm

“What did you do during the war, daddy?”

The relationship between intellectuals such as anthropologists or geographers and wartime activities is a thorny one.

Obviously I find it very interesting, and in some ways, remarkable how much and how often academics get involved in the pursuit of war. Whether it be WWI (my interest) or WWII, or the current “war” on “terror” (scare quotes deliberate), there has been no shortage of academics and scientists who promote and enable research for war-driven gain. Whether it be linguistics, race, the CIA, GIS for homeland security or whatever, the history of this involvement is there.

I don’t know if there is a written history of it as a whole, but there very much should be–what did Franz Boas do during the war for example?

There are partial histories such as this one. But I think we need one of the entire 20th century. Many of the founders of academic disciplines were very involved indeed in pursuing wartime aims, and this topic is very relevant today as we seemingly slide in an unreflective way towards involvement in war, security and surveillance (eg the Department of Homeland Security has purchased an Enterprise ESRI license).


  1. Don’t know if you’ve read John Dower’s War Without Mercy, but in Ch. 6 it documents specifically this point about western psychologists and anthropologists (including big names like Mead and Bateson) during WW2 “know your enemy” studies of the Japanese. In general, I think the book is a great study in how cultures can go about demonizing “the other.” What makes it especially good is that he looks at the war’s propaganda from both Japanese and American sides (and it includes some amazing illustrations from the period).

    Comment by brad — March 25, 2007 @ 3:01 pm

  2. Another interesting book is Science of Coercion by Christopher Simpson which documents the collaboration between academic and military and corporate intellectuals between 1945-1960. I highly recommend it: http://www.amazon.com/Science-Coercion-Communication-Psychological-1945-1960/dp/0195102924

    Comment by kanarinka — March 26, 2007 @ 10:42 am

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: