Magazine article Times Higher Education

Armed with Expertise: The Militarization of American Social Research during the Cold War: Books

Magazine article Times Higher Education

Armed with Expertise: The Militarization of American Social Research during the Cold War: Books

Article excerpt

Armed with Expertise: The Militarization of American Social Research during the Cold War. By Joy Rohde. Cornell University Press. 224pp, Pounds 19.95. ISBN 9780801449673. Published 17 September 2013

Unsettling comparisons of US military tactics in the Cold War and this millennium's War on Terror abound. Be it in the clandestine operations of CIA operatives, counterinsurgency campaigns or the general hubris of the military-industrial complex, the similarities are remarkable. Of course, any comparison is ana-chronistic, but as US secretary of defence Robert McNamara would observe some 20 years after the Vietnam War, there are certain lessons to be learned from conflict. One such, he contended, was that rationality will not always solve problems. It is with that lesson in mind that Joy Rohde's Armed With Expertise considers the psychologists, anthropologists, political scientists and sociologists who worked as "service intellectuals" for the Department of Defense. Despite the lessons of the Cold War, particularly the failures of Vietnam, the US has gone on to employ an equivalent group of academics for the same purpose in its most recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The bulk of Rohde's succinct book investigates the social scientists who informed the Pentagon from the 1950s to the 1970s. The contemporary context frames the narrative and illustrates the enduring utility of academics in developing military strategy. In the 1950s, the prevailing fear of communism and cultural consensus led many academics to believe that their work would expand American-styled "freedom" in the Third World. Rohde profiles three "Sorons" - the eerie nickname of academics enlisted into the DoD's Special Operations Research Office, or Soro - to unfold similarities and differences among intellectuals. It works. The biographies demonstrate that some social scientists believed either that state patronage did not corrode academic freedom, or that the righteousness of the containment policy was entirely ethical and thereby in line with their academic pursuits. Other scholars recognised that government patronage would distort academic neutrality, but carried on armed with the rationalisation that all expert analysis was subjective.

That ethical dilemma reached a climax with Project Camelot, a research venture designed to uncover the causes of communist revolution. …

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