Social Science and Foreign Affairs
Summary and Keywords
Since the social sciences began to emerge as scholarly disciplines in the last quarter of the 19th century, they have frequently offered authoritative intellectual frameworks that have justified, and even shaped, a variety of U.S. foreign policy efforts. They played an important role in U.S. imperial expansion in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Scholars devised racialized theories of social evolution that legitimated the confinement and assimilation of Native Americans and endorsed civilizing schemes in the Philippines, Cuba, and elsewhere. As attention shifted to Europe during and after World War I, social scientists working at the behest of Woodrow Wilson attempted to engineer a “scientific peace” at Versailles. The desire to render global politics the domain of objective, neutral experts intensified during World War II and the Cold War. After 1945, the social sciences became increasingly central players in foreign affairs, offering intellectual frameworks—like modernization theory—and bureaucratic tools—like systems analysis—that shaped U.S. interventions in developing nations, guided nuclear strategy, and justified the increasing use of the U.S. military around the world.
Throughout these eras, social scientists often reinforced American exceptionalism—the notion that the United States stands at the pinnacle of social and political development, and as such has a duty to spread liberty and democracy around the globe. The scholarly embrace of conventional political values was not the result of state coercion or financial co-optation; by and large social scientists and policymakers shared common American values. But other social scientists used their knowledge and intellectual authority to critique American foreign policy. The history of the relationship between social science and foreign relations offers important insights into the changing politics and ethics of expertise in American public policy.
The earliest linkage of social science and American foreign policy lay not overseas, but in American westward expansion. Thomas Jefferson endorsed the systematic collection of information about Native Americans for both diplomatic and intellectual purposes in the 1770s.1 But the American sciences were then in their infancy. Systematic investigations would not begin until the second half of the 19th century as government officials turned to the nascent field of anthropology for assistance solving the so-called “Indian problem.” While historians of American foreign policy have paid relatively little attention to U.S.-Native American relations, 19th-century Americans viewed Indians as foreign, and not until native peoples were confined to reservations in the late 19th century did policymakers come to conceive of Indian policy as a domestic issue.2
Before the Civil War, the goal of U.S. Indian policy was separation and native peoples were relocated to the West through warfare and treaties. By the late 1860s, however, the westward flood of white settlers seemed to make separation untenable, raising new questions about Indian policy. As one senator remarked in 1867, Americans needed to address the question: “Will you exterminate [the Indian], or will you fix an abiding place for him?”3 Underlying this question were a set of pressing scientific and moral issues: Were Native Americans biological kin to whites, and were they capable of assimilating to white American “civilization”?
Early anthropologists trained their expertise on precisely these problems. While they disagreed about the answer to the first question, they answered the second with a resounding yes. American anthropology was dominated by the social evolutionary approach articulated by Lewis Henry Morgan. In his seminal text, Ancient Society (1877), Morgan argued that human development ascended a unitary, universal ladder from savagery, through barbarism, to civilization. Along that ladder lay seven rungs that were differentiated by technological innovation as well as economic, political, and social institutions.
Morgan’s scheme allowed anthropologists to classify the tribes of North America. In the southwest, the Hopi and Zuni, with their settled villages, domesticated animals, and ability to smelt iron ore, occupied the stage of middle barbarism. Meanwhile, the Athapascan tribes in the far northwest lay two stages below in the state of upper savagery.4 Americans of European descent occupied the highest level of development—modern civilization.
Morgan’s social evolutionary scheme resonated with the conviction, common among policymakers and the American public, that white civilization’s advance across the continent was both inevitable and beneficial to humankind. American exceptionalism long predated the rise of American anthropology, but Morgan’s work provided a scientific and moral basis upon which the United States could advance its racialized and providential claims on native lands. It also justified Ulysses Grant’s assertion that assimilation was a new “peace policy.”5 In Morgan’s scheme, the attainment of private property was a crucial step demarcating barbarism from civilization, a step that Native Americans had yet to make. In 1876, Morgan proposed that U.S. policymakers urge Native Americans along their foreordained path. Writing that it was no surprise Indians had yet to civilize—“how could they, any more than our own remote ancestors, jump ethnical periods?”—he suggested that Congress enact policies designed to encourage nomadic buffalo hunters to settle and raise cattle.6
Congress did not take this particular advice, but American anthropologists drew on Morgan’s work to advocate for the passage of the Dawes Act (1887), which removed communally held reservation lands from tribal ownership and parceled it out as private property. According to the logic of social evolution, allotment would encourage Indians to assimilate to white society, thus uplifting and saving them from certain extinction. Ethnologist John Wesley Powell insisted that taking Native Americans’ land was the surest and most moral way to set Native Americans on the path to civilization. He argued, “only by giving to the Indians Anglo-Saxon civilization” could white Americans repay the debt they owed for displacing the tribes.7 In fact, allotment had disastrous consequences for Native Americans; they were dispossessed of approximately 75 percent of their land.8
Social evolutionary anthropology cannot be credited with directly shaping American Indian policy in the era of continental expansion; there is little evidence that anthropologists’ research or lobbying efforts directly affected the outcome of congressional votes.9 Indeed, it is important to recognize that ideas about civilizational uplift were a staple of imperial projects around the world.10 In the United States, anthropology offered a scientific framework for the American imperial project. It encouraged policymakers to justify white claims on Indian land in the name of racial and civilizational progress. And by offering a scientific basis for assimilation, it helped usher federal Indian policy out of the realm of foreign relations and into the sphere of domestic policy.
Early American social science and foreign policy reinforced and nourished one another as the empire stretched westward. American anthropology benefited tremendously from its relationship to the state. A number of the anthropologists who supported the Dawes Act were government scientists employed by the Bureau of American Ethnology, a congressionally funded research institute established in 1879 and headquartered at the Smithsonian Institution. Powell served as its first director. The Bureau was tasked both with salvage ethnography—collecting as much data as possible about native life before it was eradicated by extermination and assimilation—and with providing information relevant to federal policy. Furthermore, confining Native Americans to reservations benefited American anthropology by making its research subjects more accessible and justifying the project of salvage ethnography.11
The nation’s overseas expansion would draw the social sciences and government closer together in the early 20th century. Even before the ink dried on the treaty ending the Spanish-American War, policymakers called on American scholars to lend their expertise to the challenge of colonial administration. Government officials looked to social scientists for intellectual frameworks through which they could understand their newly acquired territories—Cuba, Guam, the Philippines, and Puerto Rico—and their new colonial subjects. The social sciences were just beginning to take shape as professional disciplines in the early 20th century, and many scholars embraced their service to the state as an opportunity to grow their fields while advancing the cause of “civilization.” As one scholar proclaimed, social science would “facilitate the civilizing mission which colonizing powers have undertaken toward the more or less inferior races.”12 Indeed, the disciplinary origins of American political science, international relations, and sociology are deeply rooted in the moral and administrative challenges of American empire.
The challenges of imperial administration and civilizational uplift perfectly suited the intellectual interests of political scientists at the turn of the century. Scholars of American politics emerged from the national crisis of the Civil War determined to articulate a scientific basis for American political ideals. Anglo-Saxonist theories of social and political evolution were a staple of this work.13 They translated seamlessly into scholarly debates regarding the wisdom of the nation’s overseas colonial projects and the likelihood that efforts to civilize new subjects would meet with success. Likewise, the field of international relations grew directly out of intellectual debates about race, democracy, and empire. Meetings of the young American Political Science Association (established in 1903), chapters in international relations textbooks, and articles in professional journals devoted considerable attention to whether colonization could lead to “race development.” Tellingly, the international relations journal Foreign Affairs was initially titled the Journal of Race Development when it was founded in 1910.14
Political scientists and international relations scholars drew heavily on the theory that Anglo-Saxons had reached the pinnacle of political development. Alone among the world’s inhabitants, Anglo-Saxons were “the possessors and progenitors of unique, ‘free’ political values and institutions.”15 They reached this level of development by dint of their racial superiority but also by their long historical tutelage. As James T. Young explained, “liberty is a habit” that took Anglo-Saxons “seven hundred years to cultivate.”16 Young and his colleagues hotly debated the implications of Anglo-Saxonism for the American colonial project and American domestic political development. Did this remarkable political achievement confer upon Americans the responsibility to cultivate the habit of liberty among non-Anglo-Saxons? Could inferior races learn to live by the principles of democracy, or were they racially destined for political underdevelopment? Would the American colonial effort bring Anglo-Saxons to a new, even higher, stage of political development, or would contact with inferior races and political institutions degrade American civilization? John Burgess, one of the founding fathers of political science, argued that it was a “principle of political science, that the same fullness of civil liberty, as well as of political liberty, is not appropriate to all conditions of mankind.”17 While Burgess opposed the American colonial project altogether, Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson expressed a more common sentiment: “It would be wrong,” he wrote, “to give the same government now to the Philippine islands as we enjoy who have been schooled for centuries to the use of our liberties.”18
Some of the most influential early international relations scholars were men tapped by the government to join colonial administrations. University of Pennsylvania political scientist Leo S. Rowe joined the American administration of Puerto Rico in 1900. His experience left him dubious that Puerto Ricans could achieve self-rule. Only further political scientific research into “the conditions under which Spanish-American civilization has developed” would, Rowe contended, allow American experts and administrators to chart the course to successful territorial rule. In fact, Rowe argued, investigation of colonial administration was crucially important to political science generally. “Although the problem of government in [the West Indies] does not present great territorial importance,” he explained, “it involves all those political lessons which we must learn in order to meet our political duties and obligations as the leading nation of the Western Hemisphere.”19 Political science could help guide the nation’s expanding foreign policy role, which in turn, would encourage the continued advance of American democracy.
Sociologists also saw colonial territories as promising sites in which to grow their discipline, support the nation’s expansion, and nurture civilizational progress. Similar to political scientists, American sociologists sought “the laws that governed the progress of civilization.”20 At home, urban immigrant communities offered research opportunities, but sociologists also looked eagerly to the new colonies, whose inhabitants were thought to represent earlier stages of human development. American overseas territory seemed “a veritable laboratory of sociology” that offered “our only starting-points for the scientific demonstration of the evolution of human institutions.”21 By 1902, as many as 60 percent of articles in the American Journal of Sociology touched on the subject of empire. And the first sociology doctorate awarded in the United States—by Cornell University in 1893—explored social evolution in Hawaii.22
Social science had important implications for colonial territories, particularly the Philippines. In 1899, the U.S. government sent a team of academics to carry out an ethnological survey of the islands’ inhabitants. Under the leadership of Dean Worcester, a zoologist turned anthropologist, the team drew on racialized theories of human and political development to create a narrative of Filipino tribalism that profoundly affected the racial ordering of Filipino society. Worcester and his team used photography to catalogue the ostensible physical and social evolutionary variation among Filipinos. Worcester identified “three sharply distinct races,” each representing distinct historical waves of immigration and distinct stages of development.23 At the lowest stage lay the Negritos, who one anthropologist reported “approach as nearly to the conception of primitive man as any people thus far discovered.” Later arrivals—the lighter-skinned Muslim Malays, and finally, the even lighter-skinned Christian Spaniards—represented progressively higher stages of development. Worcester’s analysis implied that “the country was naturally destined for conquest” by still lighter-skinned and more civilized Anglo-Saxons.24
The ethnological survey was more elaborate than Morgan’s civilizational ladder. Among the three races, Worcester counted an astonishing eighty-four tribal groups that “often differ very greatly in language, manners, customs and laws, as well as in degree of civilization.” “The Filipinos,” he concluded, “are not a nation, but a variegated assemblage of different tribes and peoples.” 25 Self-governance was out of the question, but just as important, Worcester’s analysis vindicated the American imperial project, including its bloody counterinsurgency effort. No one could accuse the United States of wresting control of the Philippines away from viable national leaders, for no single individual or group could claim to represent the interests and desires of such a heterogeneous population.26
Although Worcester’s racial and tribal divisions rested on thin evidence, they became administrative categories that influenced the racial ordering of Filipino society. Worcester and his team placed special emphasis on Christianity as a marker of developmental capacity as well as ethnic identity. The categories of non-Christian and Hispanicized Filipinos were enshrined in the 1903 census. They marked the provincial boundaries imposed by the U.S. colonial state in the first decade of the 20th century. Non-Christians were subject to U.S. civil-military rule, while Hispanicized Filipinos were encouraged to evolve toward self-government.27 Over the course of the 1910s and 1920s, Christian Filipinos would take over responsibility for governing the Non-Christian Tribes’ provinces, effecting what one historian has called the “Christian Filipinizaton of the ‘white man’s burden.’”28
Social science did not just order colonial society. By producing races and tribes in the Philippines, it functioned as a technology of empire in late 19th and early 20th centuries. Historian Michael Adas contends that American scholars and policymakers viewed themselves as “the most scientific of modern colonizers.”29 But compared to the European imperial powers, the United States relied less on social expertise to inform the acquisition and rule of overseas territories. For example, Belgium’s King Léopold turned specifically to scientific elites—and in particular to geographers with expertise on the land and inhabitants of tropical Africa—to advise the Belgian crown on the prospects for white settlement well before embarking on territorial acquisition.30 By contrast, when considering the fate of the Philippines, William McKinley reportedly professed that he “could not have told where those darned isles were within 2000 miles.”31 Similarly, colonial officials from Britain and France tended to be educated at elite universities and to possess linguistic and historical knowledge relevant to their overseas stations; but American colonial officials—who often served in more temporary capacities than their European counterparts—rarely sought in-depth linguistic or ethnological knowledge. Worcester, for example, earned his status as an expert on the peoples of the Philippines by virtue of having spent nearly four years there on a zoological collecting expedition.32 European colonial offices created “scientific diasporas,” communities of experts in ethnography, language, natural history, and medicine who settled in the colonies for long periods of time and assiduously produced administrative and scholarly reports about local conditions as a function of their professional roles.33 By contrast, in the American territories, social experts “circulated between colony and metropole on limited term contracts.” 34
Despite the differences in imperial states’ scholarly investments, empire was as an important incubator for the social sciences in the United States and Europe. On both sides of the Atlantic, the disciplines of anthropology, sociology, and political science took shape in tandem with overseas expansion. Whether American or European, scholars in each national tradition typically used synchronic methods in a quest to explain the nature of global racial difference and evaluate the prospects for racial and civilizational uplift.35
From World War I to the Eve of World War II
Racialized justifications for American empire continued to play a role in popular American consciousness well into the 20th century. But in the social sciences, racialized theories of Anglo-Saxon political superiority waned in the years between World War I and World War II. In part, this was due to the United States’ failure to impose peaceful rule in the Philippines. But it also reflected changes in the nature of race research itself, which increasingly became the province of physical anthropologists and human biologists. This research maintained an imperial connection; in the 1920s, American physical anthropologists and human biologists traveled to Hawaii and Puerto Rico, territories that they described as veritable racial “laboratories” where they could observe natural experiments in race-mixing. By the 1930s, their research called into question older generations of racial classification and established a powerful basis for the post-WWII assault on scientific racism.36
With the “Indian Problem” reinscribed as a domestic issue, and with the fading of avid scholarly interest in the imperial project of benevolent assimilation, social scientists played a minimal part in American foreign policy in the period between World War I and the eve of World War II. There is one important exception to this general trend, however. Social scientists played a crucial role in articulating a vision of an American-led peace settlement at Versailles that was to be scientific and, therefore, politically neutral. In the process, they created a new network of foreign policy elites and a new foreign policy research institution that would have a lasting effect on foreign policy discourse.
Woodrow Wilson is perhaps the nation’s most famous political scientist, but it is not his scholarship that earned him his reputation. Although Wilson pontificated occasionally about American imperialism, he devoted very little scholarly attention to foreign policy; his research tended to focus on public administration and the nature of the American state. Nor did foreign policy concerns play much of a role in the election of 1912. Rather, Wilson’s articulation of a new foreign policy—often termed liberal internationalism—developed over the course of his presidency, and owed as much—if not more—to his work as a statesman confronted with the Great War as it did to his political science training.37
Wilson’s political science background was instrumental in his approach to peace negotiations. In September 1917, only a few months after the United States entered the war, Wilson turned to scholarly experts to build an expert-based foundation for the future peace settlement. True to his Progressive commitment to expertise and to his desire to accomplish “peace without victory,” Wilson tasked a group of scholars with forging a “scientific peace.”38 The result was the Inquiry, an elite network of academics and other prominent Americans who prepared reports on trade, economics, politics, and geography in an effort to determine what positions the United States should take and what concessions the other belligerents might eventually demand. With a membership including journalist and Assistant Secretary of War Walter Lippmann, geographer Isaiah Bowman, and a slew of historians, economists, geographers, and classicists, more than half of whom hailed from the Ivy League, the Inquiry played a crucial role in crafting Wilson’s Fourteen Points.39 The president argued that the presence of Inquiry members at the peace conference made the U.S. delegation the “only disinterested people” at Versailles.40
While few of the members of the Inquiry were considered major leaders in the development of the social science disciplines, and while historians continue to debate whether the Inquiry influenced the outcome of the peace settlement, the aspiration to systematically bring academic expertise to bear on foreign policy—and to do it in advance of crisis or negotiation—was a pathbreaking development that would become a staple of the relationship between social science and government in the second half of the 20th century. In 1921, members of the Inquiry founded the Council on Foreign Relations, a nongovernmental policy institute which would nurture the Inquiry’s commitment to developing ostensibly rational, scientific, dispassionate foundations for American foreign policy. Despite the isolationism that gripped the nation after the war, the Council remained an active site of research and discussion. The home of the influential journal Foreign Affairs, it maintained a forum in which policymakers and academics could discuss pressing diplomatic issues. As the principal historical account of the Council explains, by the early 1930s, it had “become the major American organization devoted to research and discussion on international relations.”41
World War II
World War II fundamentally reshaped the relationship between social science and the government. In the past, some social scientists had sought to bring their scholarship to bear on foreign policy; but many others remained in the ivory tower where they focused on growing the self-consciously immature social science disciplines. World War II convinced many Americans that the sciences generally were important weapons in the nation’s arsenal. While the bulk of wartime academic mobilization impacted the physical sciences, social scientists too descended on Washington, where they found a variety of federal agencies eager to draw on their knowledge. Wartime agencies relied on a multidisciplinary mix of social scientists to analyze foreign intelligence, assess enemy morale, design psychological warfare strategy, and plan for the postwar order.
The Office of Strategic Services (OSS)—the nation’s first foreign intelligence agency—boasted the highest concentration of social scientists. Created in 1942 and headed by William J. (“Wild Bill”) Donovan, the OSS was charged with collecting and analyzing intelligence, as well as carrying out psychological operations and espionage overseas. Only a handful of social scientists—primarily anthropologists with expertise on North Africa and South Asia—participated in black operations. Instead, most OSS social scientists worked in the Research & Analysis Branch (R&A), aptly nicknamed the “chairborne division.” When World War II began, American expertise on foreign nations was thin. The Foreign Service had fewer than one thousand officers, and due to the isolationism of previous decades, they had little overseas experience and knowledge.42 The R&A Branch was designed to rectify this situation by bringing together an interdisciplinary group of scholars with expertise in crucial world regions.
OSS researchers reported to the military and the State Department on topics ranging from Charles de Gaulle’s politics to Japanese film to the treatment of German POWs. They also analyzed foreign public opinion and morale and wrote handbooks designed to orient civil affairs officers—men tasked with governing areas formerly held by the enemy—with the places they would deploy. All told, the R&A Branch produced over two thousand reports and area handbooks in its four-year existence. The branch attracted an impressive cohort—scholars that would become a virtual “Who’s Who” of social science in the postwar years. Staff members included economist Walt W. Rostow, sociology graduate student and future Harvard Sovietologist Alex Inkeles, and Frankfurt School émigré Herbert Marcuse.43
World War II was also the heyday of national character studies. Drawing on the conviction that individual and national psychology were closely related, social scientists working at the Office of War Information (OWI) studied the psychology of individuals to profile the values and motives of entire nations. Often forced by wartime circumstances to study “culture at a distance,” researchers gathered information from academic sources, government intelligence reports, and interviews with immigrants and refugees. As anthropologist Geoffrey Gorer explained, national character study provided a means to understand “why certain nations were acting in the way they did,” even when, like Germany and Japan, they appeared to be “acting irrationally and incomprehensibly.” Such insights were used to formulate psychological warfare programs, as well as to make strategic and tactical recommendations. Gorer argued that national character studies often indicated the best techniques to “induce [the enemy] to surrender, and having surrendered to give information.”44 Gorer’s work was saturated with Freudian concepts. He argued that war provided a much needed form of release for the Japanese, who suffered from pent up aggression due to the culture’s tradition of “early and severe toilet training.”45
These reports had a mixed reputation and a mixed record when it came to influencing wartime strategy. OWI analysts whose studies of Japanese psycho-culture differed from Gorer’s attempted unsuccessfully to persuade military leaders and senior policymakers that the Japanese were not violent fanatics. OWI scholars argued insistently against the U.S. policy of unconditional Japanese surrender, but to little avail. Perhaps the war’s most famous intellectual product, Ruth Benedict’s Chrysanthemum and the Sword, began as an OWI research project that was originally commissioned to lay the foundation for the postwar cultural reconstruction of Japan. Frustrated by General Douglas MacArthur’s lack of interest in using social science to guide his occupation policies, Benedict published her report as a book to much acclaim in both the United States and Japan. Her work, which stressed that the path to postwar reconciliation lay in cultural relativism, influenced postwar visions of international cooperation at the young United Nations.46
Benedict was far from the only social scientist discouraged by her inability to shape wartime strategy. Reflecting on their experiences after the war, many social scientists reported with dismay that their work had little concrete impact. Major foreign policy decisions were made by the president and major theater decisions were made by senior military officials, echelons to which most social scientists had little access. As one scholar explained, the organization of wartime work created “an atmosphere in which social science research could operate effectively only on a small scale and only when there was personal confidence between operator and researcher—and often even this was impossible.”47 Alexander Leighton, a psychiatrist who oversaw social research at the Office of War Information and the War Relocation Authority’s Japanese internment camp at Poston, Arizona, concluded from his experiences that, “the administrator uses social science the way a drunk uses a lamppost, for support rather than for illumination.”48
Yet the war shaped the intellectual and institutional trajectory of the social sciences. At the Library of Congress, Harold Lasswell and his colleagues at the Wartime Communications Research Project conducted an ambitious content analysis of newspaper and radio broadcasts from around the world in order to analyze changing political sentiment and public morale. Lasswell’s colleagues hailed his work for demonstrating the scholarly and policy value of large-scale, quantitative communications analysis.49 Other scholars worked within the psychological and military intelligence units of the armed services, both in Washington and around the globe, which deepened their ties to military institutions and military research questions. Communications analysts would continue to apply their expertise to psychological operations research after the war, and in the process, would establish communications as an important field of academic research.50
The war powerfully shaped the future course of American social science. It brought more scholars into government networks and encouraged them to apply their expertise to policy. As historian Ellen Herman has argued, World War II taught social researchers to equate “social responsibility with government service . . . and enlightened planning with behavioral expertise.”51
Even some social scientists who decided to remain in their university posts during the war found themselves teaching men in uniform about the foreign languages, cultures, geographies, and political systems they would encounter overseas. By 1944, Army and Navy civil affairs and area training programs operated on the grounds of over a dozen elite universities across the country and trained more than 150,000 soldiers. Government investment in area knowledge training during the war helped lay the groundwork for the postwar development of area studies.52
The Early Cold War
Shortly after the United States unleashed Fat Man and Little Boy on Japan, Harvard social scientist Talcott Parsons called on the government to “most vigorously explore the needs which social science must fill in a world equipped for suicide.”53 As the Cold War took shape, the armed services and the new intelligence agencies offered social scientists unprecedented research support for work relevant to international conflict. Federal spending on social science skyrocketed in the two decades after World War II. By the early 1960s, the Defense Department spent around $15 million a year on social research, “more than the entire budget for military research and development before World War II.”54 By 1967, Defense support reached $40 million.55 The intellectual content of social science grew and diversified. Researchers developed new theories of international relations, simulated nuclear conflicts, expanded their expertise on strategically important world regions, and designed models of political, economic, and social change that might guide modernization programs in the developing world.
Federal largesse changed the institutional landscape of social research. Some universities used federal grants and contracts to create new research institutes on university campuses, like Harvard’s Russian Research Center and MIT’s Center for International Studies. The armed services also created a new class of research institution called Federal Contract Research Centers (FCRC). FCRCs received the bulk of their funding from federal agencies and worked on problems of relevance to them, but they were institutionally independent of their sponsors, a design, it was hoped, that would facilitate intellectual independence and innovation. The military boasted multiple FCRCs that included social scientists on staff, including the Air Force’s RAND Corporation and the Army’s Special Operations Research Office. These institutions reflected the faith, common among social scientists and policymakers, that social science research questions and Cold War crises could be attacked simultaneously and seamlessly. The charter of MIT’s Center for International Studies captured this aspiration; it would “apply social science to problems bearing on the peace and development of the world community.”56 Social science, American national security, and democracy could march onward in tandem.
The challenges of the Cold War seemed to require interdisciplinary solutions, and RAND became a crucial center of innovative work, especially work related to nuclear strategy. While physicists and engineers are most famous for thinking the unthinkable, researchers approached their intellectual quarry with an eclectic toolkit. Drawing on social psychology, operations research, and systems theory, as well as game theory and economics, research teams pondered the likelihood, nature, and possible outcomes of future wars. Some of this work took the form of politico-military games in which scholars and government officials role-played various conflict scenarios; practicing this nuclear brinksmanship, RAND reports explained, helped determine which “moves” might escalate conflict and which could deter war. It also helped determine the optimally sized military arsenal required to maintain what RAND analyst Albert Wohlstetter famously referred to in 1958 as the “delicate balance of terror.”57
As historian Joel Isaac explains, many social scientists in this era saw themselves “as possessors of tools and programs designed for precision social engineering.” Above all, they aspired to “mathematical, behavioral, and systems-based approaches” to the problems of the Cold War.58 This approach reached its acme at RAND, where scholarship embodied a style of thought that historians have usefully termed “cold war rationality.” Given the complexity of strategic challenges in the nuclear age, the limited and fallible nature of human judgment, and the fact that a bad decision could trigger nuclear war, many social scientists aspired to augment, and even substitute, human decision-making with formalistic, rule-bound, algorithmic protocols for international affairs.59
Cold War rationality spread throughout the social science disciplines and across research institutions in the first two decades of the Cold War. At the University of Michigan, for example, researchers merged mathematical models of strategic rationality with social psychology in an effort to illuminate the role that attitudes played in conflict and cooperation. Cold War rationality moved into federal agencies too. Robert McNamara’s Defense Department embraced the logic of rational choice and systems analysis as a guide to allocating military resources in the 1960s. By the late 1960s, the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency turned to University of Pennsylvania psychologists to investigate whether U.S. escalation in Vietnam could overcome the stalemate.60
However, far from all social scientists embraced Cold War rationality. In the field of international relations theory, realists like Hans Morgenthau explicitly rejected the claim that diplomacy, strategy, or any other aspect of politics could ever be rendered scientific or axiomatic. To the contrary, realists argued that international affairs lacked the shared international legal and moral standards that were necessary to sufficiently reduce uncertainty. The complex, unpredictable international sphere called not for the oversimplified two-by-two matrices of game theory or cybernetic models of decision-making, but rather for a pragmatic acceptance of the fact that international affairs would always be marked by competitive struggle among powerful and self-interested states.61 International relations was best understood through traditional historical and political analysis, methods that included reasonable deduction from insight and intuition.
Some of the most influential foreign policy scholars of the era were realists. George Kennan, “the first intellectual middleman of postwar national security studies,” was a key architect of containment theory. Morgenthau, a longtime member of the University of Chicago faculty, advised the administrations of Truman, Kennedy, and Johnson, until his opposition to the Vietnam War alienated him from Washington policymakers. And Henry Kissinger rose to power as national security advisor and Secretary of State to Richard Nixon.62
Despite their disagreements about the merits of scientific formalism, many experts across the social sciences were united in the conviction that the United States needed to embrace an internationalist and interventionist foreign policy posture. Doing so required nurturing area studies. World War II had exposed the depths of American ignorance about the world’s regions and peoples, and planning to rectify this intellectual parochialism began well before the war ended. According to McGeorge Bundy, “the first great center of area studies in the United States was not located in any university, but in Washington” at the OSS.63 Seeking to nurture the regional expertise cultivated during the war, the military and the new Central Intelligence Agency funded area studies research—sometimes clandestinely—at Harvard, Columbia, and elsewhere. Area studies’ growth owed much to the support of major foundations. Seeking to “make life possible in a spherical world,” the Rockefeller Foundation made its first area studies research and training grants in 1944.64 Others soon followed suit. Between 1952 and 1967, the Ford Foundation’s International Training and Research Program dispensed well over $100 million to train scholars at U.S. universities.65 Many specialists in foreign cultures and languages went on to work for the State Department and other federal agencies, where, foundation officials explained, they would make the nation “more literate and more emotionally mature in international affairs.”66
Others stayed in academia, where they established new area studies institutes committed to simultaneously growing knowledge and impacting policy. In the first two decades of the Cold War, Harvard’s and Columbia’s experts on Soviet history, culture, politics, and economics advised government officials on the extent of the Kremlin’s power over its own people, the nature and limits of the Soviet economy, and the weak points in Soviet morale.67 Area knowledge about the developing world also grew in importance in the 1950s as decolonization opened new fronts in the fight against communism. While the lion’s share of area studies funding went to centers focused on the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, foundations and federal agencies increased their support for research and training on Asia, the Middle East, Africa, and Latin America.68
Given its financial and intellectual ties to the national security state, it is perhaps unsurprising that area studies scholarship rarely challenged the fundamental premise of the Cold War as a bipolar ideological conflict with global stakes. As Southeast Asian studies expert Mark T. Berger has observed, Asian studies between the 1940s and late 1960s “emphasized the need for the various nation-states of Asia to develop gradually towards a relatively universal form of capitalist modernity.”69 Research on the decolonizing world tended to favor order and stability over self-determination and “secular, liberal constitutional orders” over communist and non-secular political movements.70 Area studies, like other fields in the early Cold War, tended to embrace the Cold War foreign policy consensus.
The post-Vietnam generation of area studies scholars criticized the previous generation for failing to challenge the fundamental premises of the Cold War. But despite the fact that most area studies scholars framed their work within the context of bipolar conflict, they were far from politically homogenous. Sovietology was populated by a politically diverse group of scholars, some who successfully challenged American politicians’ misguided assumptions about the Soviet Union. David Engerman has shown that the field “was often a moderating” force in the early years of the Cold War, as scholars urged restraint rather than rollback. Researchers convinced Air Force and CIA officials that the Soviet Union was not “an all-powerful state ruling over an atomized population that was waiting for an outside power to unshackle it.” Eventually, the field fractured under the burden of bitter ideological debates over the United States’ stance toward the Soviet Union.71
Similarly, Asian studies was not politically uniform. While some scholars took hardline anti-Maoist positions, others critiqued American anticommunist foreign policies. George Kahin, a founding figure in Southeast Asian studies, was known for his optimistic hope that decolonization would lead to modernization and liberal democracy. Yet in 1950, he also publicly attacked U.S. policy toward the newly independent Republic of Indonesia as too lenient toward the Netherlands. In response, the State Department informed Kahin that “the line between Communists and non-Communists is very clear, and you’re on the wrong side.” Kahin’s passport was revoked and the U.S. embassy’s staff in Jakarta was not permitted to read his work.72
Indeed, a number of social scientists learned in the early years of the Cold War that the bounds of acceptable political dissent were quite narrow. Social scientists engaged in foreign policy issues could find themselves in politically and professionally dangerous positions. Senator Joseph McCarthy attacked China expert, State Department consultant, and critic of Chiang Kai-Shek Owen Lattimore in 1950, labeling him a Soviet spy. Years of congressional investigations failed to substantiate McCarthy’s claims, but Lattimore’s career was damaged. Other social scientists, including Columbia Sovietologist and former OSS Research and Analysis branch analyst Philip Mosely, faced similar accusations. While McCarthy fell from grace in 1954, the era’s anticommunism had a chilling effect on the social sciences.73
In this political climate, social scientists who were interested in adding their knowledge to the nation’s growing counterinsurgency arsenal were welcomed into the foreign policy fold with increasing frequency in the early 1960s. In the wake of Nikita Khrushchev’s announcement that the Soviet Union would support “wars of national liberation,” an interdisciplinary set of experts focused their attention on containing communism in the developing world. With funding from the Defense Department and the CIA, political scientists, social psychologists, anthropologists, and political sociologists tried to ferret out the causes of communist revolution so as to circumvent them before they began. They applied psychology to area studies knowledge in an effort to enhance psychological operations in third world nations. And they wrote easily digestible area handbooks on communist-threatened nations and peoples, which were read by Defense and State Department officials stationed around the globe.74
The rise of social science research into counterinsurgency was fueled by the growing popularity of modernization theory in Washington and on university campuses. Modernization theorists—an interdisciplinary amalgam of political scientists, sociologists, social psychologists, economists, and area studies experts—offered a variety of frameworks to usher fragile developing nations along the treacherous path from tradition to a liberal, democratic, and capitalist modernity. They advocated the application of foreign policy tools like technical assistance, foreign investment, and social and economic planning. Modernization theory bore a striking resemblance to earlier social evolutionary interpretations of civilizational progress. The era’s most famous modernizer, MIT economist Walt Whitman Rostow, theorized that every society passed in a linear fashion through five universal stages of change, each defined by economic parameters.75
The Kennedy administration was especially keen on the concept of modernization; Kennedy created the U.S. Agency for International Development to oversee U.S. development aid programs in 1961 and proclaimed the 1960s the “Decade of Development.” A number of modernization theorists, including Rostow, occupied policy positions in the Kennedy and Johnson administration.
Like the racialized theories of social evolution and political development popular in earlier decades, modernization theory used the United States as the yardstick by which to judge other nations. It proved as much ideology as it did science. But its scientific patina gave it significant political traction. Modernization projected an ostensibly objective image of the United States as a beneficent, non-imperial, global reformer. By casting interventionist American foreign and military policies as driven by the goals of peace, cooperation, and stability, social scientists helped to maintain and reinforce the American exceptionalist creed.
But in the Cold War, exceptionalism took on a more militarized tone. By arguing that the U.S. military bore much of the burden of averting war and maintaining peace, social science increasingly blurred the lines between military intervention, benevolent social planning, and scholarly inquiry. For example, Project Camelot—a multimillion dollar, multiyear study commissioned by the Army and inaugurated in 1964—was designed to test scholarly theories about the causes of social unrest in order to build a social systems model that could predict when and where communist revolutions might arise. The model would also prescribe the appropriate government action to counter such insurgencies. Social scientists assigned to the project argued that it promised “to find nonmilitary and nonviolent solutions to international problems.”77 But the study’s critics labeled it a blatant effort by the U.S. military to gather the intellectual tools to intervene in any social movement that did not align with U.S. interests. For the study’s detractors, who tried unsuccessfully to terminate the project, social science seemed to empower an increasingly belligerent American foreign policy.
The Vietnam War
The critique that social science empowered an ideological and dangerously militarized U.S. foreign policy gained power over the second half of the 1960s, as the application of social science to the war in Vietnam attracted the ire of antiwar activists and policymakers. American social research in Vietnam focused on the “Other War,” the pacification effort to win the allegiance of the South Vietnamese population to the American-backed government in Saigon. Pacification, which the American command saw as a political, economic, social, and military effort, was rooted loosely in modernization theory. According to conventional policy and scholarly wisdom, Vietnam was a society in transition from tradition to modernity, which created a rootless rural population susceptible to communism. The military funded teams of anthropologists, political scientists, and social psychologists to advise pacification officials how they might transform ostensibly fatalistic and traditional peasants into politically engaged and proactive modern citizens.78
The military also looked to social scientists to explain the psychology, values, and motivations of Vietnamese insurgents. One of the best known studies of the era was the RAND Viet Cong Motivation & Morale Project, a multiyear, multimillion-dollar research project that was guided by the question, “Who are the Viet Cong and what makes them tick?” Researchers interviewed over two thousand enemy defectors and prisoners of war. The first major M&M report, released in 1965, argued that the communists were remarkably adept at winning the hearts and minds of the Vietnamese and that the insurgents were powerfully motivated by their ideological cause. Researchers also insisted that the communists’ success owed much to corruption in the South Vietnamese government and the inequalities in South Vietnamese society. U.S. and South Vietnamese victory, therefore, was far from guaranteed. This was hardly the message that military officials and foreign policymakers hoped to hear. Facing criticism from its military sponsors, RAND changed the study’s leadership and focus. A new team devoted itself to finding and exploiting insurgent vulnerabilities. By 1967, RAND analysts insisted that insurgents were motivated by fear. They suggested that the military increase aerial bombardment to demoralize insurgents and frighten uncommitted peasants into resettling in U.S. controlled refugee camps.79
The differences between the two phases of the M&M study demonstrate that over the course of the war, social scientists increasingly disagreed about some of the fundamental tenets of modernization theory. By 1970, some scholars applied a more economic approach to the study of peasant attitudes. Questioning the notion of bewildered and fatalistic peasants, RAND analysts Nathan Leites and Charles Wolf argued that the Vietnamese were rational people who made decisions by basic cost-benefit analysis. Peasants shifted their loyalties when the price of loyalty to one side became higher. Coercion, not persuasion, was the key to winning the war. “If insurgent success derives from their use of coercion to gain the compliance of the populace,” they argued, “counterinsurgents must utilize these tactics more efficiently.”80 Counterinsurgency was a problem for economistic systems analysis; the U.S. military needed to rethink the relationship between inputs, whether carrots or sticks, and outputs if it hoped to win the war.
Systems analysis made its way into the war in more traditional forms, too, as the Pentagon sought techniques for assessing the military’s battlefield and pacification progress. Military officials struggled to measure American success in such an unconventional war. Pentagon planners enlisted systems analysts to identify the metrics beyond the war’s infamously unreliable body counts that might be used to indicate progress. Researchers at RAND and at private contract research institutes like the Planning Research Corporation helped develop a variety of data collection tools and statistical analyses that they hoped would measure changes in population attitudes. But data collection quickly became an end unto itself; by 1967, the U.S. Army alone produced fourteen thousand pounds of reports related to Vietnam each day.81
None of this research improved U.S. performance. In a comprehensive historical assessment of RAND’s research in Southeast Asia, Mai Elliot writes that, “at its most influential, RAND’s research reinforced what policymakers were already inclined to do, encouraged them to believe that they were on the right track, and motivated them to persist in doing what they were doing.” Seymour Deitchman, the head of the Pentagon’s Vietnam-era counterinsurgency research program, concluded that social science helped “all groups involved to guide themselves by something better than seat of the pants navigation.” But he also reported that some work—especially quantitative analysis—“told the military nothing that they couldn’t sense intuitively.”82
Yet, it would be inaccurate to conclude that social science impacted American foreign policy only negligibly between 1945 and 1970. Nuclear strategies popularized by systems analysts and strategic studies experts reinforced, and perhaps deepened, policymakers’ commitment to a costly arms race. Meanwhile, RAND’s war-gaming exercises may have “socialized policymakers in how to act in the real world” in the event of potential nuclear confrontations.83 At the same time, modernization theory offered a powerful conceptual framework through which government officials understood and articulated the United States’ global role, with devastating implications for many nations in the developing world. And social science projects also provided cover for repressive pacification projects. For example, between 1955 and 1962, Michigan State University ran a program designed to improve public administration and policing in South Vietnam; the program secretly housed a counterespionage training unit tied to allegations of torture and assassination.84
American foreign policy concerns had a profound impact on the social sciences. American international interests galvanized the growth of new disciplines. Communications offers one excellent example. Government-funded research into psychological operations in World War II and the early Cold War was instrumental in the creation of communications research as a scholarly field. The military, intelligence agencies, and the State Department all funded researchers to improve propaganda methods. The creators of the field—Hadley Cantril, Harold Lasswell, Paul Lazarsfeld, Ithiel de Sola Pool, and others—all worked on government-funded psychological operations research in World War II and the early Cold War. The result was a field that focused not on the “complex, inherently communal social process of communication” but on the ways in which communication could be used as a technique to “manage social change [and] extract political concessions.” By developing methods to identify and target so-called “opinion leaders” and elucidating survey techniques that could assess propaganda effectiveness, communications experts created a field that reduced communications to “simple models based on the dynamics of transmission of persuasive—and in the final analysis, coercive—messages.”85
Since the Vietnam War
With the exception of a handful of early critics, few social scientists or policymakers worried before the mid-1960s that the close ties between the state and scholarship placed either in political, ethical, or intellectual peril. But the Vietnam War was a sobering experience. By the late 1960s, military and intelligence-funded social science research became a target of antiwar activists. As the early Cold War consensus crumbled, a growing number of critics—including social scientists, congressmen, and student activists—argued that the social sciences were complicit in a wrong-headed war and militarized American foreign policy. Some of the earliest and strongest critiques came from the Committee of Concerned Asian Scholars, a revisionist cohort of Asian studies experts formed in 1968, who charged that the field’s Cold War orthodoxy had produced scholarship that was distorted in order to fit “a simple Manichean world.”86 Anti-war intellectuals like Noam Chomsky, Kathleen Gough, and Theodore Roszak accused their colleagues of acting as “henchmen of the military-industrial complex” and called for all intellectuals to engage directly with the moral and political implications of their expertise. From Washington, Senator J. William Fulbright argued that social scientists had helped the Pentagon assume almost unchecked control over American foreign policy. Heeding his warning that social science research relevant to foreign policy could only lead to “more Vietnams,” by 1969 Congress voted to reduce the military’s social research budget by 70 percent.87 Universities that had hosted military and intelligence funded research projects, like MIT, cut their ties to national security agencies.
Divestment had unintended consequences, however. Researchers who sought to maintain their relationship with the Defense Department and intelligence agencies created private consulting firms, where they continued to provide advice on foreign policy, but were cut off from academic research. Reports produced by these so-called Beltway Bandits tended to rubber-stamp national security agency goals, but because reports were rarely circulated outside of a small community of patrons and staff, few critics of the so-called military-industrial-academic complex knew of them. Other military funded researchers who specialized in counterinsurgency and pacification turned to domestic agencies for research funding. They applied their theories about communist underground movements to analyses of the antiwar and civil rights movements and used their knowledge of U.S. troop relations with foreign counterparts to devise police-community relations programs in U.S. cities.88
Like university-based—government funded research institutes, modernization theory was a casualty of the Vietnam War. The idea that the United States stood at the pinnacle of economic development, social justice, and democratic freedom crumbled in the late 1960s and early 1970s in the face of the nation’s failure in Vietnam and domestic cleavages over racial and economic inequality. Modernization theory also faced a withering critique from within the social sciences, as scholars questioned its unproven assumptions about unilinear, universal progress.89 As modernization theory declined in importance, so did psychocultural explanations of the behavior of peoples in the developing world.
Historians are only beginning to examine the relationship between social science and foreign policy since the early 1970s, but it is clear that no single paradigm replaced modernization theory in foreign policy circles. In fact, the theory’s collapse was used to vindicate conservative arguments put forth by a new set of policy actors: advocates of neoliberalism. Broadly, neoliberals rejected social scientifically-guided development projects and state planning. Instead, they advocated unfettered market capitalism as the best means to grow developing economies and stabilize the third world. This change paralleled broader shifts in American thinking about the nation’s imperial project. As Kenneth Pomeranz argues, by the 1970s, the idea that the United States offered other nations tutelage in liberty gave way to the argument that “U.S. power creates opportunities for any society to transform itself” by committing to free market liberalism.90 The rise of neoliberalism carved out new space for economists in foreign policy—space that the other social sciences lost. In fact, policymakers in the Reagan administration argued that decades of failed modernization schemes proved that social scientists had “little idea about how to solve a wide range of social problems,” and thus were of little aid to policy.91 Social scientists’ failure to predict the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 reinforced the conservative perspective.
Social scientists rethought the relationship between their expertise and policy from roughly 1970 to the end of the Cold War. In the 1950s, and for much of the 1960s, social scientists were confident that research and relevance could be seamlessly combined. By the early 1970s, that conviction had frayed. Researchers framed their work in more qualified terms—as an aid, but only an aid, to more rational, systematic, and efficient policy processes. In fact, by the 1970s, policy relevance and scholarship seemed increasingly at odds in the social sciences. Even so, a few senior social scientists continued to play policy roles. Samuel P. Huntington, a political scientist who had strongly supported American military intervention in Vietnam, served on the Trilateral Commission—a consortium of prominent American, European, and Japanese scholars, politicians, and businessmen devoted to using economic growth to solve global problems—and on the staff of the Carter Administration’s National Security Council. Other notable individuals such as Zbigniew Brzezinski and Richard Pipes played influential policy roles, but many social scientists retreated into disciplinary work.92
The nexus between foreign policy and social science shrank in the 1970s, but a number of scholars were unwilling to give up on the goal of creating a rational, scientific basis on which to chart the nation’s global path. In the 1970s, political scientists dedicated to building a “scientific approach to international relations” sought to develop quantitative, computerized tools that could systematize foreign policy decision-making.93 With funds from the Defense and State departments, teams of social scientists and computer scientists developed statistical datasets that quantified information about the causes, consequences, and frequency of conflict between states. By the late 1970s, one such dataset—the World Event/Interaction Survey—included over 79,000 events, each with codes for dozens of variables. Researchers and policy analysts hoped to use this information to capture an accurate and comprehensive picture of current international threats. By examining the aggregated data, they could answer questions like: “What describes a ‘normal’ situation that may be left alone, and what are the signs that something is heating up and may require action?”94 By the early 1980s, Pentagon-funded social scientists developed the Crisis Early Warning and Monitoring System, which performed daily statistical checks to identify potential “hot spots” around the world. The system was used by the Joint Chiefs of Staff European Command and the Reagan administration’s Crisis Management Center.95
Despite the lofty aspirations of these programs to computerize the prediction and management of conflict, social scientists working on foreign policy problems after the Vietnam era no longer talked about their expertise as if they were on the verge of discovering the social laws that could engineer a global Pax Americana. Much more work remains to be done, however, to know whether and to what extent this more sober view of social scientific expertise continued to define the social science-foreign policy nexus between the early 1970s and the end of the 20th century, and how the advent of powerful computer technologies and statistical software affected American foreign policy and American social science.
By 2002, the War on Terror sparked renewed interest in social science for American military and foreign policy. The Pentagon launched new research initiatives to draw social scientists—especially area studies scholars, anthropologists, and an interdisciplinary mix of experts on terrorism—into its orbit. The Army’s Human Terrain System embedded social scientists in U.S. brigades deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, hoping that they could provide insights into the cultural and political dimensions of local insurgencies.96 New training initiatives in each of the armed services seek to equip soldiers with “operationally relevant” cultural knowledge, such as how to understand economic, social, and political structures and apply that understanding to irregular warfare.97 These efforts, however, have been contentious within the social science community, where the Vietnam era critique of the social science–foreign policy nexus has remained strong. The extent to which such efforts to reunite social science and national security interests will be successful, not to mention how they might affect peoples targeted by U.S. actions, remains to be seen.
Advocacy, Dissent, and the Place of Social Science in Foreign Affairs
The history of the relationship between social science and foreign policy raises important questions about the role of experts in American public policy. To what extent did the social sciences take their disciplinary shape due to scholars’ straightforward curiosity about society, and to what extent did they gain support and authority from their policy relevance? Since the Vietnam War, it has become common in many scholarly and historical circles to condemn researchers who have worked for or advised the state. But careful study of this subject demonstrates that there is no dichotomy between serving power and dissenting from the policy status quo. Critique and advocacy could, and often did, coexist in the work of individual scholars. American anthropologists in the late 19th century used their social evolutionary hierarchies to criticize those who advocated exterminating American Indians and to advocate assimilationist policies that were considered at the time to be very progressive. Likewise, social scientists who worked on military problems during the Cold War frequently argued that they were challenging the American military from within by offering non-violent solutions to world problems.98 Of course, the scope of critique in these cases was often limited. In the late 19th century, John Wesley Powell and Lewis Henry Morgan operated within the bounds of a widely accepted racial interpretation of the possibilities and limits of social progress for non-white people. And even those social scientists who challenged the militarism of American policy during the early Cold War rarely attacked containment policy itself. Even so, government-funded scholars who questioned the status quo, like the RAND researchers who concluded that the morale of Vietnamese insurgents made them very costly and difficult to beat, often found themselves ignored and even removed from their research projects.99
Radical criticism did not necessarily consign social scientists to irrelevance. In fact, in some instances, social scientific critique propelled scholars into intellectual and public prominence. W. E. B. DuBois used social research to attack racism and imperialism at home and abroad, and is widely recognized as both a founding figure in American sociology and a touchstone in the fight for racial justice. Members of the Committee of Concerned Asian Scholars became leaders in area studies. Noam Chomsky’s influential call for intellectuals to “speak the truth and to expose lies” helped realign the relationship between scholars and the state at universities around the country.100 And Daniel Ellsberg’s transformation from RAND defense analyst to the main figure behind the leak of the Pentagon Papers indicates that no easy dichotomy can be drawn between complicity and critique. As the debate over the mobilization of social science for the War on Terror indicates, scholars, policymakers, and the public continue to dispute the bounds of acceptable relations between social research and foreign policy.
Discussion of the Literature
Only recently have diplomatic historians begun examining the relationship between foreign affairs and the social sciences. With a few exceptions, they have focused the bulk of their attention on the World War II and Cold War eras. Historians of social science have tended to focus on the domestic history of U.S. social science and to write for audiences in U.S. intellectual history and the history of science. Furthermore, historians of specific social science disciplines, until very recently, have tended not to situate their narratives within the history of the social sciences more generally, let alone within broader historical literatures. For example, histories of anthropology in the period of westward expansion often speak past histories of other social science fields. As a result, scholars interested in the nexus of U.S. foreign policy and social science since the mid-19th century must stitch together a variety of literatures that do not often engage each other.
Even after triangulating across literatures, two large temporal discontinuities stand out. First, there are gaps in the literature on the transition from the racialized evolutionary schemas of the early 20th century to the overtly deracialized social science of the Great War era. Second, there is a significant discontinuity between the literature on the pre– and post–World War II eras. Historians have recently begun to rectify a third discontinuity—that between World War II and the Cold War—by exploring the ways in which World War II set the stage for the ascendancy of the social sciences in foreign policy circles during the Cold War.101 But much work is left to do. The field is ripe for further exploration of continuities and discontinuities across the last century and a half.
Deeper engagement with the concept of imperialism—defined at its most basic as when “leaders of one society rule directly or indirectly over at least one other society, using instruments different from . . . those used to rule at home”102—offers one area for further exploration. It is clear that the social sciences provided theories and administrative tools that facilitated American rule over Native Americans, Filipinos, Vietnamese, and others. As Paul Kramer argues, American social science has been an important part of “technocratic discourses of rational, apolitical management” through which imperial power has been exercised.103 Yet, Americans have been notoriously wary of being called imperial; indeed, some historians of foreign policy continue to reject the term. Perhaps the social sciences play an important role in this position; by rendering imperial power seemingly apolitical, social science has usefully obscured the American imperial project from its architects and its analysts. This point raises a number of questions relevant to historians interested in social science and foreign policy: Are there important similarities and differences between the U.S. mobilization of social science for global power and that of other nations? To what extent have the different natures of U.S. and other imperial systems affected their social science traditions, and vice versa? And does the concept of imperialism apply to American foreign policy and social science beyond the end of formal American empire? There is room here, too, for historians to reflect more fully on the long-term consequences of empire for domestic social science and the growth of the American state. Alfred W. McCoy, for example, has demonstrated that American rule in the Philippines had a profound impact on the shape of the American state.104 Further research is required to systematically examine how the imperial ties of social science shaped how the disciplines understood domestic research subjects.
One reason that Americans have objected to the term imperialism is wariness of being implicated in anti-democratic and violent projects of domination. An earlier generation of historians of social science devoted significant effort to indicting the social sciences for colluding with a warlike, greedy, and domineering American state. Recent scholarship has taken a more even tone, noting that social scientists often openly, and often unwittingly, embraced American values, including militarized ones. Instead of the question of collusion, the question of influence looms large. In the direction of government influence on the social sciences, much careful work has been done following research funds to track how scholarship has been shaped by its relationship to state projects. But we can say with assurance less about influence in the other direction. To what extent, and in what ways, has social science empowered American foreign policy and enhanced American global power? Bruce Kuklick has argued that social scientists led policymakers neither to see the world in new ways nor to do anything that they were not already inclined to do.105 But this action-reaction model of causality sets the bar for influence too high. More nuanced accounts draw on the concept of “co-production” to illuminate the complex relationships between knowledge and policy. Co-production calls attention to the social contexts in which knowledge is produced and used. As Sheila Jasanoff explains, knowledge is not “a transcendent mirror of reality. It both embeds and is embedded in social practices, identities, norms, conventions, discourses, instruments and institutions.”106 The concept of co-production thus attunes scholars to the indirect, even invisible, ways in which knowledge affects policy and vice versa. This approach assumes an analytical position that scholars term “symmetry”: both successful and unsuccessful—or plausible and implausible—forms of knowledge are treated alike, whether racialized theories of social evolution or systems analytic theories of international relations. More work that takes advantage of co-production and symmetry may help refine the study of influence while avoiding the question of collusion.
No single collection or set of collections comes close to neatly encompassing the relationship between the social sciences and U.S. foreign policy. The most penetrating scholarship in this area triangulates between the published studies and archival records of social scientists and their research institutions, the published record of U.S foreign policy agencies and activities, and the archival records of foreign policy players and institutions. Because of the diversity of sources relevant to the topic, this section only includes a handful of examples of useful repositories.
Prior to delving into archival records, researchers may wish to begin seeking connections between social science and foreign policy in the research monographs and publications of social scientists themselves. While the most valuable sources vary by period, the disciplinary journals of the major social science professional associations—the American Anthropologist, American Political Science Review, American Sociological Review, the Journal of Race Development (which later became Foreign Affairs) as well as others—are generally digitized and full-text searchable. Government-funded research reports—sometimes called “gray literature”—were common in the Cold War and after and can be located through a variety of databases. These include the Defense Technical Information Center and MetaLib. It is important to note that there are significant gaps in these databases’ coverage.
The papers of social scientists and social research institutes are spread throughout the United States and can be found mostly at university archives, and occasionally at the Library of Congress. The database WorldCat provides an excellent tool for locating archival collections held in university repositories. The archival records of important social research institutions are generally housed at the institutions that sponsored them. The records of the Bureau of American Ethnology, which played a key role in U.S. westward expansion, are located at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Anthropological Archives. Likewise, the archives of the RAND Corporation are available at RAND’s headquarters in Santa Monica, California.
Federal agency materials related to the social sciences are best located using the tools familiar to diplomatic historians. The Foreign Relations of the United States volumes are invaluable. Locating materials directly related to federal funding of social science projects—especially the Defense Department–funded contract research common in the postwar era—can be daunting, as much of this material remains unprocessed at the National Archives. But enhanced search tools released by the National Archives are making this task easier. The recent digitization of CIA records held at the National Archives has yet to be fully exploited by historians working in this area. Additionally, the published and archival records of research institutions that have played important advisory roles to the federal government offer useful materials. These include the Social Science Research Council, the National Academy of Sciences, and the three major foundations that have funded social science research: the Rockefeller Foundation, the Carnegie Corporation (housed at Columbia University), and the Ford Foundation.
Engerman, David C. American Knowledge and Global Power. Diplomatic History 31.4 (September 2007): 599–622.Find this resource:
Engerman, David C. Know Your Enemy: The Rise and Fall of America’s Soviet Experts. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009.Find this resource:
Erickson, Paul, Judy L. Klein, Lorraine Daston, Rebecca Lemov, Thomas Sturm, and Michael D. Gordin, How Reason Almost Lost Its Mind: The Strange Career of Cold War Rationality. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2014.Find this resource:
Gilman, Nils. Mandarins of the Future: Modernization Theory in Cold War America. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2003.Find this resource:
Herman, Ellen. The Romance of American Psychology: Political Culture in the Age of Experts. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995.Find this resource:
Hinsley, Curtis M. The Smithsonian and the American Indian. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1981.Find this resource:
Kramer, Paul A. Blood of Government: Race, Empire, the United States, and the Philippines. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2006.Find this resource:
Latham, Michael E. The Right Kind of Revolution: Modernization, Development, and U.S. Foreign Policy from the Cold War to the Present. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2011.Find this resource:
Mandler, Peter. Return from the Natives: How Margaret Mead Won the Second World War and Lost the Cold War. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2013.Find this resource:
Price, David H. Anthropological Intelligence: The Deployment and Neglect of American Anthropology in the Second World War. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2008.Find this resource:
Rohde, Joy. Armed with Expertise: The Militarization of American Social Science during the Cold War. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2013.Find this resource:
Smith, Neil. American Empire: Roosevelt’s Geographer and the Prelude to Globalization. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003.Find this resource:
Vitalis, Robert. “The Noble American Science of Imperial Relations and Its Laws of Race Development.” Comparative Studies in Society and History 52.4 (2010): 909–938.Find this resource:
Winks, Robin. Cloak and Gown: Scholars in the Secret War, 1939–1961. New York: Morrow, 1987.Find this resource:
(1.) Don D. Fowler, A Laboratory for Anthropology: Science and Romanticism in the American Southwest, 1846–1930 (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 2010), 24–25.
(2.) Jay Gitlin, “Private Diplomacy to Private Property: States, Tribes, and Nations in the Early National Period,” Diplomatic History 22.1 (Winter 1998): 85–99. Michael H. Hunt, Ideology and U.S. Foreign Policy (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2009), 52–58.
(3.) Quoted in Curtis M. Hinsley, The Smithsonian and the American Indian (Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1981), 145.
(4.) Matthew Frye Jacobson, Barbarian Virtues: The United States Encounters Foreign Peoples at Home and Abroad, 1876–1917 (New York: Hill and Wang, 2000), 146–147.
(5.) Quoted in Mark S. Weiner, Americans without Law: The Racial Boundaries of Citizenship (New York: New York University Press, 2006), 24.
(6.) Quoted in George Pierre Castile, “Federal Indian Policy and Anthropology,” in A Companion to the Anthropology of American Indians, ed. Thomas Biolsi (Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2004), 270.
(7.) Quoted in Frederick E. Hoxie, A Final Promise: The Campaign to Assimilate the Indians, 1880–1920 (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1984), 24.
(8.) Weiner, Americans without Law, 37.
(9.) Castile, “Federal Indian Policy and Anthropology.”
(10.) Kenneth Pomeranz, “Empire and ‘Civilizing’ Missions Past and Present,” Daedalus 134.2 (Spring 2005): 34–45.
(11.) Hinsley, Smithsonian and the American Indian.
(12.) Quoted in Franklin Ng, “Knowledge for Empire: Academics and Universities in Service of Imperialism,” in On Cultural Ground: Essays in International History, ed. Robert David Johnson (Chicago: Imprint Publications, 1994), 137.
(13.) Dorothy Ross, The Origins of American Social Science (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1991).
(14.) Robert Vitalis, “The Noble Science of Imperial Relations and Its Laws of Race Development,” Comparative Studies in Society and History 52.4 (2010): 909–938.
(15.) Paul A. Kramer, “Empires, Exceptions, and Anglo-Saxons: Race and Rule between the British and the United States Empires, 1880–1910,” Journal of American History 88.4 (March 2002): 1322.
(16.) Quoted in Ng, “Knowledge for Empire,” 139.
(17.) Quoted in Vitalis, “The Noble American Science of Imperial Relations and Its Laws of Race Development,” 921.
(18.) Quoted in Michael E. Latham, The Right Kind of Revolution: Modernization, Development, and U.S. Foreign Policy from the Cold War to the Present (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2011), 14.
(19.) Quoted in Courtney Johnson, “Understanding the American Empire: Colonialism, Latin Americanism, and Professional Social Science, 1898–1920,” in Colonial Crucible: Empire in the Making of the Modern American State, ed. Alfred W. McCoy and Francisco A. Scarano (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2009), 180, 186.
(20.) Ross, Origins of American Social Science, 85.
(21.) Quoted in Ng, “Knowledge for Empire,” 135.
(22.) Julian Go, “Sociology’s Imperial Unconscious: The Emergence of American Sociology in the Context of Empire,” in Sociology and Empire: The Imperial Entanglements of a Discipline, ed. George Steinmetz (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2013), 93, 96–97.
(23.) Paul A. Kramer, “Race-Making and Colonial Violence in the U.S. Empire: The Philippine-American War as Race War,” Diplomatic History 30.2 (April 2006): 186.
(24.) Vincente L. Rafael, White Love and Other Events in Filipino History (Manila: Ateneo de Manila University Press, 2000), 36.
(25.) Quoted in Kramer, “Race-Making and Colonial Violence in the U.S. Empire,” 186, 187.
(26.) Rafael, White Love, 20.
(27.) Paul A. Kramer, Blood of Government: Race, Empire, the United States, and the Philippines (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2006), 208–227.
(28.) Kramer, Blood of Government, 380.
(29.) Michael Adas, Dominance by Design: Technological Imperatives and America’s Civilizing Mission (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2006), 136.
(30.) Helen Tilley, Africa as a Living Laboratory: Empire, Development, and the Problem of Scientific Knowledge, 1870–1950 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2011), 39–45.
(31.) Quoted in Richard Drinnon, Facing West: The Metaphysics of Indian-Hating and Empire-Building (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1980), 279.
(32.) Drinnon, Facing West, 280–281.
(33.) Tilley, Africa as Living Laboratory, 8.
(34.) Alfred W. McCoy, Francisco A. Scarano, and Courtney Johnson, “On the Tropic of Cancer: Transitions and Transformations in the U.S. Imperial State,” in Colonial Crucible, ed. McCoy and Scarano, 24.
(35.) Tilley, Africa as Living Laboratory; R. W. Connell, “Why is Classical Theory Classical,” American Journal of Sociology 102.6 (May 1997): 1511–1557. It should be noted that these disciplines each took somewhat different shape in their specific national contexts.
(36.) Warwick Anderson, “Racial Hybridity, Physical Anthropology, and Human Biology in the Colonial Laboratories of the United States,” Current Anthropology 53.S5 (April 2012): S95–S107. Laura Briggs, Reproducing Empire: Race, Sex, Science, and U.S. Imperialism in Puerto Rico (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002).
(37.) Erez Manela, The Wilsonian Moment: Self-Determination and the International Origins of Anticolonial Nationalism (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007), 28–31.
(38.) Quoted in Neil Smith, American Empire: Roosevelt’s Geographer and the Prelude to Globalization (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003), 121.
(39.) Smith, American Empire, 118–126.
(40.) Quoted in Smith, American Empire, 140.
(41.) Robert D. Schulzinger, The Wise Men of Foreign Affairs: The History of the Council of Foreign Relations (New York: Columbia University Press, 1984), 30.
(42.) Robin W. Winks, Cloak and Gown: Scholars in the Secret War, 1939–1961 (New York: Morrow, 1987).
(43.) Barry M. Katz, Foreign Intelligence: Research and Analysis in the Office of Strategic Services, 1942–1945 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1989); Peter Mandler, Return from the Natives: How Margaret Mead Won the Second World War and Lost the Cold War (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2013).
(44.) Quoted in Ellen Herman, The Romance of American Psychology: Political Culture in the Age of Experts (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995), 34.
(45.) Quoted in Mandler, Return from the Natives, 134.
(46.) Mandler, Return from the Natives, 163–172.
(47.) Gene M. Lyons, The Uneasy Partnership: Social Science and the Federal Government in the Twentieth Century (New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 1969), 120.
(48.) Quoted in Mandler, Return from the Natives, 173.
(49.) Mark C. Smith, Social Science in the Crucible: The American Debate over Objectivity and Purpose (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1994), 246; Morris Janowitz, “Harold D. Lasswell’s Contribution to Content Analysis,” Public Opinion Quarterly 32.4 (Winter 1968–1969): 646–653.
(50.) Christopher Simpson, Science of Coercion: Communication Research and Psychological Warfare, 1945–1960 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1994).
(51.) Herman, Romance of American Psychology, 81.
(52.) Lyons, Uneasy Partnership, 112–113; David C. Engerman, “The Pedagogical Purposes of Interdisciplinary Social Science: A View from Area Studies in the United States,” Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences 51.1 (Winter 2015): 83–84.
(53.) Quoted in David C. Engerman, “American Knowledge and Global Power,” Diplomatic History 31.4 (September 2007): 604.
(54.) Herman, Romance of American Psychology, 128–129.
(55.) Joy Rohde, Armed with Expertise: The Militarization of American Social Science during the Cold War (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2013), 107.
(56.) Quoted in Nils Gilman, Mandarins of the Future: Modernization Theory in Cold War America (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2003), 159.
(57.) Paul Erickson, Judy L. Klein, Lorraine Daston, Rebecca Lemov, Thomas Sturm, and Michael D. Gordin, How Reason Almost Lost Its Mind: The Strange Career of Cold War Rationality (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2014); Albert Wohlstetter, The Delicate Balance of Terror (Santa Monica, CA: RAND, 1958).
(58.) Joel Isaac, “Tangled Loops: Theory, History, and the Human Sciences in Modern America,” Modern Intellectual History 6.2 (August 2009): 398.
(59.) Erickson et al., How Reason Almost Lost Its Mind.
(60.) Erickson et al., How Reason Almost Lost Its Mind.
(61.) Nicolas Guilhot, “Cyborg Pantocrator: International Relations Theory from Decisionism to Rational Choice,” Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences 47.3 (Summer 2011): 279–301.
(62.) Bruce Kuklick, Blind Oracles: Intellectuals and War from Kennan to Kissinger (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2007), 40.
(63.) Quoted in Winks, Cloak and Gown, 115.
(64.) Quoted in Engerman, “American Knowledge and Global Power,” 608.
(65.) Mark Solovey, Shaky Foundations: The Politics-Patronage-Social Science Nexus in Cold War America (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2013), 137.
(66.) Quoted in Matthew Farish, Contours of America’s Cold War (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2010), 113.
(67.) David C. Engerman, Know Your Enemy: The Rise and Fall of America’s Soviet Experts (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009).
(68.) David Szanton, ed. The Politics of Knowledge: Area Studies and the Disciplines (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2004).
(69.) Mark T. Berger, “Decolonisation, Modernisation, and Nation-Building: Political Development Theory and the Appeal of Communism in Southeast Asia, 1945–1975,” Journal of Southeast Asian Studies 34.4 (2003): 422.
(70.) John Bowen, “The Development of Southeast Asian Studies in the United States,” in The Politics of Knowledge: Area Studies and the Disciplines, ed. David L. Szanton (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2004), 404.
(71.) Engerman, Know Your Enemy, 4.
(72.) George McT. Kahin, Southeast Asia: A Testament (London: RoutledgeCurzon, 2003), 127; Berger, “Decolonisation, Modernisation, and Nation-Building,” 431–432.
(73.) Ellen W. Schrecker, No Ivory Tower: McCarthyism and the Universities (New York: Oxford University Press, 1986).
(74.) Rohde, Armed with Expertise.
(75.) Latham, Right Kind of Revolution.
(76.) Michael E. Latham, Modernization as Ideology: American Social Science and “Nation Building” in the Kennedy Era (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2000).
(77.) Quoted in Rohde, Armed with Expertise, 63.
(78.) Joy Rohde, “The Last Stand of the Psychocultural Cold Warriors: Military Contract Research in Vietnam,” Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences 47.3 (Summer 2011): 232–250.
(79.) Mai Elliot, RAND in Southeast Asia: A History of the Vietnam War Era (Santa Monica, CA: RAND, 2010), esp. 53, 160–161.
(80.) Quoted in Ron Robin, The Making of the Cold War Enemy: Culture and Politics in the Military-Intellectual Complex (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2003), 195.
(81.) Gregory A. Daddis, No Sure Victory: Measuring U.S. Army Effectiveness and Progress in the Vietnam War (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011), 121.
(82.) Elliot, RAND in Southeast Asia, viii; Deitchman quoted in Daddis, No Sure Victory, ix–x.
(83.) Matthew Connelly et al., “‘General, I Have Fought Just as Many Nuclear Wars as You Have’: Forecasts, Future Scenarios, and the Politics of Armageddon,” American Historical Review 117.5 (2012): 1451.
(84.) John Ernst, Forging a Fateful Alliance: Michigan State University and the Vietnam War (East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 1998). Jeremey Kuzmarov, Modernizing Repression: Police Training and Nation Building in the American Century (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2012), 142–147.
(85.) Simpson, Science of Coercion, 48–51, 62.
(86.) Edward Friedman and Mark Selden, eds., America’s Asia: Dissenting Essays on Asian-American Relations (New York: Pantheon, 1971), viii.
(87.) Rohde, Armed with Expertise, 99–100, 115.
(88.) Rohde, Armed with Expertise. Jennifer Light, From Warfare to Welfare: Defense Intellectuals and Urban Problems in Cold War America (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2003).
(89.) Gilman, Mandarins of the Future.
(90.) Pomeranz, “Empire and ‘Civilizing’ Missions Past and Present,” 43.
(91.) Quoted in Latham, Right Kind of Revolution, 178.
(92.) Berger, “Decolonisation, Modernisation, and Nation-Building,” 442–444; Engerman, Know Your Enemy.
(93.) Richard B. Finnegan, “International Relations: The Disputed Search for Method,” Review of Politics 34.1 (January 1972): 40.
(94.) Consolidated Analysis Centers, Inc., Development and Presentation of a National War College Elective Course to Demonstrate the Use of Quantitative Techniques in the Study of International Relations, Volume III, Instructor’s Supplement (September 1971), I–4.
(95.) Jeffrey Smith, “Crisis Management Under Strain,” Science 31 (August 1984): 907.
(96.) Rohde, Armed with Expertise, 1–2, 150–154.
(97.) Barak A. Salmoni and Paula Holmes-Eber, Operational Culture for the Warfighter: Principles and Applications (Quantico, VA: Marine Corps University Press, 2008).
(98.) Joy Rohde, “Gray Matters: Social Scientists, Military Patronage, and Democracy in the Cold War,” Journal of American History 96 (June 2009): 99–122.
(99.) Elliot, RAND in Southeast Asia, 55–66.
(100.) Noam Chomsky, American Power and the New Mandarins (New York: Pantheon, 1967), 325.
(101.) Mark Solovey, “Cold War Social Science: Specter, Reality, or Useful Concept?” in Cold War Social Science: Knowledge Production, Liberal Democracy, and Human Nature, eds. Mark Solovey and Hamilton Cravens (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012), 1–22.
(102.) Pomeranz, “Empire and ‘Civilizing’ Missions,” 34–35.
(103.) Paul A. Kramer, “Power and Connection: Imperial Histories of the United States in the World,” American Historical Review 116.5 (December 2011), 1351.
(104.) Alfred W. McCoy, Policing America’s Empire: The United States, the Philippines, and the Rise of the Surveillance State (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2009).
(105.) Kuklick, Blind Oracles.
(106.) Sheila Jasanoff, “The Idiom of Co-Production,” in States of Knowledge: The Co-Production of Science and Social Order, ed. Sheila Jasanoff (New York: Routledge, 2004), 3.