Camelot's Organizational Background
The Smithsonian Institution's Research Group in Psychology and the Social Sciences
The long-term planning efforts of the Smithsonian Institution's Research Group in Psychology and the Social Sciences were the most immediate precursors of Camelot, although in significant ways this group merely updated the advice that Robert Yerkes had given to the defense establishment as early as 1944. The Smithsonian Group consisted of some of psychology's leading lights, most of whom had been deeply influenced by their experiences during World War II: Leonard Carmichael, Leonard Cottrell, Harry Harlow, Neal Miller, S. Smith Stevens, and Dael Wolfe, among others. The group's 1957 report tried to anticipate the kind of research that would be necessary to win the global struggle with the Soviet Union ten to twenty years in the future. They assumed that cold war would continue—mainly because human beings were not emotionally conditioned in such a way as to make peace very likely—and that its battleground would be primarily psychological. "The principal weapon of cold war," they asserted, "is persuasion—the persuasion of men. . . . It is assumed that persuasion is the major cold war weapon of importance in the future." They concluded that "full realization of the potentialities of psychology and the social sciences in designing a fully operational Psychological Weapon System could not be expected unless that system were explicitly admitted to the arsenal of primary weapons systems of the nation."
Breakthroughs in developing and countering "Psychological Weapons Systems," which the group confidently expected, would show that psychology was both militarily important and politically neutral. It could be the source of technologies devoted to manipulating motiva-
tion, designing blueprints for the "international persuasion of peoples," and gathering intelligence, techniques that could be used for good (in U.S. hands) or ill (in Communist hands). Although the Smithsonian Group predicted, with much satisfaction, that advances in these difficult areas would be realized, members also identified potential trouble spots. In particular, they noted that obstinate public opinion could be an obstacle to psychological research and development and admitted that "there will also be difficulty in finding solutions to these conflicts within the framework of democracy."
Project Camelot, as it unfolded, would illustrate how accurate such anxieties were. Public perceptions and democratic institutions were, in the case of Camelot, big enough problems to cause the project's cancellation. They were not, however, big enough to stop, or even really slow, the forward momentum of Cold War psychology, based on the sturdy World War II worldview and two decades of military practice.
The 1962 Symposium on "The U.S. Army's Limited-War Mission and Social Science Research
A significant event, immediately preceding Camelot's launch, was a March 1962 conference, funded by the army's chief of research and development and hosted by SORO, which brought over three hundred social and behavioral scientists together in Washington, D.C. Never before had the armed forces "rolled out such a massive welcome mat for the professors." There were many flattering mentions of psychological expertise and its military record, and generals and colonels repeatedly expressed much eagerness to be enlightened in the matter of counterinsurgency. "Recognition of the need for social science research within the military establishment," they assured their guests, "is quite widespread today." Courses in military psychology, leadership, and human relations were, after all, on the required list at West Point; special warfare (a recently coined term for psychological warfare) had had its own school at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, since 1952; and psychologically sensitive courses in counterinsurgency were being offered all over the world, in numerous languages, by the U.S. Army.
Military planners talked at great length, leaving little room for guesswork about what kind of ammunition they were looking for: "The kind of underlying knowledge required is the understanding and prediction
of human behavior at the individual, political and social group, and society levels. " Prediction and "population control" were needs at the very heart of the counterinsurgency mission, and military planners took pains to make them explicit. Methods of controlling indigenous peoples, destroying Communist-inspired guerrilla movements, exploiting national psychological vulnerabilities, and predicting the potential for internal war (one of Camelot's goals) would be terribly useful. Methods of preventing insurgencies in the first place would be even better. Could experts manage to provide these sorts of technologies? For their part, the experts spent most of the conference listening and taking notes. Even the photographic record of the conference managed to exclude them.
In spite of these indications that military planners regarded them more as dutiful technicians than as coequal partners, fervent desire to be of use was much in evidence among the behavioral scientists who attended the conference, as was the particular mood of the Smithsonian Group and its representative, Charles Bray. Conference discussion was limited to the fine points of technical assistance. No one ever questioned either the counterinsurgency mission or the appropriateness of involving social and psychological experts in it. Attendees agreed that it was their job to provide the military with an objective "technology. of human behavior" and leave their own political convictions at home. Nevertheless, they did make clear assumptions about the value of the military's Cold War mission and the positive social contributions of military institutions themselves.
Communism was "a malignant organism that grows and thrives on human misery—which reaches out its long tendrils in every field of human endeavor, seeking to strangle and destroy," according to Lieutenant General Arthur G. Trudeau, chief of research and development for the army. On the other hand, as numerous participants pointed out, militaries around the world could—with U.S. aid—become constructive, nation-building forces. Like the benevolent railroad-building soldiers in the U.S. historical imagination, foreign militaries could become tile leading edge of the modernization process in the Third World, steering new states toward the stability that U.S. national interests required. The U.S. military, it went practically without saying, was "a direct, positive instrument for human progress," and the U.S. national interest was synonymous with freedom, prosperity, and social justice all over the world.
Such themes made the World War II imprint evident enough, and numerous explicit references were also made to its relevance, often by attendees—like Leonard Doob, Morris Janowitz, and Elmo Wilson—whose own experience bridged the gap between world war and cold war. But the spirit of World War II expertise was also quite evident among younger scholars who came to Washington at the invitation of the military, and they had absorbed postwar trends in the analysis of development and revolution. One of them, Frederick T. C. Yu, presented a national character-type analysis of Asian identity and Chinese communism. Unlike the Germans or Japanese in 1940, Asian personality had not yet deteriorated, under the toxic influence of Communist ideology, to the point of causing global crisis. It was, however, in serious psychological trouble and needed prompt attention. "Like our young Americans in their late adolescent years," Yu analogized, "people in the developing countries [in Asia] do not really know what they want to be. They are in the process of growing up. They are searching frantically for a purpose in life and a reason in the things they do, believe, and want. But they do not really know what they should do or want, except that, in a very vague way, they want to be strong, successful, great, happy and prosperous. They are confused." If psychological experts could imbue U.S. policy with therapeutic powers, then the United States could help Asian states help themselves develop clear national identifies to replace the uncertainty that was causing so many problems. All the while, new states would accumulate "human motivation capital" that would be on our side in the event a counterinsurgency campaign became necessary. Like wise and caring parents, "our responsibility is to help them grow, help them see and understand the meaning of things they wonder about. In short, to help them discover themselves." The best therapy was a strong military. Armies represented "a sense of self-respect and self-assurance" to people who had long chafed under colonial rule and whose struggles to form independent states clearly required a psychological foundation of self-esteem. The axiom that nation building was a unique military responsibility was a cornerstone of SORO director Theodore Vallance's thought as well and a position he championed long after the 1962 symposium. He always maintained that the Cold War had altered the DOD mission to the point that "the U.S. military establishment has a new functional emphasis: mediating changes in foreign cultures." What could have spotlighted the importance of behavioral expertise more successfully
than the translation of military conflict into an endless series of opportunities for cultural design and mediation?
Each of the factors described in this chapter contributed something essential to the progress of psychological expertise and to the willingness of government officials to take psychology into account when it came to the design of U.S. foreign and military policy in the early Cold War era. That psychological researchers found a welcome home in the military establishment, winning financial support through the efforts of proponents like the Smithsonian Group, was important. That psychological and political theorists had something convincing to say about why Third World personalities were socialized into emotional and political states of underdevelopment, and how those flaws could be corrected to produce "developing" people, was also important. That the Cold War itself was so vulnerable to interpretation as a terrifying struggle for human emotional and intellectual loyalties—to be won or lost on the battlefield of the mind—was perhaps most important of all.
Each one of these historical threads is evident in the fascinating story of Project Camelot, which is described and analyzed in the next chapter. In Camelot's aftermath, psychology's political progress and its political consequences were clearer than ever.