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.