The Benefits of War, Again
Just as Cold War psychology had offered militaries a new lease on life as constructive, nation-building institutions, capable of reducing levels of national and international tension, so Dumont hoped to translate the internal policing functions of the state into a positive force for therapeutic treatment. "Law enforcement and correctional institutions may themselves be redefined as preventive and rehabilitative forces," he wrote, "with policemen functioning not as an army of occupation but as community organizers, group recreation workers, and counselors, armed with knowledge, understanding, physical prowess and self-control rather than with guns." Sensitivity training for police forces had been on psychological experts' riot prevention agenda since Gordon Allport and Leo Postman first set out to reeducate Boston police during World War II and strenuous efforts had been made, in the intervening years, to "professionalize" police responses to race-related rioting through heavy doses of social psychological knowledge about frustration and aggression, childhood traumas, and the stages and types of rioting mobs. Since 1964, J. Edgar Hoover informed the Kerner Commission, the FBI National Academy had run training sessions for more than seventy thousand police administrators and instructors all around the country. The curriculum included a required course on "Causative and Psychological Factors in Development and Behavior of Mobs" alongside the demonstration of riot control techniques by crack army units. By August 1967, when the commission began its work, approximately sixty thousand copies of the FBI's Prevention and Control of Mobs and Crowds were in the hands of state and local law enforcement personnel. This standard manual, first issued in February 1965 and updated two years later, emulated the work of World War II riot experts (by defining the police role as preventive treatment and "release
of tension") while also incorporating the painstaking theoretical progress that riot experts had made in the decades since. The manual carefully distinguished crowd types, crowd behavior patterns, rioters' personality profiles, and riot chronologies, among other things.
By the mid-1960s the FBI was certainly more willing to accept and dispense psychological experts' advice than World War II-era police departments had been, but domestic polarization over "pacification" campaigns in Southeast Asia had begun to make optimistic analogies between law enforcement and enlightened social relations (whether applied to foreign militaries or domestic police forces) appear naive and misguided, especially to experts and observers opposed to the Vietnam War. Even some professionals whose careers were based on the persuasiveness of psychological approaches ruefully agreed that equating cities with patients and law enforcement with therapy embodied terribly repressive, as well as liberating, potential.
Kenneth Keniston, well known as the author of books about generational identity such as The Uncommitted (1960) and Young Radicals (1968), penned a telling satire along these lines in 1968, "How Community Mental Health Stamped Out the Riots." He warned that idealistic psychological approaches could be put to frightening purposes if they actually managed to transform public policy-making into a process of correcting individual maladjustments and community pathologies. In his article, Keniston imagined looking back on the landscape of the late 1960s from a vantage point in 1978. The Department of Defense had been renamed the Department of International Mental Health, General Westmoreland had been appointed secretary, and wars had become struggles for a mentally healthy world. On the home front, Ronald Reagan (famous during the 1960s for his law-and-order approach to campus activism and unrest in California) had directed a massive community mental health program in an effort to stem the tide of urban rioting. In 1971 laws were passed sentencing people identified as potentially violent to mandatory therapy. And since 1972 a "Total Saturation Approach" to urban problems had been used, featuring "Remote Therapy Centers" (relocating riot-prone patients to the same sites used for Japanese-Americans during World War II) and "Mobile Treatment Teams," which had been found far more effective than old-fashioned police departments. Finally, Keniston reiterated, ironically and with ominous overtones, the neat fit between mental health and social welfare. "Our long-range goal: nothing less than a society in which all men and women are guaranteed mental health by simple vir-
tue of their citizenship. Thus, the entire community must be our target: we must insist upon total mental health from the womb to the grave."
As the utopian hopes of postwar community psychiatry and psychology were dashed against the stubborn persistence of poverty, inequality, racism, and violence in U.S. society, Keniston's skepticism became a more common feature of progressive analysis, to the point where the sheer existence of psychological approaches to subjective experience was considered prima facie evidence of sinister schemes of social control.
Keniston sketched his negative vision in extreme and satirical terms for the purpose of dramatizing the dangers of community psychological approaches. The Kerner Commission, however, received many suggestions, completely sincere and sometimes unsolicited, that overlooked these dangers and assumed that psychological approaches were intrinsically enlightened. Therapy for rioters and modes of communication that would release unconscious fears and boost levels of self-esteem were common refrains. In letters to the Kerner Commission, citizens informed policy-makers that constructive means of preventing future riots were, among others, "reality therapy," dialogue centers, human relations councils, and in-depth clinical interviews to explore the motivations of individual rioters. Given the preponderance of psychologically oriented advice from experts and ordinary citizens alike, it was little wonder that Executive Director Ginsburg identified "an entire system of deprivation and frustration leading to the alienation of individuals" as the commission's very first priority in developing social and economic recommendations to improve ghetto life.
Cold War Psychology Comes Home
The intimacies that transpired between Cold War psychology and policy-makers' approach to urban rioting were not figments of Kenneth Keniston's overheated imagination. The Kerner Commission made full use of resources that had been developed for the use of the military during the 1950s and 1960s, sharing with such projects as Camelot not only similar approaches to the psychology of crowds, revolutionaries, and rioters, but overlapping personnel as well.
Ted Gurr and Ithiel de Sola Pool linked the two experiences, illustrating the flexibility of policy-oriented experts and their desire to operate in diverse areas of government. Ted Gurr, a consultant to CRESS (the organizational sponsor of Project Camelot, renamed in 1966)
turned his comparative studies of civil strife abroad toward more domestic topics. In 1968 he argued that sophisticated frustration-aggression theories could be applied to the circumstances of Guatemalan guerrillas, Indonesian students, and urban black Americans with roughly equal effectiveness, a view that was adopted, as noted above, by the commission's director. Sola Pool, a vocal figure in military behavioral science, won a Kerner Commission contract worth $221,000 for his consulting firm, Simulmatics Inc., to track the media's contribution to urban riots.
Beyond the presence of such individuals, the entire project of riot analysis was infused with the sense that the military had the most "Directly Related Experience," according to the rifle of a Kerner Commission memo on successful psychological warfare and counterinsurgency campaigns. Much of the riot training and equipment advice sought after by municipal administrations and police departments came from the military, whose own experts sometimes derided the value of civilian knowledge on these topics.
New Variations on Old Crowd Psychology
The Kerner Commission experts also owed a debt to the military's patronage of expert work on the nature of social upheaval and to those elements of the crowd psychology tradition that had survived as themes in postwar theoretical models of crowd formation and revolutionary stages. By the late 1960s, crowd psychology was called by a new name, "collective behavior," and had migrated throughout the social sciences via the behavioral revolution of the 1950s, which stripped crowd psychology of its obvious antidemocratic tendencies and injected it with a heavy dose of scientific method. The theoretical work of Kerner Commission consultants Neil Smelser and Ralph Turner kept alive the residue of the old psychology in the form of a sophisticated new sociology. The idea that groups were subject to unconscious social contagion remained viable, alongside the conviction that race rioting was appropriately classified with religious cults, natural disasters, and other types of social panic.
The Kerner Commission experts employed phase models of urban disturbance, compiled elaborate chronologies, designed multifactored riot classification schemes, and hypothesized that rioters shared a common personality profile. All of these recalled military efforts, like the
failed Project Camelot, which had used these very techniques to make the explosiveness of civil unrest in the Third World at least a little bit more predictable for military and foreign policy-makers. They also all employed, sometimes almost verbatim, the theoretical jargon of social science for descriptive purposes: riots were labeled as "expressive," "suggestible," "permissive," or as prototypes of "social contagion."
There were significant differences, however, having to do with the sympathy that black Americans had gained since the 1950s through the civil rights movement and the growing presence of intellectuals in a variety of 1960s social movements. The justice of civil rights demands, the slowness of racial change, and decided patterns of activism among highly educated Americans on university campuses had momentous consequences within the literature of particular social science disciplines. Also important was the movement of the psychological professions away from their preoccupations with the abnormal, a shift that decisively changed the subjects of psychological experts, beginning with World War II. All of these developments combined to make it less likely that experts in the late 1960s would view urban rioters as deviants in the grip of irrational forces. We have already considered instances of this tendency toward a more positive and rational theory of collective behavior among Kerner Commission experts, such as Elliot Liebow, who suggested that rioting was psychologically empowering for individuals whose lives were otherwise impaired by apathy and hopelessness.
Rioting was sometimes even posited as an ideological stance, a necessary, if destructive, stage in the civil rights movement, or, as it was more likely to be called in the late 1960s by advocates of this position, the black revolution. This perspective was only possible because the irrational contamination of ideological commitment, a core element of the World War II worldview, was challenged in the 1960s. The terrible destruction wrought by enemy national characters and the deep emotional appeal of fascism faded from view during a decade when the ideological commitments closest at hand—eradicating racism, poverty, and imperialism—seemed beyond reproach and the postwar "end of ideology" appeared nothing so much as an irresponsible abandonment of moral principle.
A number of Kerner Commission experts and research projects tested out this positive new assessment of ideology. Riots could appear to be purposeful, organized protests against legitimate and pressing grievances, instead of hysterical fits. That riots were taken seriously as a form of political action was sometimes indicated through the vocabu-
lary used to describe them: "urban rebellions" competed with "mob violence" and "lawless anarchy."
Widespread consideration of riots as a rational collective activity was new, but the idea itself was not. As early as the Harlem riot of 1943, Kenneth Clark had suggested that a significant number of black Americans condoned rioting as a specific means to achieve the end of racial justice. By 1965 he denied that ghetto violence was an uncontrollable force and chose instead to call it "a weird social defiance" of objective social conditions ranging from substandard housing and soaring crime and infant morality rates to impoverishment and discrimination. Clark, however, sometimes reverted to the old crowd psychology themes in his observations of riots. "Such anarchy could even be a subconscious or conscious invitation to self-destruction," he noted that same year. "Those who despair in the ghetto follow their own laws—generally the laws of unreason."
Gary Marx, one of the commission's in-house researchers, did not so much criticize the old crowd psychology as try to turn it upside down, by applying its principles to the behavior of police, rather than rioters. "Who controls the agents of social control?" was, Marx submitted, a major question that generally went unasked and unanswered. He went so far as to suggest that law enforcement personnel had caused urban riots, or at least intensified them, through the classic pattern of contagion, panic, and frustration usually attributed to crowd members. Marx's themes found strong encouragement in the publications of the Lemberg Center for the Study of Violence at Brandeis University, a research center, established in 1965, that had blazed trails eagerly followed by Kerner Commission experts. The Lemberg Center staff insisted that rioters could be understood as reasonable actors frequently faced with "police panic." Further, they speculated, rioters were attempting to solidify a positive sense of community and masculinity. They simply could not be compared with Gustave Le Bon's primitive and herdlike crowds.