Mobilization for War
Well before the attack on Pearl Harbor, psychological experts began mobilizing to assist the war effort. Their preparations, from the start, illustrated an awareness that offering patriotic assistance, earning professional advancement, and bringing psychological enlightenment to the business of government proceeded happily in unison. This link had been forged for psychologists during their first experience of world war, when they learned that war could accomplish what brilliant academic research and dedicated teaching failed to do. World War I "put the applications of psychology on the map and on the front page," fondly recalled James McKeen Cattell, a founding figure in professional psychology.
Few such reminders were required. Psychology's historical debt to war was made abundantly clear by pivotal figures in World War I psychology who were still alive and professionally active in 1940. Robert Yerkes, for example, had directed the military's mental testing program during World War I and became well known in the interwar period for his pioneering work in comparative psychology and primatology at Yale. In preparation for World War II, he worked as a key member of the Emergency Committee in Psychology, launched in fall 1939 "to prepare the profession for a great national crisis." The Emergency Committee, reorganized one year later under the auspices of the Division of Anthropology and Psychology of the National Research Council
(NRC), served as a central vehicle for mobilizing psychological experts for war work, reorganizing the profession, and planning for the postwar future. As psychology's "war cabinet," it served as the official link between many psychological professionals and the federal government.
Psychological experts were early stirred to patriotic action, and they were optimistic from the outset that the war would do great things for their professions. According to Yerkes, effective mobilization would demonstrate "a large uncultivated professional area which should speedily be occupied by the psychotechnologies and related aspects of human engineering." There was a gaping hole, which it was psychology's wartime mission to fill, in expert services related to "the facilitation and intelligent direction of the development and current behavior-experience of the normal person." Everything from advice about childrearing and marriage to occupational counseling and education for personal happiness and adjustment would be needed. "I am looking beyond the present world conflagration," Yerkes boldly predicted in April 1941, "to a period of reconstruction during which innovations are likely to be the unescapable order of the day and the fashioning of a new civilization a necessity."
Many of Yerkes's colleagues heeded this spirited call to public service and professional opportunity, confident that few experts were better suited than they for the task of designing a new social order. Before the United States had been in the war for a year, a full 25 percent of all Americans holding graduate degrees in psychology were at work on various aspects of the military crisis, most employed full-time by the federal government. "This is no time for feelings of inferiority or for statistical scrupulosity," wrote prominent personality and social psychologist Gordon Allport in an effort to inspire "a bit of boldness" and calm the nerves of colleagues reluctant "to advocate policies not based upon 100 per cent scientific certainty." "If the psychologist is tempted to say that he knows too little about the subject he may gain confidence by watching the inept way in which politicians, journalists, and men in public life fence with the problems of propaganda, public opinion, and morale."
There were reasons to guard against overconfidence, however. In early 1941 Allport warned his colleagues: "Don't confuse lobbying for psychology with national service: —Working for the introduction of psychologists into national and local services may be helpful to the profession, but it is not necessarily beneficial to the nation." The evolving relationship between psychologists and government could, Allport
thought, also pose problems. "Apparently the closer one comes to the Government," he noted, "the more complications and resistance one encounters. But after all, don't we all tend to reify 'the Government' and expect 'it' to help materialize our ideas? My experience, too, suggests that decentralized efforts are better. It is 'we, the people' who must invent and execute projects, so far as we can, by ourselves without leaning too much on Uncle Sam."
By 1945 Allport and others were astounded when they compared their initial assessments of what psychology could contribute to the war effort to what had actually happened. The war ended amid a loud chorus of self-congratulations such as the following: "The application of psychology in selecting and training men, and in guiding the design of weapons so they would fit men, did more to help win this war than any other single intellectual activity." Psychology's record had been impressive indeed, and as if to prove it, there were not nearly enough trained experts around to meet the rapidly increasing demand for psychological services in both the public and private sectors. The reputation of psychological experts had risen from one of lowly technicians to one of wise consultants and managers whose wartime accomplishments, especially in the military, deserved a generous payoff in public appreciation and government funds. In retrospect, it seemed clear that the war had given psychology its biggest boost ever, prodding the APA "to grow up to its responsibilities in this new world."
Many psychiatrists were similarly motivated to build on the blueprint offered by their predecessors during World War I, vindicate their techniques of diagnosis and prediction, and recapture any ground that might have been lost due to psychological disarmament during the isolationist interwar period. At the outset of World War II, psychiatrists relied (just as psychologists did) on their World War I track record in testing and screening military recruits for potential emotional liabilities. Psychiatrists, however, had even older prototypes of service to the state to inspire their World War II effort, including the pioneering work of the Public Health Service's (PHS) psychiatric team, stationed on Ellis Island in 1905, for the purpose of keeping insane, and therefore undesirable, immigrants from slipping into the country. The PHS psychiatric team was among the very first examples of psychological expertise being deployed by the federal government in an important area of public policy—immigration—distant from psychiatry's traditional spheres of authority: insanity and asylums.
One tremendous advantage the experts had in 1940 was that there
were so many of them, at least in comparison to their numbers in 1917. Among psychiatrists, nearly 3,000 eventually participated in the World War II screening program, compared to a mere 700 in World War I. In both world wars, however, psychiatrists involved in wartime screening programs represented the vast majority of all U.S. psychiatrists: less than 1,000 at the time of World War I and more than 2,500 in 1941, when the United States entered World War II. Between 1920 and 1946, membership in the American Psychiatric Association had increased more than fourfold, from 937 to 4,010, with a surge of new recruits added to the professional ranks as a result of their war experiences. American Psychological Association membership had grown more than elevenfold during these same years, from 393 to 4,427. At the close of World War II, around 1,700 psychologists worked directly for the World War II military, and many others had been involved in research for and consultation to war-related government agencies. A significant number—especially women—made war-related contributions in civilian areas ranging from organizing community forums for women newly employed in the war industries on how best to feed their babies to the general dispensation of "Psychological First Aid." By 1945 the total numbers of psychologists and psychiatrists were running about even. Both professions would experience a historically unprecedented postwar growth curve, far outstripping general population growth or even the spectacular growth of the health-related professions.