Psychology as Public Policy
On the heels of war, a variety of psychological experts moved decisively to influence public policy. In return for their record of military service, they were accorded new prestige and greatly expanded authority. Supported by huge infusions of public funds, largely justified by psychology's military record and scientific claims, policy-oriented experts during the 1950s and 1960s contributed their research and theories to agencies of the state.
The conception of war that emerged from World War II—a "minds race" in which the quality of "mental materiel" could determine eventual victory or final defeat—was tailor-made for the Cold War era. So too, experts believed, was their knowledge of the psychology of revolutionary upheaval. Helping emerging states navigate the dangerous waters of capitalist modernization with policies geared to the design and manufacture of personalities suitable for development would surely enable the United States to conquer the territory most contested in the Cold War—the emotional loyalty residing in Third World psyches—and simultaneously ensure national security and global political stability.
From policy-makers' point of view, preventing upheaval in the first place was even more attractive than helping Third World identities mature, and the aspiration to "predict and influence" social change energized psychology's Cold War career, including the failed Project Camelot. In the aftermath of the scandal, no consensus was reached on whether Camelot was virtuous, socially engaged research, underhanded espionage, or merely proof that many intellectuals were extremely naive. Camelot revealed that the lessons of World War II remained sturdy and psychology's historical direction remained steady. The Cold War made behavioral science appear to be "one of the vital tools in the arsenal of the free societies." Waging "peacefare" in order to avoid direct superpower confrontation guaranteed a global arena in which behavioral theories could be formulated and tested. Psychological expertise continued to be applied to politically explicit goals effectively and without significant opposition. Public service and professional advance proceeded together unabated.
And so it was on the home front as well. A generation of experts
whose practical techniques and analytical perspectives were shaped by military directives during World War II and the early Cold War brought their talents to bear on an array of nonmilitary concerns in later years. Racial conflict was one. During World War II, riots and a racist Nazi enemy had compelled numerous explorations of "intergroup conflict." These studies proliferated after 1945, becoming especially visible and germane upon the appearance of a mass-based civil fights movement in the 1950s, which captured the sympathies of a majority of psychological experts even as it rudely interrupted the celebration of postwar affluence and consensus.
Just as political instability in the Third World required constant attention and preventive measures, so too did threatening levels of racial hostility within U.S. borders. Their investigations into the psychology of race led experts to insist that the relevant variables were pretty much the same on the domestic scene as they were on the frontiers of the Cold War: frustration and aggression, the logic of personality formation, and, in particular, the gender dynamics involved in the production of either healthy or damaged (masculine) self-esteem. During the 1950s and 1960s, evidence of the harm prejudice and racism caused the developing personality was accorded a central place in law, government policy, and programs devoted to attaining equal opportunity and civil rights.
The Kerner Commission's deliberations, research, and policy recommendations provide evidence that official explanations of urban unrest during the 1960s had been deeply influenced by the work of psychological experts. As they analyzed the past errors and charted the future course of local police forces and municipal administrations, the commission's experts leaned heavily on the postwar themes of personality damage, wounded masculinity, and social disorganization within black ghetto communities. They recalled World War II-era investigations of irrationally prejudiced attitudes among soldiers and civilians and applied counterinsurgency models to the unrest in U.S. cities.
That the benefits of war were so flexible and far-reaching underlines the mutually reinforcing relationships between the growth of the U.S. welfare state in the twentieth century, the professionalization of the social and behavioral sciences and their recruitment into state service, and the extraordinary expansion in accepted notions of government, its proper spheres of operation, and its techniques of control. It is accurate enough to point out that wartime developments during the early 1940s
had ancestors in Progressive Era reform and the depression-inspired programs of the New Deal and descendants in the Great Society of the 1960s. In each period of reform, experts supplied technical assistance in many different areas of domestic policy, from poverty and criminal justice to education and employment. While important details differed, the larger question—what role would experts play in ambitious government schemes for rational economic planning and conscious social engineering?—surfaced repeatedly over many decades.
The growth of the welfare state certainly offered psychological experts numerous opportunities to gather data, reach conclusions, and thereby test the practical validity of their theoretical hypotheses. The appearance of the warfare state and the constant military emergencies of the postwar years were at least as hospitable. The emphasis in this book on war and militarism is not intended to suggest that the growth of the state's domestically oriented concerns and bureaucracies have been insignificant to psychology's history during or after World War II. Quite the contrary. One of the most significant political developments of the postwar period is the growing convergence between the requirements of welfare and warfare, and the belief that ensuring national security in a dangerous world and constructing a just and decent society for U.S. citizens at home were necessarily part of the same project.
At times, welfare and warfare appeared as a stark choice: welfare or warfare? This was the case, for example, when the Kerner Commission's recommendations for expanded social programs in U.S. cities collided with the fiscal requirements of waging war in Vietnam. At other times, the warfare state assumed the functions of the welfare state. Policy-makers like Daniel Patrick Moynihan utilized military behavioral research as a blueprint for 1960s social programs and insisted that the Department of Defense offer soldiers opportunities for education and training that would lift them out of the civilian underclass. Perhaps it is only now, as we look back on the Cold War as history, that this intimate relationship between welfare and warfare can finally come into focus.
Whether they were offering advice on managing the Cold War or prescribing a reduction in racial tensions in U.S. cities, psychological experts brought their considerable talents to bear on the design and administration of postwar public policy. Their mission was to enlighten approaches to the most decisive and divisive matters of their day and, in doing so, to enlarge the responsibilities and appropriate subjects of government while broadening psychology's reach and influence.