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Anthropology and Total Warfare

The Office of Strategic Services' 1943 'Preliminary Report on Japanese Anthropology'

David H. Price

More than two dozen U.S. anthropologists worked for the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) during the Second World War. Some anthropologists at the OSS's Research and Analysis Branch analysed information on Japanese culture and tracked shifts in Japanese morale to estimate the best ways of employing psychological warfare. Among the papers produced by these anthropologists was a 1943 'Preliminary Report on Japanese Anthropology' which included the contemplation of biological warfare programmes using anthrax and other weapons of mass destruction on Japanese civilian and military populations. This article summarizes and critiques the roles of American anthropology in designing and opposing various programmes directed against Japanese soldiers and civilians under consideration at the OSS.

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Eric B. Ross and David H. Price

It has long been acknowledged that the Second World War significantly transformed anthropology and gave rise to applied anthropology as a professional subdiscipline; but, there has been surprisingly little scholarly inquiry into the particulars of this process, during the war or as it gave way to the Cold War. The relative silence, among anthropologists, regarding the contributions of their colleagues to the interests of government during this crucial period, is itself worthy of study. Though it might simply be regarded as a subject whose time has not yet come, whose subject matter has little immediate relevance to the intellectual priorities of our own time, even a tentative excursion into the subject suggests that there are uncomfortable issues just below the surface, issues that reflect ethical and political contradictions that anthropologists must inevitably confront.