Book Description

During the height of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Pentagon launched a controversial counterinsurgency program called the Human Terrain System. The program embedded social scientists within military units to provide commanders with information about the cultures and grievances of local populations. Yet the controversy it inspired was not new. Decades earlier, similar national security concerns brought the Department of Defense and American social scientists together in the search for intellectual weapons that could combat the spread of communism during the Cold War. In Armed with Expertise, Joy Rohde traces the optimistic rise, anguished fall, and surprising rebirth of Cold War–era military-sponsored social research.

Seeking expert knowledge that would enable the United States to contain communism, the Pentagon turned to social scientists. Beginning in the 1950s, political scientists, social psychologists, and anthropologists optimistically applied their expertise to military problems, convinced that their work would enhance democracy around the world. As Rohde shows, by the late 1960s, a growing number of scholars and activists condemned Pentagon-funded social scientists as handmaidens of a technocratic warfare state and sought to eliminate military-sponsored research from American intellectual life.

But the Pentagon's social research projects had remarkable institutional momentum and intellectual flexibility. Instead of severing their ties to the military, the Pentagon’s experts relocated to a burgeoning network of private consulting agencies and for-profit research offices. Now shielded from public scrutiny, they continued to influence national security affairs. They also diversified their portfolios to include the study of domestic problems, including urban violence and racial conflict. In examining the controversies over Cold War social science, Rohde reveals the persistent militarization of American political and intellectual life, a phenomenon that continues to raise grave questions about the relationship between expert knowledge and American democracy.

"This accomplished and important book shows how the social sciences became enmeshed in a militarized system which has persisted, even grown, in recent years even as it moved off campus, making it less visible and therefore less controversial. Joy Rohde offers especially striking and disturbing material on the blowback of social science collaboration with the armed forces, as individuals and institutions moved beyond addressing threats abroad into assessing domestic disorder and attempting to control it."—Michael Sherry, Northwestern University

"Rohde persuasively demonstrates that efforts to safeguard academic freedom by exiling military research from university campuses during and after the Vietnam War had unintended and deeply paradoxical consequences that are still with us. The military's hold on social research was strengthened, its production was privatized, and it was insulated from the public debate on which democracy depends. Rohde's narrative is sobering and consequential for anyone who cares about the relationship between knowledge and politics in the United States and the world."—Ellen Herman, University of Oregon

"In Armed with Expertise, Joy Rohde analyzes a pivotal debate over expert knowledge and democracy in the context of the Cold War. As she convincingly argues, the attack on university-centered, state-sponsored social research produced powerful, unintended consequences. Rohde's writing is clear and direct, and this impressive book will appeal to a broad range of scholars interested in the histories of social science, the Cold War, public policy, and education. Rohde also raises compelling questions about the relationship between academia, intelligence, and national security in our own time."—Michael E. Latham, Fordham University


Armed with Expertise … represents an important addition to the debate over how the Cold War affected the American natural and social sciences.”—American Historical Review

“Crisply written, and carefully documented, Armed with Expertise shows that militarization did not end after the Vietnam War; it merely went underground, ready to resurface for a new war on terror.”—Journal of American History

“Rohde has performed a sterling service in this thorough and detailed book.”—American Journal of Sociology

“Rohde’s work asks us to revisit the age-old matter of the relationship between facts and values and how we move forward in our public roles in light of our answers.”—Perspectives on Politics

“A tight, streamlined case study, though one with broad implications.”—Isis

"Rohde makes a significant, highly readable, relevant contribution to understanding the relationship between social science expertise and the US national security state. . . . Recent authorized and unauthorized revelations about the domestic and foreign programs of the National Security Agency, the role of psychologists during the interrogation of suspects, and the roles of the Defense and State Departments in the war on terror suggest that Rohde's work has much to say to Americans today. Summing Up: Highly recommended."—Choice

"Rohde offers stimulating insight into the complicated lives and ideological persuasions at play. And in an age when research funding has never seemed more important to academics' career prospects, Armed with Expertise offers a historical lesson worth heeding."—Times Higher Education Supplement

“Rohde does an outstanding job identifying nuances in the positions taken by individual social and behavioral scientists as well as their military and national security agency sponsors. … The writing style is tightly focused, mixing analysis and narrative in a clear presentation that will appeal to historians and social and behavioral scientists alike.”Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences

Armed with Expertise occupies a dynamic space between intellectual, institutional, and policy history… [It] yields a focused and richly empirical history of the anxieties induced by militarization, and a valuable complement to the growing literature on the transformation of social-scientific research practices in the context of the Cold War.” –Intellectual History Review


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