Saint Martin’s professor examines anthropologists’ role in warfare

New book looks at history, ethics of applying social science methods to war effort

June 23, 2008

Lacey, Washington — For the past 15 years, David Price, Ph.D., associate professor of sociology and anthropology at Saint Martin’s University, has been piecing together a history of American anthropology, examining how the field was shaped by the economy and politics of the 20th century. His new book, “Anthropological Intelligence,” delves into an important chapter in this history — World War II, when more than half of America’s anthropologists used their knowledge of language, geography and culture to assist the United States government.

Today, nearly 70 years later, anthropologists continue to face the ethical implications of their predecessors’ decision to become involved in the war effort. In “Anthropological Intelligence,” Price takes a critical look at this decision and the social scientists’ subsequent interaction with political forces.

“Even though the Second World War was uniformly supported by most Americans, some of the ways that anthropologists contributed to the war effort raised fundamental ethical questions, even to those anthropologists working for the war effort,” explains Price. “Though there were no professional social science ethics codes until after the war, there were concerns early on that anthropology was being used as a war weapon.”

In the book, Price focuses on two major anthropological organizations, the American Anthropological Association and the Society for Applied Anthropology, and their connection to the expansion of anthropologists’ role in war. Price, himself a member of the American Anthropological Association, served on the association’s 2006–07 Ad Hoc Commission on the Engagement of Anthropology with the U.S. Security and Intelligence Communities. Last fall, the commission issued a report on the ethics of the Human Terrain System project, which embeds anthropologists on the front lines in Iraq and Afghanistan. The commission did not recommend against anthropologists’ engagements with military and intelligence agencies, but instead identified the types of activities that created ethical problems.

“Anthropological Intelligence,” published by Duke University Press, is available in bookstores and through online book retailers. Price will be reading from the book this Thursday, June 26, at 7 p.m. at Orca Books in downtown Olympia, 509 E. 4th Ave., Olympia, Washington, 98502. Readings by the author are also being scheduled for the Seattle and Portland areas. For more information, contact Price at 360-754-7850 or

Saint Martin’s University is an independent four-year, Catholic, coeducational university located on a 320-acre wooded campus in Lacey, Washington. Established in 1895 by the Catholic Order of Saint Benedict, the University is one of 18 Benedictine colleges and universities in the United States and Canada, and the only one west of the Rocky Mountains. Saint Martin’s University prepares students for successful lives through its 21 majors and six graduate programs spanning the liberal arts, business, education and engineering. Saint Martin’s welcomes 1,250 students from many ethnic and religious backgrounds to its main campus, and 650 more to its five extension campuses located at Fort Lewis Army Post, McChord Air Force Base, Olympic College, Centralia College and Tacoma Community College.

For additional information:

Jennifer G. Fellinger
Director of Communications
Saint Martin’s University

David H. Price, Ph.D.
Associate professor, sociology and anthropology
Saint Martin’s University