Addendum: Viet Nam and Project Phoenix

mike salovesh (T20MXS1@MVS.CSO.NIU.EDU)
Fri, 27 Jan 1995 04:25:00 CST

On reflection, I'm finding it hard to sort out what happened in
which AAA meeting around 1970. I'm totally clear that there was a
Committee on Thailand headed by Margaret Mead; that we heard about
anthropological fallout from Project Camelot; that we developed a
statement on ethics--all in meetings around that time. But my
visual memory of the business meeting in San Diego does not square
with my visual memory of the business meetings where we rejected
the Mead committee report OR the business meetings where we did
things about Project Camelot. The room we met in in San Diego was
big, brightly lit, and sticks in my memory as visually related to
a bunch of folding chairs on a basketball court--while some of the
others were in more theater-like settings with dimmer lights. But
I have no easy way to sort out which meeting did what.

My last communication has already gotten a private response asking
what was Project Phoenix and what did anthropologists have to do with
it. That was Viet Nam war stuff.

Anthropologists had taken government support to do fieldwork in
S E Asia--Viet Nam, Cambodia, Thailand--before full-scale US military
involvement in the Vietnamese war. The most prolific source of
funding was AID, as I recall. Apparently part of the funding
requirement was that field notes should be deposited with the
funding agencies.

Project Phoenix was a CIA counterinsurgency program. It aimed to
break the back of any possible resistance by removing potential
leaders at the local level. Mostly this was done by assassination;
there were, if memory serves, something like 10,000 victims who were
killed directly at the hands of the CIA.

Part of Project Phoenix involved the use of anthropologists' field
notes to identify targets for assassination, and to set up profiles
of similar targets in villages not studied directly by the anthros.
Victims included schoolteachers, medical care people, leaders of
coops, and village officials selected for assassination because they
were viewed as potential leaders.

Much to their credit, most of the anthros whose work was misused in
Project Phoenix went ballistic when they heard about it. One of
them, for example, played a large part in organizing the FIRST
"teach-in" protesting US involvement in Viet Nam, and he did it
before our troop strength in Nam reached its peak. (Never mind who
that was--no sense opening his old, personal wounds.) And the rest
of us heard about the necessity of protecting our informants, and
ourselves, from involvement in such things first from the very
people whose work was turned against them and the people they worked
with in the field. Camelot, and the Mead Committee on research in
Thailand, and the AAA statement on ethics, all affected us in the
same historic context as anthropological involvement in the Nam war.
Which is why I get confused as to which year particular pieces of
the history took place.

Sorry to use up so much bandwidth. I do so because many of you are
so much younger, in anthropology, than this old fart that you can't
remember these things at all. And now I'll shut up for at least
24 hours.

-- mike salovesh <>