University of Worcester Worcester Research and Publications

Anthropologists at War: Margaret Mead, Ruth Benedict and the ‘principal danger in the world … the spread of fascism’

Toon, Wendy ORCID: (2008) Anthropologists at War: Margaret Mead, Ruth Benedict and the ‘principal danger in the world … the spread of fascism’. In: Women’s History Network, Midlands Region Conference, ‘She Does What? The Unexplored Expertise of Women, 3 May 2008, University of Worcester. (Unpublished)

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On 9 December 1941 Franklin D. Roosevelt declared ‘We are going to win the war and we are going to win the peace that follows.’ Entry into World War II meant that the U.S. was now truly invested in the outcome of the war and in the prospects for lasting peace. The war effort created the vital question of “what to do” with Germany and Japan and led to several key requirements that needed to be met. What was called for was knowledge of one’s enemies so they could be beaten; knowledge of one’s allies so as to fight alongside them, and finally knowledge of oneself so that one’s own strengths could be utilized effectively. Perhaps surprisingly Anthropology was one of the disciplines that went to war and aimed to answer this question and meet these requirements. The significant role played by Drs. Margaret Mead and Ruth Benedict is an interesting example not only of unprecedented solutions to unprecedented problems but is also a fascinating illumination of the importance of female experts in wartime government service. Few realize that Anthropologists were involved in analysing German and Japanese mentality and explaining the principle of reeducation, the overriding aim of American peace planning. The plan to reeducate Germany and Japan aimed to ensure that the two defeated, former enemy powers would never again succumb to dangerous and poisonous ideologies. This was an imaginative policy designed to secure lasting peace and prevent World War III. It entailed comprehensive psychological, ideological, and cultural reconstruction. It sought to eradicate the foundations of the authoritarian and militaristic systems of Germany and Japan, particularly in the realm of ideas, and put in their place the political, ethical, and philosophical principles of the United States. The ultimate goal was to cure the German and Japanese nations of their current sickness: fascism. Thus, this paper demonstrates the integral role of Mead and Benedict in American responses to the “spread of fascism.”

Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)
Subjects: D History General and Old World > D History (General) > D731 World War II
E History America > E151 United States (General)
G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > GN Anthropology
Divisions: College of Arts, Humanities and Education > School of Humanities
Depositing User: Wendy Toon
Date Deposited: 20 Jun 2022 15:40
Last Modified: 21 Jun 2022 08:45

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