David Price reports in “Counterpunch” on a 1943 OSS (the precursor to the CIA) document he discovered entitled “Preliminary Report on Japanese Anthropology” , a compilation of anthropological research into racial and/or cultural characteristics of the Japanese that could be “weaponized”. The report verges on the genocidal in its cold, detached consideration of means of destroying the Japanese:
The report considered a series of Japanese physical and cultural characteristics to determine if weapons could be designed to exploit any identifiable unique “racial” features. The study examined Japanese anatomical and structural features, Japanese physiological traits, Japanese susceptibility to diseases, and possible weaknesses in Japanese constitution or “nutritional weaknesses.” The OSS instructed the anthropologists and other advisors to try to conceive ways that any detectable differences could be used in the development of weapons, but they were cautioned to consider this issue “in a-moral and non-ethical terms,” with an understanding that, “if any of the suggestions contained herein are considered for action, all moral and ethical implications will be carefully studied.”
Although Ralph Linton and Harry Shapiro objected to these instructions, others — including Clyde Kluckhohn and Ernest Hooten — embraced the project, examining cultural traits like food production as well as “racial” traits like “inner ears morphologies, taste bud densities, laryngeal musculatures, intestinal lengths, and arterial systems”. In the end, little of use was turned up — a slight proclivity for respiratory infections led the anthropologists involved to recommend using anthrax as a weapon, the importance of rice in the Japanese diet and the short viability of stored rice led to recommendations aimed at the destruction of the agricultural system — and the project seems to have been abandoned. But, Price asks, “what recommendations would have been made if significant characteristics had been isolated”? And more to the point, for me: can anthropologists afford to defer the moral and ethical implications of their (our) work, trusting that such implications will be “carefully studied” by others down the line?