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Oceanographers and the Cold War

Sisciples of Marine Science

By Jacob Darwin Hamblin

Publication Year: 2005

This book examines the study of the oceans during the Cold War era and explores the international focus of American oceanographers, taking into account the role of the U.S. Navy, U.S. foreign policy, and scientists through the world. Hamblin demonstrates that to understand the history of American oceanography, one must consider its role in both conflict and cooperation with other nations. Scientists redefined the field of oceanography and turned it into one of the most well-funded, militarily decisive, and politically controversial activities in science.

Published by: University of Washington Press


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pp. vii

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pp. ix-xii

In browsing these pages, the reader will notice a very loose usage of the term “oceanography.” The book’s subtitle reflects an even more vague term: marine science. The coverage here is not limited to any particular branch of marine science, though often some fields dominated at the expense of others. Because the book is about politics, patronage, and communities in many different branches of science pertaining to the sea, I did not wish to splinter the discussion by needlessly separating the scientists as they might have done themselves.

List of Abbreviations

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pp. xiii-xiv

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pp. xvii-xxix

In late 1963, not long after replacing his assassinated predecessor, President Lyndon Baines Johnson addressed the United Nations with an unorthodox plan for world peace. Rather than focusing on nuclear disarmament, containment of communism, or turning away from superpower posturing, he made an unexpected suggestion. He pointed to the long tradition of moral codes at sea, where people worked together for common objectives regardless of political boundaries. Scientists in particular, he said, were engaged in cooperative ventures that promised to break down animosities and ease global tensions.

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1. Beginnings of Postwar Marine Science and Cooperation

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pp. 3-31

While on a fellowship in Japan in 1953, marine geologist Robert S. Dietz observed, “The time has come when a ‘showing of the flag’ can be more effectively done in many parts of the world by a vessel engaged in scientific pursuits than by a man o’ war.”1 He was writing to scientists at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego, California, who were planning an expedition to cross the Pacific Ocean and visit ports in Japan. Dietz did not specify precisely how he thought marine science could influence relations between the United States and Japan, but he believed that science could accomplish something that traditional diplomacy and military power could not.

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2. Oceanography’s Greatest Patron

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pp. 32-58

Scientists’ participation in cooperative ventures depended upon the acquiescence of their government patrons, particularly those groups within the United States Navy that actively promoted research. This chapter reveals the context in which oceanographers promoted their strategy of international cooperation even among those who, by the nature of the Navy itself, might seem ill suited to international endeavors.1 It traces the relationship between the Navy and the oceanographic community, particularly with regard to research that was international in scope, and reveals how the needs of each complemented and contradicted the other.

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3. The International Geophysical Year, 1957–1958

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pp. 59-98

Through its efforts with Japan and its work with the Navy, the oceanographic community had promoted cooperation as a means to cultivate science in the name of American strength. But the question of the realistic extent of international cooperation still lingered, and the idea of total openness seemed a great gamble. Still, scientists’ desire for cooperation had an impact upon their patrons, revealing the formidable rhetorical power of international cooperation. Cooperation was promoted by American scientists in numerous disciplines, including oceanography, with the premise that such sharing would benefit science as a whole and that the United States was in the best position to transform science into useful technology.

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4. The New Face of International Oceanography

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pp. 99-139

Despite its successes, there were many challenges to cooperation during the IGY, the most obvious being the launch of Sputnik only three months after it began. This momentous event cast doubts upon the conceptual foundations of scientific cooperation as a whole, in particular the assumption that the gains of cooperation outweighed the risks. But the IGY presented opportunities as well. In the United States, various government agencies sensed that the IGY was a chance to develop not only a unified policy for cooperation but also a common forum for the discussion of America’s national efforts in oceanography. This led to the creation of the National Academy of Sciences Committee on Oceanography (NASCO).

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5. Competition and Cooperation in the 1960s

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pp. 140-176

Programs such as the 110E attested to the desire of scientists, Americans and non-Americans alike, to resist the imperative of scientific and technological competition with the Soviet Union and to press on with cooperative ventures. These efforts, however, were not universally pursued. Other scientists looked inward at the United States, frustrated by the well-publicized technological successes of their Cold War enemies, the Soviets. American science, and its leadership in the international community, had been challenged by communist successes. Like their colleagues in other scientific fields, oceanographers in the United States craved a renewed focus on national strength in the face of the Soviet challenge.

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6. Oceanography, East and West

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pp. 177-216

One cannot stress enough that the history of international cooperation in oceanography has been conditioned by geopolitical considerations. It was largely the U.S. Navy that provided the means of ascent for American oceanographers, and it had clear strategic reasons for doing it. Easing tensions was the rhetorical backdrop of the IGY, and economic development became that of subsequent years. Previous chapters have shown how important competition was to the Americans, at home and in international forums. But there was more to the American-Soviet confrontation than competition for leadership.

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7. Marine Science and Marine Affairs

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pp. 217-258

Western oceanographers widened cooperation in the 1960s to include not only Soviet scientists but also those least capable of carrying out research: countries of the developing world. This was part of American scientists’ strategy of tying their work to economic exploitation at home and abroad. Often perceived as a necessary evil to finance large-scale research schemes, promoting marine science for its economic consequences yielded unforeseen (and some foreseen) problems. One problem already discussed here: physical oceanographers felt that their hands were tied.

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8. Conclusion

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pp. 259-265

After three decades of creating disciples of marine science, oceanographers had established a massive support infrastructure for themselves that spanned national and international organizations but, at the same time, had opened new problems to be negotiated and new threats to their autonomy. By the early 1970s, international cooperation had undergone both a change in emphasis and a change in cast.


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pp. 267-306


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pp. 307-331


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pp. 333-346

E-ISBN-13: 9780295801858
Print-ISBN-13: 9780295984827

Publication Year: 2005