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Journal of Cold War Studies 4.3 (2002) 127-129

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Book Review

The Making of the Cold War Enemy:
Culture and Politics in the Military- Intellectual Complex

Ron Robin, The Making of the Cold War Enemy: Culture and Politics in the Military- Intellectual Complex. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2001. 277 pp. $39.50.

"The Russians are coming!" cried the first Secretary of Defense, James Forrestal, as he leaped to his death from the sixteenth floor of Bethesda Naval Hospital in 1949. For at least four decades thereafter, American social scientists often joined the effort not only to understand the geopolitical enemy but also to hone strategies of resistance and subjugation. The Cold War provided sustenance for state-sponsored think tanks and academic institutes that sought, in conjunction with the Pentagon, to keep the Russians [End Page 127] from coming closer. The military as well as intelligence agencies were the most generous and accommodating patrons of the psychologists, sociologists, and political scientists who constituted a class that Ron Robin designates as "academic warriors" (pp. 5, passim). The social scientists flourished especially in the period from the suicide of Forrestal to the crisis of containment engendered by the seemingly unwinnable war in Indochina. Those two decades—framed by the Korean War and the Vietnam War—are the focus of The Making of the Cold War Enemy.

The title is not meant to imply that East-West enmity was a fabrication perpetrated by either the political leadership or the social scientists who tried to make sense of the challenge posed by Communism. What they "made" was a paradigm; and the conceptual framework that behavioralists devised is what Robin indicts: "Cold War behaviorism" was guilty of "pervasive contempt for complexity, the uncritical acceptance of contemporary cultural mores, and the denial of its [own] intellectual limitations" (p. 5). To make his case, he offers both evidence and a diagnosis of ways of thinking that disturb him, an analysis that bestows considerable value and interest on his book. Robin is less engaged in presenting political criticism, say, in the form of denouncing the academic warriors' distortion of Weber's ideal of Wertfreiheit. Instead The Making of the Cold War Enemy is devoted to unmasking the version of reality that the behavioral scientists embraced. Their claim that the human family is one, for instance, meant that the approach to understanding our species must be holistic, so that divergent national experiences, religious and other cultural traditions, and even linguistic barriers do not require the analyst of Communism to make any important distinctions. Those who subscribed to this view sought to transform qualitative information into quantitative data, with little regard for the lessons of the past. The disciplinary boundaries of the university were also dismissed as outmoded.

One of the implications of Robin's argument is that at least some American Cold Warriors did not insist on sharp divisions between light and darkness. They assumed that the other side would be subject to the "normal" range of private appetites and ambitions. In this view, the Communists were not, except at the very top, fanatically driven, nor were they any more constrained than the West by the straitjacket of ideology. Behavioralists also subscribed to modernization theory, which held that throughout the Third World (and indeed the Second World) Western ideals of democracy, autonomy, and abundance were deemed worthy of emulation. If Harold Lasswell and his disciples were to be believed, Communist commissars were like ward bosses in urban machines in having chosen the vocation of politics as a displacement of private needs. Reds too must have had histories of neurosis. The standard depiction of the Cold War as a resolute ideological struggle between two implacable value systems and ways of life is therefore modified in Robin's interpretation of the behavioral scientists' portrayal of the threat.

Their paradigm was devised by professors and graduates of the University of Chicago, by the RAND Corporation, and by the diverse collaborators on the ill-fated Project Camelot, among others. The paradigm could...