Project Camelot

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Project Camelot was a social science research project of the United States Army in 1964.[1] The goal of the project was to assess the causes of war and to identify the actions a government could take to prevent such wars. The proposal caused much controversy among the social scientists, many of whom argued that such a study would end up using social scientific research to strengthen the established government and to put down revolutionary movements in Latin America and other volatile places. Chile was to be the test case for the project, but the Norwegian sociologist Johan Galtung, who had been invited to be a contributor, worked hard to alert Chilean and U.S. social scientists of the project's true purposes.

The project was canceled as the Defense Department came under increasing criticism for attempting to subvert social research, as well as arguments that social science research was an appropriate way to avoid cultural conflict. The latter was not a unique idea, as the US had recognized that a great deal of WWII conflicts came from a lack of understanding Japanese culture, and commissioned the anthropologist, Ruth Benedict, to write a widely distributed book on Japanese society and beliefs. [2]

At the time of Camelot, there was not unanimous agreement that unclassified social science research is subversive, or that such research should be classified. Recent military thinking about it includes:

Over the past 2 years, senior leaders have been calling for something unusual and unexpected-cultural knowledge of the adversary. In august 2004, retired Major General Robert H. Scales, Jr., wrote an article for the Naval War College's Proceedings magazine that opposed the commonly held view within the U.S. military that success in war is best achieved by overwhelming technological advantage. Scales argues that the type of conflict we are now witnessing in Iraq requires "an exceptional ability to understand people, their culture, and their motivation." In October 2004, Arthur Cebrowski, Director of the Office of Force Transformation, concluded that "knowledge of one's enemy and his culture and society may be more important than knowledge of his order of battle." In November 2004, the Office of Naval Research and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) sponsored the Adversary Cultural Knowledge and National Security Conference, the first major DOD conference on the social sciences since 1962.

Why has cultural knowledge suddenly become such an imperative? Primarily because traditional methods of warfighting have proven inadequate in Iraq and Afghanistan. U.S. technology, training, and doctrine designed to counter the Soviet threat are not designed for low-intensity counterinsurgency operations where civilians mingle freely with combatants in complex urban terrain.[3]

CAMELOT was an United States Army program. It was not an operation of the Central Intelligence Agency. The work was performed by a subcontractor to what was then called the Special Operations Research Office (SORO) at American University, which was renamed the Center for Research in Social Systems (CRESS) after the CAMELOT fiasco.

"Chile was to be the first case study for Project Camelot. Norwegian sociologist Johan Galtung was invited to design a seminar for Project Camelot. Although he refused, he shared information about the project with colleagues. Meanwhile, Hugo Nuttini, who taught anthropology at the University of Pittsburgh, accepted an assignment for Project Camelot in Chile. While there, he concealed Camelot's military origin, but word leaked out. Protests arose from Chile's newspapers and legislature and the Chilean Government lodged a diplomatic protest with the U.S. Ambassador. In Washington, D.C., following congressional hearings on the subject, McNamara canceled Project Camelot in 1965.[4]

Further reading


  1. McFate, Montgomery 2005 'Anthropology and Counterinsurgency: The Strange Story of their Curious Relationship' Military Review March-April, 2005.
  2. Benedict, Ruth The Chrysanthemum and the Sword Plume 1974
  3. McFate 2005
  4. McFate 2005