“The Dangers of Promoting Peace During Times of [Cold] War: Gene Weltfish, the FBI, and the 1949 Waldorf Conference for World Peace.” Paper presented at Invited Session on “Anthropologists, Promoters of War or Peace?” at the annual meeting of the American Anthropological Association, Chicago, Illinois, November 20, 2003.


This paper examines Gene Weltfish’s participation in the 1949 Waldorf Astoria Cultural Scientific Conference for World Peace as a means of exploring the historically negative consequences for anthropologists and other scholar-activists engaged in promoting peace during times of war. I argue that scholars pursuing radical critiques of the nature of conflict are marginalized and targeted for harassment by academic administrators and agencies such as the FBI. Under such contingencies we should not be surprised to find anthropologists learning to avoid the promotion of peace. The Waldorf Conference was a watershed for the post-war intellectual left and brought together intellectuals from the radical and progressive left and the conservative right to discuss the state of world peace at the dawn of the cold war--though the setting of the conference was hardly neutral as recent scholarship establishes that the conference was infiltrated by the CIA at its inception. Gene Weltfish’s lengthy remarks at this conference survive in her FBI file, and demonstrate a complex Marxist critique anticipating many of the critiques of colonialism to be developed decades later by such scholars as Kathleen Gough or Talad Asad. Weltfish argued there could be no peace while international economic markets thrived under conditions of racism, and she identified the neo-colonialist economic conditions prevailing in the post-war world, describing the role that public and private American interests played in these emerging conditions. This analysis heightened the FBI’s suspicions of Weltfish and led the FBI to expand their surveillance and harassment of her.