The first issue of The Southwestern Journal of Anthropology was published in spring of 1945, months before the end of World War II. This means that Leslie Spier and his colleagues in the Department of Anthropology at the University of New Mexico had been planning & preparing the inauguration of this new journal of general anthropology during at least the last year of the global holocaust. This act signified a degree of optimism & forward-thinking, that, on the date of my writing these lines--September 15, 2001--must be taken as a lesson & example to all of us, especially anthropologists in America, for hope in a better future. As a direct product of the war that ended in 1945, I can only conclude that Spier was betting on an expanded, internationalist role for the holistic discipline of anthropology in the new world situation that was being created out of the ashes of that cataclysm. I have often wondered at the lack of an introduction to Volume 1, No.1 by Spier. I can thus only guess at Spier’s optimism about the role it was hoped anthropology would play in healing the world by combating racism, bridging the gaps among cultures, understanding the present in relationship to the past, and, in general, by stressing our common humanity as a subject for the broadest possible study & interpretation. A world without frontiers should be the (admittedly utopian) perspective & goal of anthropology, as the most human & thus loosely defined of fields of study. In the practical American milieu of the early post-war, I am sure that Spier believed that anthropology had much to contribute to the creation of a New World, one with more tolerance & less ethnically-, racially- or religiously-based suspicion & hatred, one which drew strength from human diversity. The American anthropologists who had come through the war experience had, after all, often put their experiences & knowledge of world cultures & languages at the service of defending liberty & democracy against the forces of Axis fascism. There was a unity of purpose & a clear choosing of sides in the global conflict that did, ultimately, involve a struggle of ideas as to the nature & fate of humanity. The perversion of certain anthropological concepts (from the notion of archeological culture to the pseudoscience of eugenics) obviously put an onus on anthropologists in the Allied democracies to put their unique perspective to work in the name of freedom, even if post-war critiques would (often justifiably) point to the colonialist nature of the anthropological enterprise. The pervasive malaise of anthropology would come later; at any rate it was still remote from those months in 1945 when, in an act of faith in the future of the world & of his profession, Leslie Spier conceived & launched the bulletin that would eventually become The Journal of Anthropological Research.
Spier was probably sending a message about the role of anthropology--for good or for evil--by publishing as the first article in his new journal a piece by Franz Weidenreich entitled "The brachycephalization of recent mankind". Weidenreich, a Jewish refugee from Nazi Germany, began his article thus:
This study deals with a tragic anthropological error committed in good faith a hundred years ago. Later the error, taken as a reality, has been unscrupulously misused by layman and scholars alike for purely political propaganda in order to discriminate against entire ethnical groups and nations and to glorify others. It would be a great exaggeration to claim that this primary error is responsible for the world catastrophe in which we are now involved. But there can be little doubt that the ruthlessness and atrocity with which the partisans of the "master race" theory persecute and annihilate their victims are impelled by a fanatic belief in their own physical and mental superiority. This superiority, they think, can be demonstrated by simple anthropological tests of which the so-called skull index has been considered as tone of the reliable and obvious. (SWJA Vol.1,No.1,p.1)
Now we--Americans, anthropologists
& citizens of the world--are facing a new, apparently global crisis.
Being of a very different, less stoic, taciturn generation than Spier,
I feel compelled to write these words to suggest that anthropology must
again play an active, positive role on the world stage, particularly as
the present struggle may again pit ethnic, racial & religious groups
against one another, both in America & throughout the world.
Anthropology’s debates about ethnicity, cultural relativism, & disciplinary
relevance are sure to be sharpened in light of the world situation, following
the massive acts of terrorism that rocked the United States four days ago.
Of course, by the time these words are actually published, much may have
happened (certainly an incredible understatement). In the clash of
cultures that seems to be at least in part at the heart of the crisis,
anthropology should have much to say & hopefully to do with regard
to informing public opinion & government policy concerning competing
aspects of human rights, the relevance or even legitimacy of an automatic
& universalistic posture of cultural relativism, and the development
of bases for cross-cultural understanding in the face of suspicion, incomprehension
& even hatred.