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Project Camelot was a social science research project of the United States Army that started in 1964 and was cancelled after congressional hearings in 1965. The goal of the project was to assess the causes of conflict between national groups, to anticipate social breakdown and provide eventual solutions. The proposal caused much controversy among social scientists, many of whom voiced concerns that such a study was in conflict with their professional ethics.
Chile was to be the test case for the project, but Claudio Bunster was alerted almost immediately to its possible military nature when Johan Galtung showed him a letter from the Special Operations Research Office (SORO) inviting him to a seminar to discuss the project in 1966 at the American University in Washington DC. The seminar was actually held in the summer of 1965 but by then the initial exploratory mission to study the feasibility of running such a project was being phased out and the project itself was officially cancelled on July 8, 1965.
The project's purpose was described by the army as follows:
|“||Success in such tasks as equipping and training indigenous forces for an internal security mission, civic action, psychological warfare, or other counterinsurgency action depends on a thorough understanding of the indigenous social structure, upon the accuracy with which changes within the indigenous culture, particularly violent changes, are anticipated, and the effects of various courses of action available to the military and other agencies of government upon the indigenous process of change.||”|
The origin of the name "Camelot" came from a book by T.H. White, The Once and Future King, for its premise of a peaceful and harmonious society. Hugo Nutini, a Chilean-born professor of Anthropology, was a consultant in the conceptual stages of Project Camelot and he asked for permission from SORO to approach Chilean social scientists with the idea of conducting a study in their country. He first approached Claudio Bunster. Bunster expressed his doubts to colleagues who then confronted Nutini. When Nutini was unable to deny that the project had US political and military finance and motivation, a letter to the editor was sent to the Latin American Review of Sociology and the whole affair was exposed in the media. The US Defense Department came under mounting criticism, with critics claiming that the project was a violation of professional ethics in the scientific world; this bad press led to the project's cancellation in 1965. There were also voices that social science research was an appropriate way to avoid cultural conflict. The latter was not a unique idea, as the US had commissioned the anthropologist Ruth Benedict to write a widely distributed book on Japanese society and beliefs after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
The concept of Project Camelot was first formulated by the Office of the Chief of Research and Development and presented to the Office of the Director of Defense Research and Engineering who thereafter passed it on to the Army Research and Development Office who turned to the Special Operations and Research Office (SORO) at the American University of Washington DC. There was no organization as such as the project never got off the ground.