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Anthropology and the military 
9th-Oct-2007 01:02 pm
One of my professors was literally just on NPR talking about the new Human Terrain Teams being deployed by the military... the members of which are anthropologists and other social scientists.

This is a very interesting debate going on in anthropology, and has lots of ethical questions surrounding it. My professor was joined by Montgomery McFate, who has caused a fair amount of controversy herself with her involvement in this program.

Edit The audio on the story is available now: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=15124054.
9th-Oct-2007 05:20 pm (UTC)
Yow, I can see many of the questions going on regarding this. To me, the term "mercenary anthropology" that they used in the article does kind of fit. It also sounds sort of like a cross between espionage and brute force. I don't know how much I like that.
9th-Oct-2007 06:33 pm (UTC)
I think the concept is more to avoid and reduce conflict and the need for force by making the military more culturally aware.

And--I think I've posted on this subject before--historically, those units most focussed on the actual social terrain in a given area have had a much lower military "footprint" and have significantly reduced destruction on all sides of most conflicts.

Admittedly, the potential for abuse does exist.

Look up some of the stories about John J. "Blackjack" Pershing in the Philipines near the turn of the 20th century. He (or whichever officers actually performed the deed) used cultural and religious knowledge to manipulate the local population to a tactical advantage. (Although the act in question might be considered a crime if performed today and was manipulative, it probably did reduce casualties on both sides.)

9th-Oct-2007 10:23 pm (UTC)
I can't help but think that opposition to this program is very myopic. I can see why, given past experiences, there is concern, especially given the history of past conflict when there was little cultural awareness beyond what the very limited body of the Special Forces could provide. That much is clear from reading the protests of the anthropologists: they don't like them being used in this war, right now.

Wars are the interim where military science evolves - consider the dramatic change in how World War I was fought in the beginning and the end. Or aircraft technology in World War II. Or the use and role of irregular forces in the Second Indochina War. What, I believe, we are watching now is the evolution of military science, with troubles because of the murky objectives given to fight these wars.

In the long run, though, how could having more cultural specialists in a world that will be marked with asymmetric warfare where culture plays a definite role in conflict be a bad thing?
9th-Oct-2007 11:03 pm (UTC)
I feel like these guys should have been used in the beginning.

Once again, this administration re-learning the lessons of 1945.
9th-Oct-2007 11:04 pm (UTC)
This is so fucking cool.

Now, if only I didn't have to work with the US government to do it.
9th-Oct-2007 11:27 pm (UTC)
Ah, but see, that's the beauty of it. The subterfuge! The US government would, in fact, pay you to be in a position ideal for harassing it into being decent every once in a while...or at least to do damage control on its rampant idiocy.

10th-Oct-2007 12:06 am (UTC)
We talked about this in my Global Politics of Human Rights class. I am 1000% against anthropologists working for the military. There's even a petition going around about it (I'll try to find it and link it).

Sure, you may change a few individual soldier's minds about their "targets" but your intellectual property belongs to the military. They can interpret it and use it to further their operations and for their own agenda.
10th-Oct-2007 12:08 am (UTC)
I now see that the article (which I hadn't read) mentions the petition, here's the link:

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10th-Oct-2007 08:37 am (UTC) - agreeing with you again...
"at base it contributes instead to a brutal war of occupation which has entailed massive casualties"

Uh, if you're opposed to the war, that's a different issue. And if you're opposed to a brutal war and massive casualties, shouldn't you be in favor of a program that seeks to help minimize brutality and casualties?

Or is the problem that your darling ivory-tower anthropologists might get their hands dirty in war? Please. What good is anthropology if it's not involved in the realities of human life? War, my friends, is a reality. Refusing to help make war less brutal, less destructive-out-of-ignorance, because you don't want to get your hands dirty seems to me a sick sort of neglect. Anthropologists are in a unique position, because they are trained to study and understand the workings of various cultures, to do good in a situations of cultural conflict. It seems to me hypocritical not to do so.
10th-Oct-2007 02:06 pm (UTC)
I heard much of that interview on the radio. I wanted to shake the guy who was opposed to it. The "research subjects" had not given informed consent? WTF? These anthropologists are not in Iraq to conduct research. They are there to save Iraqi lives by educating American soldiers.
10th-Oct-2007 06:48 pm (UTC)
Haven't listen to the interview yet, but it sounds like someone got research and applied anthropology confused.

10th-Oct-2007 08:35 pm (UTC)
I just felt like sharing that one of my professors, David Vine, is one of those who wrote this. Nice to see that debate is allowed regarding issues like these withing the field but at least in my class at American University with him, not so much. It's just too much of a personal issue for him regarding making an absolute morality, which I have issues with. I don't know, it's just weird. I think it's a lot of fear from the imperialist history and usage of applied/public anthropology.
11th-Oct-2007 03:55 am (UTC)
Awesome. Finally.
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