Readers interested in ongoing discussion about anthropological knowledge and military operations should follow the blog of Dr. Marcus Griffin, professor of anthropology at Christopher Newport University in Newport News, VA. Griffin is being deployed to Baghdad under the US Army’s ‘Human Terrain System’ initiative (this .pdf explains the HTS). Griffin’s blog promises to report intermittently on the work he is doing with the Army. Given the heated discussion here at SM and elsewhere on the ethics of this sort of affiliation between the military and a professional anthropologist, I wrote to Professor Griffin asking him to clarify what set of ethical guidelines will govern his research and conduct in Iraq as I was unable to discern this from the HTS document that he links to. He has promised to write about these matters. At the moment, however, he is very much involved in preparations for Baghdad. Here, he describes ‘going native‘ within military culture:
Going “native” in anthropology is a fairly common strategy to gain a better understanding of the people with whom one is working. I am about a month away from deploying to Baghdad as part of the US Army’s new Human Terrain System and have almost gone completely native. How am I doing this?
First, I am working out regularly with Lt. Gato. He is showing me how to develop greater strength and endurance, pushing me to exert myself beyond my own motivation. When I complained about elbow tendonitis, he said, “Good, no pain no gain.” Thanks to him I am gaining greater strength and larger muscles. Second, I cut my hair in a high and tight style and look like a drill sergeant. I know because a woman at the gas station asked me if I was one and was perplexed when I said no but was satisfied when I said I was simply on my way to Iraq. Third, I shot very well with the M9 and M4 last week at the range. I previously paid careful attention to the training one of my team members gave me on his own time and our effort paid off handsomely. Shooting well is important if you are a soldier regardless of whether or not your job requires you to carry a weapon. Fourth, I am trying to learn military language with all the acronyms and idioms otherwise alien to university professor such as myself. I actually know what people are saying now half the time. By going native, I am better able to see social life from the viewpoint of the people I am working with.