(an open letter to the New York Times)
To the Editor:
The report (Oct.11) of the killing of two Iraqi women by hired guns of the State Department whose mission was “to improve local government and democratic institutions” bears an interesting relation to the story of a few days earlier about the collaboration of anthropologists in just such imperious interventions in other peoples’ existence in the interest of extending American power around the world. It seems only pathetic that some anthropologists would criticize their colleagues’ participation in such adventures on grounds of their own disciplinary self-interest, complaining that now they will not be able to do fieldwork because the local people will suspect them of being spies. What about the victims of these militarily-backed intrusions, designed to prescribe how others should organize their lives at the constant risk of losing them? What is as incredible as it is reprehensible is that anthropologists should be engaged in such projects of cultural domination, that is, as willing collaborators in the forceful imposition of American values and governmental forms on people who have long known how to maintain and cherish their own ways of life.
Of course, these collaborating anthropologists have the sense that they are doing good and being good. I am reminded of a cartoon I saw years ago, I think it was in the Saturday Review of Literature, which shows two hooded executioners leaning on their long-handled axes, and one says to the other: “The way I see it, if I didn’t do this, some sonovabitch would get the job.”