Anthropologists of the World, Unite!

Apropos of the recent discussion of anthropology’s use in torture and other military action, I received notice this morning of an effort launched by several anthros (including David Price, Hugh Gusterson, and Catherine Lutz) to encourage the development of an ethical anthropology and to oppose anthro’s participation in counter-insurgency. Here’s the relevant part of the email:

The Department of Defense and allied agencies are mobilizing anthropologists for interventions in the Middle East and beyond. It is likely that larger, more permanent initiatives are in the works.

Over the last several weeks, we have created an ad hoc group, the Network of Concerned Anthropologists, with the objective of promoting an ethical anthropology. Working together, we have drafted a pledge of non-participation in counter-insurgency, which we have organized as a petition (see attachment). We invite you to become a part of this effort by taking the following steps:

  1. Download and print the attached pledge (in .pdf format) [. Ask your colleagues to sign the pledge, and promptly send it to us via regular mail. Our address is Network of Concerned Anthropologists, c/o Dept. of Anthropology, George Mason University, 4400 University Drive, MS 3G5, Fairfax, VA 22030 (USA). If it is more convenient, email a .pdf copy of collected signatures and send it to us at
  2. Forward this message to your colleagues, and encourage them to sign.
  3. Join our network by emailing us at Be sure to include your name, title, and affiliation. We will add you to our email list.
  4. Visit our web site at for more information and updates.

Email us at if you would like more information or if you have questions.

Sincerely yours,
Network of Concerned Anthropologists

Catherine Besteman
Andrew Bickford
Greg Feldman
Roberto Gonzalez
Hugh Gusterson
Gustaaf Houtman
Kanhong Lin
Catherine Lutz
David Price
David Vine

51 thoughts on “Anthropologists of the World, Unite!

  1. Well its about time someone did something this simple.

    I’ve been feeling intimidated by all this support for military anthropology that I was wondering if there were others out there worried about what this is doing to our shared discipline.

    Laura McNamara can have her coalition of the willing, I’ll take this coalition of the unwilling to use anthropology to help Bush take over the world.

  2. i’ll sign it. I’m sure Laura will too. It says nothing about betraying the ideals of sound and rigorous scholarship in the name of politics though, so it doesn’t really have anything to do with what Laura is blogging about.

  3. Hey, dazed grad student… I think your comment about me and the “Coalition of the Willing” (which was intended with sad sarcasm) is indicative of how polarized our community is. I’m not in favor of the war on Iraq, nor am I a fan of the Bush administration, and I’m appalled at much of what’s happened over the past 6 years. Neither do I want anthropologists gathering information to target “insurgents.” However, I am very much a proponent of free, open, and CIVIL debate about anthropology’s relationship to power – which, I think, is ultimately the problem that we’re struggling with.

    I think one of the dangers we face in this particular moment is confusing a) critique of our own methods and approaches, with b) political conformity and support for an unpopular and absolutely unethical war. That’s dangerous because it shuts down debate, which means that our ideas don’t get a good airing. Peer review is important because it strengthens intellectual credibility. As someone pointed out to me in an offline email, that’s the difference between a discipline – think of the word “discipline” – and journalism or memoirs. I think the poster Marie made this same point.

    In my work, I’m interested in figuring out how we can use what’s out there to develop a rigorous and informed body of scholarship that addresses these issues in a way that makes it difficult to dismiss anthropology’s critique as motivated by pure politics. Using the government’s own documents to develop that critique makes it much harder to dismiss – I think David Price has done a very nice job with that. In fact, it was his scholarship that got me thinking we should be looking at the GWOT interrogation literature.

    So – I don’t have a problem with the statement in principle, nor am I opposed to resolutions against any war, or against torture. But, as you might expect, I wonder about the conversations we’re NOT having: who is this aimed at, and what’s the effect we intend it to have? How will we make sure they get the message? Is this a purely internal phenomenon, or will it communicate something to the people making policy? Does this make us relevant in the way we want to be relevant? Once we figure that out, we might ask if it supports the outcomes we want. I don’t know that we’ve sorted that out, and I hope that we can find space in our interactions to have those conversations civilly and productively.

    Comments like yours worry me, because I wonder if we’re losing the ability to discuss difficult issues as openly as we need to. I worry that we’re losing the ability to be quiet and listen to other perspectives from our colleagues, that we base trust purely on institutional affiliation rather than open discussion. Just as you worry about feeling silenced by the juggernaut that is the Military-Intelligence-HTS-Anthropology movement, I worry about feeling silenced because my questions about scholarship seem to be interpreted – at least in this forum – as political statements, or an attempt to undermine “the movement,” as Gustaaf Houtman wrote in AT back in June. In fact, I intend just the opposite. We can disagree on the methods, but that doesn’t mean we don’t care about the same ends.

    I imagine that the HTS juggernaut that’s worrying all of us is probably less of an undifferentiated behemoth than you might imagine, and I bet it’s as contested within the DoD as it is outside the DoD. However, it’s impossible to figure out the contours of discussion until we ask honest questions of the people involved and then listen to understand where they’re coming from – just as we would any of our informants. No institution is without its cracks, fissures, camps, factions, and debates. The trick for anthropologists is to find those cracks and work them effectively to get the outcomes that we care about.

  4. I thought Laura was blogging about, generally speaking, the relationship (if any) between anthropology and the military/intelligence complex. I had no idea at all she was blogging about “betraying the ideals of sound and rigorous scholarship”!

    Note to self: must read more carefully!

    Note to others: I know support for military anthropology when I see it, and McNamara’s posts here aren’t it. I’ve seen lots of trolls hanging about saying stoopid stuff, willfully misreading her posts and comments, because I guess that sort of thing is fun. But when it comes down to it, nobody posting here has the kind of security clearance necessary to make a defin itve statement about what role anthropology is saying, and McNamara’s methods are a heck of a lot more promising than those most of the commenters seem to be using (which methodology amounts to reading some guy’s book).

    Let me put it this way: I have no doubt that anthropology is on the reading list somewhere in the chain of command. And frankly, if I had a problem with this, there’s little I could do about it — should the AAA issue a resolution against reading anthropology if you’re a bad, bad person? I also firmly believe that anthropologists should not be working under the aegis of the military or intelligence agencies. It’s bad for anthropology (and just bad anthropology) but it’s also bad for our nation, humanity, morality, and so on. Jesus weeps when he sees that sort of thing. I know it’s not burly to say there’s more important things than whether the US wins an imaginary war, but there it is: there are *far* more important things.

    Meanwhile, unless I missed something, I haven’t seen McNamara say anything about supporting military uses of anthropology. I’ve seen her try to start a dialogue about what sort of things we should look at if we want to understand how the military *is* using anthropology. Not the same thing. Who knows, maybe in her heart of heart she wants a team of applied anthropologists in Iraq studying the most effective ways of removing fingernails, but if that’s so, you certainly can’t deduct it from her writings here.

  5. My mention of the coalition of the willing was made in response to Laura’s entry #19, on (what I now see is) her other thread: /2007/09/16/cultural-dynamics-in-interrogation-the-fbi-at-guantanamo/#comment-118792 I was trying to mention something that I thought was on the previous line, but was elsewhere.

    I’m glad you “don’t have a problem with the statement in principle,” perhaps I’ve misjudged you in part because you work for a weapons lab (though I still don’t understand all that business about doing surveillance with PDAs even with the bad reporting and lack of context), and some of your initial claims about the Arab Mind that you seem to have backed away from.

    I’m glad to read Oneman say that he sees nothing in Dr. McNamara’s writing “about supporting military uses of anthropology.” I guess I’ve misjudged some of her writing if Dr. McNamara really doesn’t support military uses of anthropology.

  6. But come to think of it, the chosen nomenclature really sums up the stereotypical Rightist and Leftist opposition: Coalition of the Willing vs. Network of Concerned Anthropologists.

    The former conjures an image of imperialist armies, the latter a circle of bearded sandal wearers holding hands, furrowed brows prominent.

    I have a (vague) beard so I know where I stand, but to be honest as Laura hints, research is perhaps preferable (more effective) to petitions.

  7. The irony of Tim’s claim that “research is perhaps preferable (more effective) to petition” is that some of anthropology’s best researchers of the military industrial complex are listed among those who circulated this petition.

    None of these people are saying “don’t study it,” they are saying there are something anthropologists should do, and counterinsurgency anthropology is one of them.

  8. Yes. That’s what I am saying: I like their research more than their petition. I think it will be more effective.

  9. Just a quick point at Dazed Grad Student: I don’t see anything *here* about McNamara’s support (or non-support) of military uses of anthropology. So far, I’ve seen her writing about how we might study such uses and why it might be important to do so. I don’t think those are even arguable positions; it is a good idea to study the way the military uses anthropology, and FOIA docs are one good way to do that. I don’t see anything in choosing to study this that implies support, so unless McNamara comes out and says, all Moos-like, “America is at war and whatever anthropologists can do to assure we win is fine” then I don’t see the problem.

    Meanwhile, I share the concern about Concerned Anthropologists. I know some of the Network folks personally, though, and none of the folks I know are petition-pushers. So I expect more action down the road. As noted, too, they’re all researchers of the relationship between anthro and the military/intelligence complex, so this certainly isn’t empty posturing. They do, however, all have beards.

  10. I’ve cited Catherine Lutz and Keith Brown twice in my last post as examples of great work on anthropology and militarism. Also, if anyone’s interested, I’ve got a chapter in Bryan Taylor et al’s book, Nuclear Legacies, on the issue of knowlege loss and the reconfiguration of expertise in the post Cold war era.

    I know few of the people setting out the petition (and it’s not a petition, it’s a pledge) and they’re solid scholars. I’ve known Hugh for years, David Price and I are on the AAA’s Ad Hoc Commission on (and the rest of the unwieldy name escapes me), and I’ve met Catherine Lutz and read quite a bit of her work. They’re rock solid scholars – so’s Keith Brown, if you don’t know his work. He’s great.

    I see an interesting parallel between the nuclear weapons experts that I’ve written about and the anthropology community: both worry about what’s commonly referred to in the national security world as the “insider threat,” the idea that someone has infiltrated the ranks of the faithful and is passing knowledge to the enemy, who will use that knowledge in dangerous ways.

    Harry, I watch my husband with his razor, and wish I could shave my face every single morning.

  11. Laura writes:

    bq. Oh, dear, I don’t have a beard. But I’ve got Birkenstocks. Or I did until my dog ate them.

    That’s OK–its an excuse to get some Chacos, which are much sounder and more rigorous footwear.

  12. Laura wrote: “Note particularly the last sentence [‘and the fact that the detention operation at Guantanamo violates legal rights guaranteed by the US Constitution (3924)’]. You say that I ignore the fact that they exist in extra-legal limbo, but as I noted, above, the detainees themselves point out the irony of their captivity, and ask what, precisely, this says about the United States.”

    This is precisely my point. You ‘do’ acknowledge this fact – that all detainees are held without charges in secret detention facilities – and ‘yet’ move on to other, more technical questions that ‘assume’ and ‘accept’ this horrific condition.

    Your interest, quite clearly, is less in the “alien Other” than in the interrogators. Your analyses consistently return to a comparative analysis of which agency is ‘best’. But why judge and compare the techniques of interrogation at all? Why are the techniques the focus of your work? –This is what I meant by your working to ‘improve’ the interrogation model. That is, because the fact of the extra-legal status of the detainees does not prevent your compare and contrast analysis of ‘rapport building’ vs ‘coercion’. Why should this latter difference matter at all? Why are you so interested in fixing the hierarchy of the ‘degrees’ of evils? For instance, you note:

    “Alfred McCoy’s book, A Question of Torture, does a nice job differentiating between FBI and other agencies’ approaches to interrogation – as he points out on page 207, ‘While the Army, Navy, and CIA are now mired in painful internal inquiries over torture, the FBI has emerged from four years of the war on terror with no charges of human rights abuse.’ / I’ll get a lot of flack for saying this, but in the spirit of Tom’s comment above – about practical alternatives – if you want to point to the least of evils, FBI’s interrogation style is probably the best alternative. But then again, I think that the Army’s Field Manual 34-52 also emphasized building rapport, and certainly emphasize the importance of not violating the Geneva Conventions.”

    But why stress that one manual or another emphasizes rapport building or discourages violation of the Geneva Conventions when the whole question presupposes a violation of – who cares about a convention – people’s lives, freedom, well-being, etc? (Are you suggesting, as well, that the Army doesn’t violate the Geneva Conventions?) If the detainees are extra-legal prisoners, why review and pick apart which of their captors treats them better? (You seem also to suggest that as long as one agency, the DHS or CIA, is especially horrific in their treatment, then a seemingly less violent treatment will ipso facto gain a moral honor.) This is what I mean when I observe that the fact of the illegality of their detention does not truly figure into your analysis. In fact, it is precisely what must be elided if you are to engage in the kind of technical review you confine your analysis to.

    Indeed, if one were to do an ethnographic analysis of interrogation/detention/torture, the focal point should equally be the detainees themselves. In which case the interrogation itself would be one moment amongst others. (In fact, the scene of the interrogation – which seems to bring to mind the crisp image of a table and two chairs, a transcript, a discourse – has the effect of ‘civilizing’ what is essentially an altogether brutal system.) Where is the ethnographic attention to the horrific conditions of their indefinite imprisonment? the worry over their families? the loss of contact with everyone? the denial of even the least legal rights? the torture and humiliation? One could just as well ask why the detainee, in your model, is the “alien Other”. Why does your point of view reproduce the military’s? Isn’t the interrogator, if anyone is, the “alien other”? What is the benefit of using this term in the first place?

    In any case, you specifically refer to one agency’s treatment of detainees as the preferable “practical alternative” – which can only mean that you have an opinion or recommendation for how these detainees ‘should’ be interrogated. They ‘should’ be interrogated? Your reservations with the pledge – “Is this a purely internal phenomenon, or will it communicate something to the people making policy? Does this make us relevant in the way we want to be relevant?” – is for this reason frightening. Clearly, you are interested in a more active working with the military – in spite of the lack of legal rights of the detainees, in spite of the illegal occupation, etc. Which makes sense: You are an inter-organizational efficiency expert for the military. You already work for them, solving military problems, increasing their efficiency in a highly practical capacity. (In this light, I don’t understand oneman’s comment, in support of Laura’s position, that “I also firmly believe that anthropologists should not be working under the aegis of the military or intelligence agencies.”)

    As for oneman’s faith in Laura’s ‘security clearance’ I would say 1) it doesn’t seem that the archives she’s using are due to any special clearance (aren’t they public?), and 2) if they are, it’s because she works ‘for’ the military (which makes oneman’s comment that anthropologists shouldn’t work under the aegis of the military all the more confusing). Furthermore, we should be more than a little disturbed that Laura’s reaction to the redactions is to claim that the documents’ censorship is immaterial to her analysis: “the problem of redactions is the same problem anyone doing archival research faces – documents are always somewhat silent.” But there is a difference between ‘silence’ and ‘silenced’. But in Laura’s view, there is apparently no difference between redaction and non-redaction, censorship and non-censorship – which indicates yet another place where politics and oppression are muted or cleverly evacuated in Laura’s work.

    It is unfortunate that this debate is even necessary, or that there would even be ‘tiny’ reservations to the simple pledge – a pledge that should be the premise for this discussion. We should be ten steps past the pledge and no one should we wondering how they can work with or for or in the military. One shouldn’t be discussing how to interrogate detainees; one should be discussing how to help detainees get free of detention. Likewise, anthropologists shouldn’t be working with the military; they should be working with Iraqis, Afghanis, and especially insurgents, to inform them ‘of’ the military. Isn’t this the obvious corollary to the pledge against assisting the counter-insurgency – namely, to support the insurgency itself? (And what prevents the public articulation of this support? A secret fear of detention, perhaps?) And this, in my opinion, is where the discussion should turn: how can anthropologists, or anyone for that matter, help the insurgents?

  13. Living in Austria and having had a big family before WWII, I have to say that I am glad and happy, that Allies – then – helped to free the country bearing in mind to establish democracy. I think it should be clear, that anthropologists have little to do with military.

  14. Comet Jo, I almost bought a new pair of Birks this weekend, but maybe I’ll go get some Chacos instead. The test is the barn… how do they do in the barn?

    icmole, you didn’t answer my previous question: Where are the “countless documents” citing Patai? They’d be good for my research.

    I work only from publicly available data – the ACLU has the most accessible database.

  15. Anthropologists may have little to do with the military, but does the military have little to do with anthropology?

    It simply cannot be denied that the military has of late taken a great interest in cultural knowledge, ethnographies, anthropological texts, etc. For instance, take a loot at (–these should all be searchable): Elizabeth Bledsoe, Maj, “The Use of Culture in Operational Planning,” Dissertation, Master of Military Art ad Science, Faculty of the US Army Command and General Staff College. Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, 2005, pp. 19, 29 37, 38, 47, 70 all use Patai authoritatively. And I hate to return to Patai, but – despite the objections that I’m the one ‘finding’ his work everywhere – it simply remains true that military thinkers love his work and continue to cite him in fresh domains. In Bledsoe’s text he is used to disqualify Iraqi resistance as a function of their inherent (excessive) ‘honor’: “This mind-set is recognizable today in Iraq especially in those people who are so vehemently against the US occupation. In fact their violent reaction to the US occupation is also notably Arab. Arab beliefs allow violence to protect a person’s honor especially when they have been wronged. ‘The blood feud is an organic part and inevitable consequence of the intensive group cohesion which characterizes the Arab ethos’ (Patai 1973, 209)” (30). (Reprimands against studying Patai’s influence on the military is accordingly tantamount to concealing the fact that he is really is influential – and criticism should reflect this.)

    See also: Montgomery McFate, J.D. PhD, “Anthropology and Counterinsurgency: The Strange Story of their Curious Relationship,” Military Review (March-April 2005): 24–38. In this article, the author (an academic anthropologist) responds to Hersh’s article with yet another Patai-based claim (whom he cites) that humiliation should not have been used (for tactical opposed to ethical reasons) because ‘honor’ is a specific Arab weakness: “As Bernard Brodie said of the French Army in 1914, ‘This was neither the first nor the last time that bad anthropology contributed to bad strategy.’ Using sexual humiliation to blackmail Iraqi men into becoming informants could never have worked as a strategy since it only destroys honor, and for Iraqis, lost honor requires its restoration through the appeasement of blood. This concept is well developed in Iraqi culture, and there is even a specific Arabic word for it: al-sharaf, upholding one’s manly honor. The alleged use of Patai’s book as the basis of the psychological torment at Abu Ghraib, devoid of any understanding of the broader context of Iraqi culture, demonstrates the folly of using decontextualized culture as the basis of policy.” The author then suggests that the military adopt an anthropology informed by population-oriented (rather than psychology-oriented) “exploitations”: “Regardless of whether anthropologists decide to enter the national-security arena, cultural information will inevitably be used as the basis of military operations and public policy. […] To defeat the insurgency in Iraq, U.S. and coalition forces must recognize and exploit the underlying tribal structure of the country; the power wielded by traditional authority figures; the use of Islam as a political ideology; the competing interests of the Shia, the Sunni, and the Kurds; the psychological effects of totalitarianism; and the divide between urban and rural, among other things.”

    And who is Montgomery McFate? He is the anthropologist who made a stir –
    see, for instance, the San Francisco Chronicle article “Montgomery McFate’s Mission: Can one anthropologist possibly steer the course in Iraq?” (29 April 2007) – by, insisting that one should not ‘scold’ the military but ‘educate’ them. This ‘education’ would apparently include reviving Patai’s book and using it to manipulate Iraqis through population control strategies. As he told the Chronicle, “If Patai’s book had been used correctly, they would never have done that.”

    Or, if you would like to see more general uses of past anthropological texts, see: Constantin Emilian Beleaga, “The Role of Cultural Understanding and Language Training in Unconventional Warfare,” Dissertation, Naval Postgraduate School, Monterey, California, December 2004. In this text, Patai’s own sources – which were for the most part the pseudo-anthropologists in the service of the British colonial government – receive a fresh relevance for learning how to crush the present insurgency. Bertram Thomas is quoted authoritatively throughout, to establish the Iraqis’ innate “warrior ethos” (p. 58) that must be quelled through curfews, barricades, checkpoints, random searches, and the now ubiquitous ‘concertina perimeter’.

    The British occupation is now routinely analytically studied by the military to inform American population management strategies, which is ostensibly oriented by a new cultural and anthropological education. See, for instance, the aptly titled: “Draining the Swamp: The British Strategy of Population Control” by Wade Markel for Parameters (Spring 2006); Louis A. DiMarco, Colonel Lieutenant, “Traditions, Changes, and Challenges: Military Operations and the Middle Eastern City,” Combat Studies Institute Press, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, 2002.; Matthew W. Williams, “The British Experience in Iraq from 1914–1926: What Wisdom can the United States Draw from its Experience?” Dissertation, US Army Command General Staff College, Master of Military Art and Science, Department of Defense, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, 2004.; “Urban Population Control in a Counterinsurgency” by Mounir Elkhamri, Lester W. Grau, Laurie King-Irani, Amanda S. Mitchell and Lenny Tasa-Bennett, Foreign Military Studies Office, US Air Force, Department of Defense, 2005. These methods are being applied to the domestic scene as well: “Strategy for Homeland Defense and Civil Support,” by the Department of Defense, June 2005.

    These are all recent works and they all use both contemporary and dated anthropological texts and methods in the project of developing (reprehensible) counter-insurgency population control strategies. (I don’t think I need to list of the horrific measures these programs proscribe.) These writers are also analysts, working from the top to implement real plans, real conditions for whole populations.

    So, who cares if these are texts and ideas are not ‘really’ anthropological, and who cares if academic anthropologists are (for now) less involved in these strategies than are the military’s own ‘applied anthropologists’? The greater point is that the military makes a claim to cultural understanding, and these claims can be identified and attacked. It is a front for which ‘real’ anthropologists are most equipped to tackle. And to insist that anthropology and the military do not intersect misses this point. They ‘should’ intersect, if only in opposition.

  16. ICMole, When you mention that anthropologists should “help the insurgents,” in your post above, what exactly did you have in mind?

    Just curious.

  17. Pulling back a little bit from the immediately preceding debate, I would like to articulate a very general position that motivates a decision not to sign this pledge. It is daunting, of course, as a young scholar, to stand up in opposition to the combined personal commitment of older scholars whose work I deeply respect, and who hold positions of institutional influence relevant to my professional future. That discomfort is among the reasons I feel compelled to write. Pledges, petitions, resolutions, indeed the whole effort to proactively polarize anthropology as a prophylactic against its “weaponization,” seems a profoundly debilitating cure for a rather speculative affliction. The immediate practical effect of putting politics at the forefront of scholarship is the increasing difficulty we are experiencing – here, now – in talking about what is going on without first (or second) taking sides. And this new era, the war-on-terror-as-global-counter-insurgency, seems a time when we need to be doing precisely that, we need to be having a conversation that encourages participation from every vantage point of observation. This is, quite simply, the only way we will be able to find out what is actually going on. Anxieties about the why and how of doing scholarly work in politically complex times are real and profound, of course; but the ethic of scholarship as a vocation (to invoke Weber’s essay) lies in accepting these anxieties as a fact of our profession, not taking them as a mandate to pledge that we will only deal in truths “for” or “against” some particular political position. Isn’t the defining imperative of anthropology as a scholarly discipline the creation of a dialogical imagination that encompasses all sides in human interaction? This would not present itself as being the most morally comfortable endeavor even in the best of times, certainly not in a time of war.

    So, I am not going to sign this pledge. Not yet, at least. If anyone can give me a compelling explanation of a concrete, instrumental logic that connects a polarized anthropology to a better tomorrow, I am willing to reconsider my position. Of course, it seems to me that in order to make such an explanation, it would be necessary to first provide an accurate picture of the total logic of global counterinsurgency: exactly the object that “taking sides” is preventing us from seeing.

  18. Interesting that academe is willing to take on the military, which I think it essentializes and turns into a monolithic entity, but cannot take on academe itself and cannot grapple, as yet, with the denial of academic freedom to those whose research and public outreach activities focus on the plight of the Palestinians and the deep and deleterious involvement of the US government, media, and scholarly community in that plight.

    Another point: the military assumes, incorrectly, that it can use anthropology as a tool. But anthropology is intrinsically subversive and requires and demands an analysis of oneself, one’s own assumptions, positioning, and interests. THIS is interesting and can be useful in enlightening the military and the US public about the racist assumptions underlying most US involvement in the Middle East — economic, political, military, and yes: academic, too.

    How many people commenting here have actually lived in a war zone? How many of you realize that low-ranking US troops are just as victimized as the Iraqis they are sent to “civilize”? How many of you realize that insurgents and counter-insurgents are both involved in killing innocent civilians and destroying civilian infrastructure and committing grave breaches of international humanitarian law? It’s not like we can use anthropology to either a) support the insurgents or b) support the counterinsurgency. It’s really a sad statement about academic training that after getting a Ph.D. one can only think in binary categories. Think outside the box if you want to be revolutionary. Question the structures that enabled this whole mess to begin with (Iraq), if you do, you’ll see that it did not start in the military but in think tanks and was nourished by a media/scholarly environment that defines Arabs and Muslims as subhuman and vicious. Racisim certainly affects the military, as does stupidity and a dire lack of critical thought, but they hardly have a monopoly on these ills. Can anthropologists play a role in informing the military and the government that Patai is a truly lousy (and indeed, a racist) source for understanding the Middle East? Probably. Should they? One can educate the military without being complicit in their crimes, and one should, as a good ethnographer, see how those crimes are woven into other institutional structures far beyond the miltary, and how the operative ideologies about evil Arabs work at a very subtle but lethal level in the classroom and the newsroom.

  19. Why is the pledge “polarizing anthropology?” Why isn’t human terrain anthropology polarizing anthropology? I read the pledge and thought it was a simple statement from a group of respected scholars, most of whom have spent years doing careful studies of military and anthropology interactions, so this is not outside their professional expertise. If they want to tell us what they think, good for them. I get why they don’t choose to be quiet during times as anthropology is militarized. Lots of us are growing uneasy over the AAA’s silence about human terrain work, and I respect these scholars decision to make a statement about their nonsupport for these military uses of anthropology. A lot of people are scared to criticize what anthropologists are doing for the army and cia. There is a lot of power and money backing this work, and universities are very uneasy about scholars criticizing funding sources. There is no pressure to sign or not sign. If you have other strong feelings about these matters, write your own pledge and let others know what you won’t do, and what you want to do.

  20. I haven’t said anything about security clearance; not sure whee that comes from. I also haven’t endorsed Laura’s position, I’ve simply supported her in raising the issues she’s raising here. I don’t support anthropology under the aegis of the military; I’m not sure how that contradicts my insistence that people read what Laura’s writing and not what they imagine she must be writing, based on whatever pre-conceptions they’re bringing to this site.

  21. Bishop, I don’t think the pledge is polarizing anthropology – I think anthropology’s already polarized, with a large body of people in the middle quietly trying to figure out where they stand. This is exactly the kind of discussion we need to be having. If we can keep it civil and respectful, that constitutes a triumph.

    Bravo Laurie King-Irani for pointing out the complexities of power and suffering in the war experience. I’ve seen quite a bit of armchair critique of the military, and not much attempt to understand or engage with the experience of people on the ground in any of the settings where empire is being played out. This is exactly why I got into the interrogation documents, and why I’m trying to set up interviews with interrogators. I realize this is armchair-ish, but I can’t get into the interrogation room – and the ethical complexities of that kind of fieldwork are way too hard for me to address here, though Sahlins did a great job with that very issue in Vietnam. In any case, there’s a lot of documentation that I can access to at least develop some sense of what’s going on, and I can write about that, and hey – that’s where anthropology’s subversive tendencies are most powerful (and unique to our discipline). Laurie is far more articulate than I am, though, and made that point far better than I did.

    However, we seem all-too-willing to shred institutions that we don’t like, often without doing a lot of homework (there are dramatic exceptions to this rule, like Lutz, Rubinstein, et al) and far less able to critique our own institutions (academe). For example, I often hear anthropologists talk about the “national security community” in sweeping and essentializing terms that they would NEVER use with any other community. What does that say about anthropology?

    At the risk of misreading Laurie and Jeff M, I see them urging scholars to move out of binary categories of thinking and a lot of speculation, both of which restrict our impact to, mostly, statements that we read and share and debate among ourselves.

    While I’m entirely sympathetic with the aims of the people who’ve developed and signed the pledge – I don’t want ethnographic information being used to target people; who does? – I don’t know that the pledge itself gives us any leverage to change anything. Right now, we’re like Hamlet: “To engage or not engage?” Like Hamlet, I see anthropology paralyzed with a largely introspective search for the evil within (and you know what happens to HIS family).

    There’s something going on here that we need to discuss openly: people worried about Human Terrain (e.g., Bishop) feel like their concerns aren’t being addressed by the AAA, and are worried about this juggernaut. Hence, I think, the pledge. Look, I work in a national laboratory and I’m skeptical about HTS, though I will be the first to admit that I know next to NOTHING about it, except hearsay and rumors. I’m not going to base my opinion on hearsay and rumors (as you might expect). Instead, I’m willing to listen to the people who are working it, and to be open to the outcome that they might, actually, have a point of view that’s worth considering. So I’ve contacted several of them, and I’m going to ask a lot of questions, and listen. I am willing to entertain the notion that my colleagues might actually be using HTS to subvert the military’s dominant internal discourses, might be pushing what the program demands of them into directions that its developers might not have expected… or at least to learn about the internal workings of the military-in-action – and that they might be able to do so in a completely ethical and above-board way, without violating the code of ethics. As Jeff M points out, we are living in astoundingly complicated times, and we need to get comfortable with some anxiety, and not forget that we’re learning as we go.

    Bishop, if you want to feel less silenced, go do some homework. Read everything you can find about the program. Use that to write a letter to the people who’ve developed the program, listing your concerns and questions. Keep it empirical and calm, and point out the inconsistencies that you see with the Code of Ethics, human subjects issues, and what you know about HTS. Explain why anthropologists are worried about HTS, and ask to meet with the HTS program. Listen with an ethnographic ear, NOT so you’ll be brainwashed, but so you’ve got the information necessary to establish an informed position and effective critique.

    In other words, use your scholarly tools to engage professionally. The worst that can happen is that you’ll get ignored…. in which case, you start writing about that.

  22. Oneman is right. No one said anything about security clearances, and Laura has no security clearance, people should stop trying to pretend that she is part of the military establishment. She has no special security clearance, her work is just like that of any other anthropologist only the “tribe” she has decided to study is the military.

  23. LT, Thanks for the support….

    However, I wrote a dissertation on the nuclear weapons programs at LANL and got a security clearance then, as I describe in my dissertation (which used to be posted at the Federation of American Scientists’ website; you can read all about what it’s like to get a clearance in chapter 2). And currently, my tribe is a small group of mathematicians and computer scientists, not the military.

    You’re right about my not being part of the military establishment, though, and my professional life is irrelevant in this context, no matter how hard the trolls might try to drag it in. I don’t have access to anything in interrogation or torture that you don’t have access to, and I’m using all publicly available documents. I’m doing this research as a US citizen exercising my First Amendment rights, and as an anthropologist who thinks that the torture and interrogation documents are worth investigating and critiquing through an anthropological lens, though I’m still figuring out what that means. This is one hundred percent my own personal time, resources, and effort.

    Which is the point: anyone can dive in and do their own research on interrogation and torture, not just people with special clearances. There are less depressing ways to spend a weekend, of course.

    By the way, I’m starting my own personal blog on the experience of reading interrogation documents, and as soon as I’ve got more material I’ll let everyone know where it is.

  24. Laura McNamara’s admission of classified security clearance status shocked me and made me look back at some of what she has written on savage minds. If she really does work for a “weapons lab” then I reject her claim that she is not part of the military establishment, especially when so many of her claims side with their interests, and her changing story about torture maintains military views. All views should be allowed and welcomed, but they should be recognized as what they are as well as the context in which they are formed.

  25. I’m not sure this is the best place for my first post, but I’ve been following this discussion and I think we continue to miss Laurie King-Irani’s excellent point (which resonates with Jeff M.’s comments): this is not about choosing sides. There are no clear good guys or bad guys; indeed, what matters in terms of good scholarship is understanding, as Laurie puts it, “the structures that enabled this whole mess …”, which of course involves much more than secretive meetings between government agents and traitor anthropologists. It’s silly to think of either the military-intelligence complex or academic anthropology as monolithic singularities, and complicity in the enabling of “this whole mess” (I can’t think of a better way to capture it all) is more complicated than belonging to one “tribe” or another or having security clearance or not. It is only through our attempts to comprehend the complexities of the intersection between anthropology and the military and the knots of power and knowledge (sometimes furthered by anthropological scholarship, sometimes emerging from reductionist takes on good scholarship, etc.) that are bound up in the legalistic reasoning and deeper ideologies behind Guantanamo et al. that we can refute the poor ethnography of Patai as well as make sense of our place as a community in this conflict.

    I wholeheartedly endorse a petition that calls into question anthropology’s “use” in torture and its justifications (that doesn’t mean I’ll sign it), but as scholars, I feel we should move beyond choosing sides and towards a holistic investigation of the military-intelligence complex, where interrogators, the interrogated (taking into account both their status as psychologically and physically oppressed objects of interrogation and as potential resisting subjects with real–if circumscribed–agency), government-adopted ideologies, debate within the military and intelligence communities, and even anthropologists play a part.

  26. Well said, Taylor.

    LT, I’m sorry that my “outing” caused you to rethink what you’d written. But I won’t lie to you, and I’d urge you to consider whether you really believe that institutional affiliation negates the agency of individuals to think critically.

  27. this might be a good place to suggest that LT (and maybe Laura too) take a moment to reread Kant’s “What is Enlightenment?” which is a model statement of the problematic of speaking truth to power while staying employed.

  28. RE: the pledge, I don’t think it polarizes our field, and I do support it. I think we in academe have just not gone far enough or looked closely enough at all the dimensions of this military-anthro nexus. Participation in the Human Terrain project would automatically require anthropologists to break the ethics code, but more to the point, serving in a quasi-military capacity in an illegal war in Iraq (it was launched in contravention of UN Charter Chapter 7 and has proceeded with no regard for the Geneva Conventions or the Convention for the Prevention of Torture) could expose anthropologists to future war crimes prosecution. The quandary is, that the military can train its own anthropologists, use our works, ideas, theories, and methods, and there is not much we can do about that. Worse still, the military itself faces the challenge of what to do about the Corporate Warrior phenomenon (Blackwater is a good example), as they are a private militia that the US govt. depends upon greatly in Iraq, and there is little oversight and not much accountability or communication between these mercenaries and the US military. But what sort of sociopolitical and economic systems have given rise to such a phenomenon? That’s what anthropologists can and should be studying. As Laura Nader said long ago, and too few of us have followed this advice “Study Up.” I got interested in these military issues through my involvement with the International Justice Watch Listserv and my research and writing on the question of whether International Law has a local address. I got to know a lot about war crimes and the Geneva Conventions, and made the acquaintance of Military Lawyers through the aforementioned listserv. They were as alarmed as I was about Abu Ghraib and the ethical, legal, and logistical consequences of urban warfare, and I learned a lot from the debates on that list. Not everyone in the military is evil. The military is a tool, not the font of decision making. I just suggest that we look at how the whole ideological/political construct fits together.

    Five years ago, at the end of Israel’s devastating “Operation: Defensive Shield” in the West Bank, I wrote about the complex cultural and sociopolitical system that keeps this thinking in place and tried to expose the underlying psychological needs and cognitive maps that prevent Americans from seeing things clearly in Israel and Palestine. I am posting it here again:

    Dangerous Assumptions: Insidious Ideologies and Necessary Questions

    (Canada, 8 May 2002) — Social anthropologists are always on the lookout for dominant ideologies, those structuring systems of ideas, beliefs, and attitudes that undergird and orient everyday thoughts and actions. Such belief systems are usually so self-evident that they seem unremarkable. As the late French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu once noted, “What goes without saying comes without saying.” To see the gears and circuitry of a well-oiled, effective ideology in action, it helps to spend some time in an alternative ideological universe, i.e., another culture.

    Submersion in unfamiliar social realities is a key personal and professional rite of passage for anthropologists. Although field research often causes culture shock–a deep and anguishing reassessment of all that one has heretofore assumed to be received wisdom–such forays into other cultural universes also engender invaluable insights into and compassion for others’ experiences and world views.

    Lately I find that simply surfing between CNN, BBC, and CBC to watch the latest news reports from the Middle East provides me with a whole week’s worth of alternative realities. The BBC news presenter appears to find Israel’s refusal to allow a UN commission to investigate events at Jenin a matter of some gravity. This news is not even mentioned on CNN during the same hour. Rather, the blonde and winsome CNN presenter tells us that the “mother of the Barbie doll” has passed away, immediately brightening her tone as she informs us that a new cure for baldness may soon be in the offing.

    Meanwhile, CBC has just aired an award-winning documentary, “The Accused,” presenting compelling evidence of Ariel Sharon’s culpability for war crimes in Lebanon in 1982. The documentary, initially produced for BBC, is not likely to be shown on US public or commercial television anytime soon. It does not mesh with the received wisdom and the tacit ideological boundaries of American discourses about the Middle East, Israel, justice, or the ideological key-word of our new heroic age: terror. Thus, it does not exist as far as Americans are concerned.

    A recent business trip to the US revealed some dangerous assumptions undergirding mainstream US ideologies and attitudes concerning the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Assumptions provide important clues to the hidden workings of any ideological system, and hence warrant concern, reflection, and critical debate, especially when such assumptions lead to innocent people’s deaths.

    The Root Assumption: “Revenge is Justice,” or “Might makes Right.”

    One need not look at the current carnage in Israel and Palestine or its depiction in the mainstream US media (or the fact that 66 percent of Americans feel that Israel’s brutal attacks on Palestinian towns, villages, and refugee camps constitute a proper and balanced response to suicide bombings), to see this assumption in operation. One can simply look at a decade’s worth of civilian deaths in Iraq caused partly by sanctions, or the recent US carpet-bombing of Afghanistan, which has probably killed as many innocent people as were murdered by al-Qa’eda’s attacks on NYC and Washington DC last September, without accomplishing the putative aim: the killing or capture of Osama Bin Laden. The fact that no one talks about this, or encourages a minute’s reflection of the long-term implications of our “war on terror,” indicates the deep-rooted and insidious working of this basic assumption.

    Ensuing Assumptions: “Our dead are victims, their dead are collateral damage.”

    This is a particularly deadly assumption, one that encourages arrogance and inhumanity and can easily lead to the commission of atrocities and other criminal acts–albeit gussied-up to look like noble behavior, national destiny, or the will of God. The concordance and harmony between Israeli and American versions of this particularly dangerous assumption should ring alarm bells. The fact that it does not reveals the triumph of an even more dangerous and unquestioned underlying assumption.

    The poisonous fruit of these unexamined and dangerous assumptions is racism, an ideology which holds that “We are humans deserving of pity and concern; others are mere objects to be eliminated.” In my travels through the Middle East as an anthropologist and journalist I’ve had some disturbing experiences, but nothing can compare to the the shock and dismay I have felt upon realizing that old friends and colleagues in the US have embraced, unquestioningly, the racist views and attitudes of a war criminal like Ariel Sharon.

    The noxious effects of the racist assumptions and ideologies metastasizing throughout American society are evident in the shameless call on national television by an elected US official, Dick Armey, for the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians. It was again visible in the recent US decision to withdraw from the International Criminal Court. International Law? Not for us. We are the chosen people; we alone are to judge and punish unilaterally, never are we to be judged or called to account. What we say goes.

    Our chief client state, Israel, clearly cherishes the same assumption. Sadly, no one in the world seems to have the political clout or powers of persuasion to disabuse either Israel or the US of these dangerously arrogant notions.

    Of course, it is hard to say who is adopting whose ideology here, since both the US and Israel are equally given to disturbingly narcissistic tendencies. Both countries tend to view their own actions, however unsavory, as “ordained by God” and to see themselves as anointed peoples guided by a manifest destiny justifying the killing and displacement of indigenous populations, the dehumanization of all who disagree with them, and the crushing of dissent, even as both societies preen in the glow of self-congratulation at their self-appointed role as guardians of democracy, civilization, and “the free world.”

    The totalizing effects of these dangerous ideological assumptions are best seen in Israelis’ utter astonishment at Palestinian rage after nearly four decades of a humiliating occupation, and US citizens’ daft question, posed again and again post-9-11: “Why do they hate us?”

    If we don’t hold a critical mirror up to US and Israeli racist ideological assumptions, if we don’t question the received wisdom undergirding both countries’ brutal actions and arrogant attitudes, we are setting the stage for many years of bloodshed, hatred, and violence. Dehumanizing racist ideologies usually lead to massive destruction and innocents’ deaths. It is high time for average Americans and average Israelis to assume nothing and question everything that their elected rulers say and do.

    It may cause a serious case of culture shock, but that’s a small price to pay if it saves a single Palestinian, Israeli, or American life.

  29. The greater point is that the military makes a claim to cultural understanding, and these claims can be identified and attacked. It is a front for which ‘real’ anthropologists are most equipped to tackle. Good point. But helping the military understand that it doesn’t understand will surely help the military. no?

  30. Laurie King-Irani writes:

    The quandary is, that the military can train its own anthropologists, use our works, ideas, theories, and methods, and there is not much we can do about that.

    Is that true, though? Who in the military can teach anthropology — not a handful of stereotypes about some Other, but the real, nuanced, relativistic and holistic perspective that makes anthropology work? Who is going to take on themselves the responsibility of teaching military personnel the value of cultural practices and the way humans adapt to their physical, economic, and social environment, and then send them out to kill? Or even to administer occupied territories, a task that — to be realistic — involves imposing the conqueror’s worldview on the conquered?

    At the most basic level, is militarism compatible in any way with anthropology?

  31. Dear Oneman,

    In my earlier post, I think I answered this question about whether or not the military can really teach anthropology:

    ‘Another point: the military assumes, incorrectly, that it can use anthropology as a tool. But anthropology is intrinsically subversive and requires and demands an analysis of oneself, one’s own assumptions, positioning, and interests. THIS is interesting and can be useful in enlightening the military and the US public about the racist assumptions underlying most US involvement in the Middle East—economic, political, military, and yes: academic, too.’

    So, no: they can’t really teach anthropology, but it’s interesting to note that Army’s Foreign Military Studies Office has advocated use of the “Red Teaming” approach to understanding the “enemy Other,” and that this requires assuming a completely different subject position and leaving behind all cultural and political assumptions. It’s probably the closest thing to a “jumping off” point for doing real anthropology, i.e., anthropology that doesn’t simply study a situation, but transforms one’s entire conception of the social and political constructs underlying that situation, in other words, an opportunity for critical analysis and reflectivity.

    This “red team” approach is a bit controversial, from what I understand from the little research I’ve been able to do about how the military does anthropology.

    Is militarism compatible with genuine anthropology? Probably not. In fact, real anthropology, done well, with intellectual and moral integrity, would probably constitute an IED (Intellectual Explosive Device) to the ideological underpinnings of the war in Iraq, but in so doing, it “comes home” to contemporary US political culture and our own unexamined but very powerful discourses about “freedom” and “democracy.”

    What seems to pass for “anthropological” approaches to the war in Iraq are characterized by a lot of “tribe-talk”. We ‘have to understand the tribal structure if we are to defeat the insurgents….’

    Well, what is a tribe? Is it a type, a thing, a tradition, an indigenous institution, or a process/diagnostic of particular power realities? Ethnographies like “Tribes on the Hill,” about the workings of the US Congress, use the term “tribe” to jokingly illuminate that US politics play out according to ideas and processes that are not exactly rooted in The Enlightenment. Up until the era of the sanctions in Iraq (mid-1990s) tribal affiliation was not a legal basis for formal political representation in Iraq. Saddam Hussein, hemmed in by the Sanctions, reactiviated tribal ideologies and organization for his own benefit, getting around Modern Iraqi state dismay at “tribalism” by saying that the Baath party was the Tribe of all Tribes. (see Sarah Graham Brown’s 1999 book “Sanctioning Saddam” [I.B. Tauris]).

    It seems that military anthro takes the Orientalist view that Iraqi tribes are monolithic and timeless entitities, and key components of Iraqi Culture or Tradition. To really unpack what is going on under the rubric of “the tribal” now in Iraq would lead any open-minded and honest anthropologist to the conclusion that Saddam Hussein and the US army, no less than Sunni and Shi’i insurgent leaders, have more to do with the formation and practice of “tribes” than does Iraqi “Culture.”

    You can’t understand anything going on politically at the local level in Iraq without a critical and fine-grained historical grasp of national, regional and international intervention in the politics of Iraq. That means turning a very critical eye on US foreign policy, media, education, and public discourse. Military anthropologists who do this will be out of a job quickly.

  32. (Re: pledges and polarization)

    Beyond the outcome of the war in Iraq (and without much regard to it), what seems to me to be specifically at stake for anthropologists here is the practical maintenance of a functioning conceptual space that rises above the sorts of immediate political relevance that compel reaction. The existence of this space is absolutely necessary for our ability to concentrate on discerning the wider historical transformations going on around us, in which we are embedded, which so often proceed through generating a blinding compulsion to take sides. It seems crucial to me that polarization, the compulsion to take sides, to be either “against” something or “for” something else, is not accepted as an organic aspect of the endeavor of anthropological thought. When it becomes necessary to take sides, it is no longer anthropology. It is something else (i.e. politics) and should be treated accordingly. Most importantly, it must be kept from closing the openings we need for thinking.

    Consider how, as the conversation on the SM comment board started policing itself by challenging its participants to justify their own moral position, it effectively closed itself to the voices of people living in morally incoherent spaces; creating a climate of debate that made it worthless, uncomfortable and/or impossible for people in ethnographic contact with the dirty cutting edges of contemporary history to tell us about their experience, their observations, their participation. Case in point: where is Marcus Griffin right now? Inside the Human Terrain System. Where is his voice? It is on the internet, he is actively blogging his experience doing applied anthropology under military contract in Iraq ( Why aren’t we talking with him? Why isn’t he talking with us? What have we gained by establishing a public stance against what he is doing? What have we lost?

    Anthropology (and individual anthropologists) needs to maintain itself as a human attempt to actively foster dialogue across all types of difference, including political divisions. The goal of AAA meetings ought to be to embody this ideal by creating a space where every perspective on current events is encouraged to participate in a scholarly dialogue that exemplifies the values of tolerance and free thinking above all other political goals. This space absolutely must include people with working relationships to policy actors, American or not, military or otherwise. This seems like a realistic ideal. But there is a lot of energy moving in the opposite direction right now. Is this movement actually aimed towards some concrete goal? What is that goal, exactly? How does the sacrifice of scholarly neutrality actually move us towards that goal? I just dont see it.

    Think about this in terms of your own classroom. How do you welcome the voices of returning veterans into a collective discussion that reflects on personal experience (AKA ethnography) in a way that embodies the egalitarian and relativistic values of anthropological thought? What kind of leadership do you provide to allow the learning community constituted under your custody to experience the insights available from holding itself to a specifically anthropological discipline? What kind of position do you have to maintain relative to the classroom community in order to make that kind of leadership possible?

    That, IMHO, is the context where the practical meaning of “anthropological ethics” manifests in its purest form.

  33. I am intuitively against this. Is it possible that there’s another approach to be taken here? I am against the abuse of ethnographic knowledge, by military, business interests, and academics – anyone, in fact. But the fact of the matter is that a complete withdrawal of responsible and knowledable anthropologists from dialogue with the military will simply vacate a space which can then be exploited by “tribe talk” or various sociological or sociobiological reductionisms.

    My position here is essentially pragmatic. Much as this military action is something that I strenuously opposed (not that it made a blind bit of difference), it looks as though military action is a real and present reality for the time being at least (God willing not for so much longer). While that is the case, a) we cannot stop military from using “cultural knowledge”, and b) if they are to do the least damage possible, they SHOULD be using “cultural knowledge”, just sound, rigorous cultural knowledge rather than crude simplifications – and that’s possibly what we should be working to encourage. The best of all possible worlds would be no killing, no military action. We are clearly not in the best of all possible worlds, and my pragmatic instinct is to make the best of a bad situation – mitigating the damage through helping people to see and understand the social reality, because if we don’t, they’ll just simplify it, and things will not get better, they’ll get worse.

  34. I have just read through all these postings and I have some questions… why do several of these posters think the military is unwilling to think self-critically? I am an anthropologist who has done work with several branches of the military, and I have found them quite willing to be self-critical. There are a lot of very smart people in the military.. and I have found that the ‘subversive’ viewpoints introduced by anthropology are as (not)accepted in a military environment as they are in any other environment. I have had very good discussions about some of the issues relating to power structures, control, exercise of power in occupied areas, etc. in which the military participants are more than willing to turn the spotlight on themselves. not all are, of course – but I certainly have found that i am not disinvited because i raise these types of questions, and i have found many within the military willing to engage with them. they are as interested as anyone else in reducing the number of people killed – after all, that is their job, isn’t it? to get to a point where hostilities end… and they certainly recognize that better knowledge of ‘them’ will help them understand and utilize the best possible means to get there. they are not stupid people, and they ARE willing to be self-critical.

  35. Dear Glick,

    I share your impressions and arguments, but I think you are making the mistake of assuming that individuals’ views and critical capacities are going to be reflected in institutional views and positions. And at the level of what the military does as an institution, it’s choices hinge not on the minds and questions and concerns of its soldiers and officers, but rather, they reflect the whims and interests of the Commander in Chief. So, again, if we want to document, analyze, and understand military malfeasance, we have to look beyond the military to the executive and legislative branch, as well as public discourse, leading media images and metaphors, think tank agenda, and the limits of “thinkable thought” and arguable positions in the classroom, be it a high school or a university classroom.

    If anyone reading Savage Minds is not yet aware of the muzzling of critical thought and discourse in university classrooms, check out or any of the various websites of books promoting the bizarre ideas of David Horowitz, whose organization is now spearheading a nation-wide awareness campaign on US campuses to alert America to the dangers of Islamofacsism. Here we have racism on stilts, and a very dangerous use of media, educational institutions, public relations, and fear to conflate the Arab-Islamic world with Hitler and the Nazis. If it’s happening on your campus, speak out. If it’s too late to speak out, then go see it and do some ethnographic research on the erosion of public debate and citizenship in the US.

  36. Military Anthropologists have posted their own response to this pledge. Look at their cowardly page here:

    Such brave and mature anthropologists we have working in our military and CIA, I wonder why they can’t even identify themselves? This web page and yesterday’s NYT crazy story did inspire me to get off the fence and sign the original authentic pledge. This all goes too far.

  37. Not In My Name wrote: “Military Anthropologists have posted their own response to this pledge.”

    Just had to chime in here – Given that it is anonymous, it’s a bit of a stretch to say that the spoof pledge was created by “military anthropologists” or anthropologists “working in our military and CIA.” Of course, it is possible, but it may also have come from any number of other, non-anthropological audiences who read the original pledge. Journalists, members of the military, people who work with intelligence agencies, policy makers, and legislative staffers have all read the ordinal NCA pledge. As within anthropology, the reactions were mixed, with many people (like me) wishing that the original signatories had more clearly articulated their ethical and political concerns. Some in these audiences found the underlying assumptions of the NCA pledge to be demeaning and insulting, although the people to whom I spoke recognized it was not intentional. All this to say, I doubt we ever will find out who really posted this thing. There simply are too many possibilities.

    Several people you are classifying as “military anthropologists” have already denounced this spoof, calling on the authors to identify themselves and, preferably, remove it. While we all recognize the need to take our lumps where humor is concerned, it’s safe to say that the overwhelming majority of us find this sort of thing inappropriate at a time when parts of the discipline are trying to understand one another.

    (I have been an occasional reader here for some time, but have not posted before. So, by way of introduction, I am Kerry Fosher. I just left Dartmouth Medical School, where I was a Research Asst Prof to take a position as the command social scientist for Marine Corps Intelligence. I am helping them create a program to improve analysis through a more sophisticated understanding of social science concepts and theory. And, yes, this was an extremely complex and problematic choice for me. I’m happy to discuss that if anyone is interested, but it’s not relevant to this thread.)

  38. Hey Not in My Name – I want to second K Fosher’s comment about the “spoof.” I don’t work in the military, but I’ve got anthropologist colleagues who do – and they are FURIOUS about the spoof, since it’s crass, inflammatory and degrading to people who are trying to express legitimate concerns about HTS and other forms of anthropological involvement. That “spoof” is a childish grenade thrown by some idiot who thinks that kind of thing is “funny.” The anthropology community should ignore it in favor of more intelligent debate and discussion.

    Let’s hope none of our colleagues were involved in posting it – that would be really disappointing.


  39. Suppose that anthopologists help with the setting up of stable, democratic governments in Iraq and Afganistan. Would that be a failure of anthropology?

  40. Ira says:
    Suppose that anthopologists help with the setting up of stable, democratic governments in Iraq and Afganistan. Would that be a failure of anthropology?

    Maybe we should start at home first and establish a democratic government in the US that reflects the will of the people. It’s quite arrogant to think we Americans (anthropologists, soldiers, politicians, journalists) can go around the world “setting up democracies.” Democracy is something you DO, not something you have or export. I’m amazed I don’t see more of my anthropological colleagues out there asking why health insurance for children is something that can be vetoed with really not much complaint or questioning. While anthropologists rightly decry the misuse of their profession in the battlefields, why are they not also raising hell about the huge amounts of money being flushed down the toilet that is this war? Why are we not concerned about the troops who return after a brutalizing three or four tours of duty, suffering from PTSD, lacking jobs, their finances dried up, and meanwhile Blackwater employees, who, as it turns out, are free of any sort of usual legal jurisdiction, make something like 8 times the salary of an enlisted man or woman? The rot and injustice in the US stinks to high heavens, and the thought that we are afraid of what Al-Qaeda could do to us, while not noticing the damage we have and are doing to ourselves, would be funny if it were not so very sad. An anthropology that has nothing to say about any of this is, in my view, more dangerous and twisted than an anthropology that embeds itself with a military that is conducting the stupidest war since Viet Nam, and in violation of international treaties.

  41. Did we have to rant? Ears turn off when ranting turns on.

    The war in Iraq was illegal. The war in Afghanistan probably wasn’t, and had some justification given the relationship between Al Qaeda and the Taliban. But George Bush and members of Congress deserve impeachment for the Iraq war and Gitmo, and some of them should probably be tried for war crimes.

    But that is neither here nor there. Those things don’t matter as much as what is going on in Iraq or Afghanistan now. We have an obligation to them for having taken the actions we did.

    Lastly, in our freaking out over this stuff, we shouldn’t forget that whatever the US guilt in this matter is, neither Saddam Hussein nor the Taliban were admirable or desirable. Tyrants, dictators, and oppressors deserve to be taken down. I had thought that was a basic tenet of the left.

Comments are closed.