Savage Minds on Anthropology and War

We’ve been writing about anthropology and war on Savage Minds for over two years now, but because our categorization system is a mess it can be hard to find all our posts on the topic. So here is a list of all our posts I could find on the subject (in chronological order, starting back in 2005).

The new “anthropology at war” category should keep help you track any new posts that come along after this one.

Also see guest blogger Laura McNamara’s posts about anthropology and torture, as well as her new blog about her research: Interrogation Diaries.

One thought on “Savage Minds on Anthropology and War

  1. Anthropologists go to war

    Recent news reports relayed the experience and perspective of anthropologists working with U.S. forces in Afghanistan. This has sparked several debates in many anthropological online communities. The debates are interesting and lively.

    A point of clarification though is the use of the term WAR. Do the terms ‘war in Iraq’. ‘Iraq at war’, or even ‘anthropologists at war’ presuppose that there is war in Iraq? (I’m talking about Iraq primarily and not Afghanistan).

    Isn’t it more of an occupation by a few countries, primarily by one country, of Iraq? One anthropological perspective of war is that it is a “top-down” process initiated by national leaders based on ideology and/or vested interests/agendas. These leaders also continually attempt to justify or rationalize the reasons for war/invasion.

    As you all know, if you look at the rationale for invading Iraq, agreeing or disagreeing with it influences how you think the role of anthropologists should be. This is the moral perspective.

    Historically, the role of anthropologists working with governments in times of conflict, particularly the U.S. government or military (Southeast Asia) or the British colonial authorities, has been criticized for its moral contradictions, contributions to furthering imperialist (“anthropology, the handmaiden of colonialism”), geopolitical, and even now neoconservative agendas, and further oppression of indigenous populations.

    Now you can criticize me for being too general and you can cite individual contributions or local instances of good works by embedded anthropologists.

    Fine, but we go back to the primary question:

    If there was no war, invasion, or occupation, would there be a need for anthropologists embedded in the military? Let us again remind ourselves of the consequences of the Iraq war. Per Deborah White, as of September 23, 2007:

    US SPENDING IN IRAQ- About $600 billion of US taxpayers’ funds

    * Cost of deploying one U.S. soldier for one year in Iraq – $390,000 (Congressional Research Service)
    * Lost & Unaccounted for in Iraq – $9 billion of US taxpayers’ money
    * per ABC News, 190,000 guns, including 110,000 AK-47 rifles.
    * Mismanaged & Wasted in Iraq – $10 billion, per Feb 2007 Congressional hearings
    * Number of major U.S. bases in Iraq – 75 (The Nation/New York Times)


    * Iraqi Troops Trained and Able to Function Independent of U.S. Forces – 6,000 as of May 2007 (per NBC’s “Meet the Press” on May 20, 2007)
    * Troops in Iraq – Total 179,779, including 168,000 from the US, 5,00 from the UK, 1,200 from South Korea and 5,579 from all other nations
    * US Troop Casualities – 3,800 US troops; 98% male. 90% non-officers; 80% active duty, 12% National Guard; 74% Caucasian, 10% African-American, 11% Latino. 18% killed by non-hostile causes. 51% of US casualties were under 25 years old. 70% were from the US Army
    * Non-US Troop Casualties – Total 300, with 169 from the UK
    * US Troops Wounded – 27,936, 20% of which are serious brain or spinal injuries (total excludes psychological injuries)
    * US Troops with Serious Mental Health Problems 30% of US troops develop serious mental health problems within 3 to 4 months of returning home


    * Private Contractors in Iraq, Working in Support of US Army Troops – More than 180,000 in August 2007, per The Nation/LA Times.
    * Journalists killed – 112, 74 by murder and 38 by acts of war
    * Journalists killed by US Forces – 14
    * Iraqi Police and Soldiers Killed – 7,460
    * Iraqi Civilians Killed, Estimated – A UN issued report dated Sept 20, 2006 stating that Iraqi civilian casualties have been significantly under-reported. Casualties are reported at 50,000 to over 100,000, but may be much higher. Some informed estimates place Iraqi civilian casualties at over 600,000.
    * Iraqi Insurgents Killed, Roughly Estimated – 55,000
    * Non-Iraqi Contractors and Civilian Workers Killed – 539
    * Non-Iraqi Kidnapped – 305, including 54 killed, 147 released, 4 escaped, 6 rescued and 94 status unknown.
    * Daily Insurgent Attacks, Feb 2004 – 14
    * Daily Insurgent Attacks, July 2005 – 70
    * Daily Insurgent Attacks, May 2007 – 163
    * Estimated Insurgency Strength, Nov 2003 – 15,000
    * Estimated Insurgency Strength, Oct 2006 – 20,000 – 30,000
    * Estimated Insurgency Strength, June 2007 – 70,000


    * Iraqis Displaced Inside Iraq, by Iraq War, as of May 2007 – 2,135,000
    * Iraqi Refugees in Syria & Jordan – 1.3 million to 1.75 million
    * Iraqi Unemployment Rate – 27 to 60%, where curfew not in effect
    * Consumer Price Inflation in 2006 – 50%
    * Iraqi Children Suffering from Chronic Malnutrition – 28% in June 2007 (Per, July 30, 2007)
    * Percent of professionals who have left Iraq since 2003 – 40%
    * Iraqi Physicians Before 2003 Invasion – 34,000
    * Iraqi Physicians Who Have Left Iraq Since 2005 Invasion – 12,000
    * Iraqi Physicians Murdered Since 2003 Invasion – 2,000
    * Average Daily Hours Iraqi Homes Have Electricity – 1 to 2 hours, per Ryan Crocker, U.S. Ambassador to Iraq (Per Los Angeles Times, July 27, 2007)
    * Average Daily Hours Iraqi Homes Have Electricity – 10.9 in May 2007
    * Average Daily Hours Baghdad Homes Have Electricity – 5.6 in May 2007
    * Pre-War Daily Hours Baghdad Homes Have Electricity – 16 to 24
    * Number of Iraqi Homes Connected to Sewer Systems – 37%
    * Iraqis without access to adequate water supplies – 70% (Per, July 30, 2007)
    * Water Treatment Plants Rehabilitated – 22%

    RESULTS OF POLL Taken in Iraq in August 2005 by the British Ministry of Defense (Source: Brookings Institute)

    * Iraqis “strongly opposed to presence of coalition troops – 82%
    * Iraqis who believe Coalition forces are responsible for any improvement in security – less than 1%
    * Iraqis who feel less secure because of the occupation – 67%
    * Iraqis who do not have confidence in multi-national forces – 72%

    Other sources:

    Iraq War Results & Statistics as of Sept 23, 2007,

    Casualties in Iraq – 2007,

    War with Iraq Sources

    Iraq War Casualties – FCNL Issues

    Brookings Institute’s Most Recent Iraq Index PDF

    Anthropologists working for the military imply engagement with the military as an institution. The operative word is engagement. In this context, one end goal of the anthropologist should be to influence policy, vision, goals, and objectives of the institution. Are anthropologists really in a position to do so?

    What aspect of the statistics shown above are they working on and hoping to achieve? What part of it includes studying culture, society, and humanity without compromising the interests of your subjects?

    Are they really doing applied anthropology? Or are they using applied anthropology methods and perspectives in counter-insurgency operations? Someone noted to me that in a free country, anyone including anthropologists, can express their opinion and choose their employer. That is correct, but semantically, are they applied anthropologists or just counter-insurgency specialists or even- soldiers? Let us get our semantics right.

    If you are for the war/occupation, say so, and go help the military and accept the consequences of your actions.

    If you are against the war/occupation, then your work as an anthropologist should be towards ending it, not rationalizing or making warfare “more human” or even anthropologizing the military. A more human war is an oxymoron term.

    My last point is this. As some of my cohort/batchmates like to remind one another, these are historical times. Prior to the Nov. 2006 U.S. Congressional elections when Democrats regained Congress, there were several instances when anthropologists among many other disciplines should have stood up and spoken against the Iraq invasion, the attacks on scientific integrity, the cooptation of regulatory agencies, the increased social exclusion and income inequality, the distortions of the immigration issue, Katrina, even the 2004 AAA fiasco, etc. Many did speak up and acted, but many more did not. The silence was deafening.

    By 2008, there will probably be a Democrat President and it will be easier to speak up against what is morally wrong. But don’t you think it was better to have spoken during the ‘dark’ times rather than when it is safe to do so?

    Hecky Villanueva
    PhD Candidate
    Department of Anthropology
    U. of Arizona

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