Tag Archives: Military violence conflict


ROFLCon ImageFor those of you looking for an intellectual antidote to the very serious conference oneman will be attending this weekend, I recommend that you join me at ROFLCon. ROFLCon is like the apocalypse, the last episode of MAS*H and the stupidest thing you can think of all rolled into one amazing package of Internet Memes. It is win. It can has cheezburger. Stuff White People Like Likes it. Since the Internet is Serious Business, this conference is likely to cause major waves in the morpho-memetic cultural field. I intend to make my forthcoming book into the next meme. I must be stopped. If I survive, and I intend to, I promise a report full of lies and distortions, dressed up as objective anthropological research. Leeeeeeeeeeerooooooooooy Jeeeeeeenkins!

Website for “Anthropology and Global Counterinsurgency” Conference Now Live

The website for the University of Chicago’s “Anthropology and Global Counter-Insurgency” conference is now available at http://anthroandwar.uchicago.edu/. You can read abstracts for each of the three panels and for the individual presentations. Notice that I’ve somehow been given the last word…

Update (4/18): I’ve just heard from the conference organizers that Honorary Savage Mind-at-Large Marshall Sahlins will be chairing the last session (my session). He was an early invite, but it had looked like he wasn’t going to make it to the conference.

Camelot Revisited: The Department of Defense’s New Plan for Academia

In a recent speech before the Association of American Universities, Defense Secretary Robert Gates described his ideas for a new military-academic partnership. The “Minerva Consortium”, as he calls his vision, would offer funding and research assistance for researchers across academia, in order to build up the military’s understanding of the world the operate in and create a pool of experts the military can draw on.

At first blush, it seems Gates — a former university president — has learned some of the lessons of the past that led to the meltdown of the Cold War military-academic partnership in the Vietnam years. Most notably, he has come down against secret research, and claims to encourage critical responses to Department of Defense programs and practices.

“Let me be clear that the key principle of all components of the Minerva Consortia will be complete openness and rigid adherence to academic freedom and integrity. There will be no room for ’sensitive but unclassified,’ or other such restrictions in this project,” Gates said. “We are interested in furthering our knowledge of these issues and in soliciting diverse points of view — regardless of whether those views are critical of the department’s efforts. Too many mistakes have been made over the years because our government and military did not understand — or even seek to understand — the countries or cultures we were dealing with.”

University presidents are, of course, thrilled at the prospect, dreaming of university coffers flush with DoD funds once again. But academic researchers, particularly anthropologists, should be very nervous about Gates’ plans. This kind of direct involvement in the funding and direction of academic research, even without the veil of secrecy that military-academic partnerships have often had in the past, threatens to powerfully influence the shape of our discipline — even for people who reject military funding.

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Anthropology Research Patches?

Geographer Kris Olds has a great blog on Global Higher Education where, in a recent post, he points out that 50% of the US Federal Government’s R&D budget goes to Department of Defense’s research programs “dwarfing agencies like the National Science Foundation (which gets a mere 4%).”

Military patches

But, as the New York Times notes, drawing upon Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments data, an increasing proportion of this is classified (hence the “black budget” moniker). Paglen’s research has delved into aspects of the research cultures associated with the highly secretive defense establishment via the use of graphic representations, especially patches (badges).

The patches analyzed in his new book titled I Could Tell You But Then You Would Have to be Destroyed by Me: Emblems from the Pentagon’s Black World are worth examining, for they convey information about the practices associated with building research team cultures in a key segment of US federal government-sponsored R&D. They are also, if you watch the Colbert Report interview, seriously surreal. I must admit never having seen patches created by non-defense scientists.

The NY Times article also has a slideshow about the patches.

I’ll be sure to add patches to the budget of my next grant proposal! I’ve already picked out the patch for the Taiwan research team!

A Special Offer and a Note About Blogging

Everyone’s arguing lately about Savage Minds — it’s “civil society” or lack thereof, its institutional position in the field of anthropology, it’s Euro-Americano-centrism, and so on. What’s missing, I think, is that while Savage Minds is a “place”, a “publication” of sorts, with some cohesiveness, it’s also a somewhat random collection of individual anthropologists bound together by no shared theoretical orientation, area specialization, political stance, or academic genealogy. I think it’s clear that we don’t always agree — in fact, we’ve disagreed quite sharply at times. More to the point, we not only blog about different stuff but we blog for different reasons.

For me, Savage Minds has always been a place to “mess around”, anthropologically speaking. A place to try out new ideas and thin hypotheses, a wall to throw stuff onto in order to see what sticks. A place where I could try my hand at the kind of argument Yehudi Cohen makes in Disappearance of the Incest Taboo (that’s an AnthroSource link, for those with access) and string together some ideas about the end of marriage, or muse about the moral underpinnings of anthropology. A place to incubate arguments and positions — and to receive feedback from my peers both inside and outside of the field.

It’s been invaluable to have this kind of forum, away from the main channel of academic thought — the journals and academic presses that are our disciplinary mainstream, even if many of them have lower readerships than Savage Minds. So valuable, in fact, that I felt it absolutely necessary to include Savage Minds in my “Acknowledgements” when I published Anthropology at the Dawn of the Cold War. Here’s what I wrote:

Over the years, two online communities have proven invaluable as both a source of new ideas and a place to rehearse my own fevered anthropological imaginings. To the members of ANTHRO-L (especially Ron Kephart, John McCreery, Richard Senghas, Jacob Lee, Richard Wilsnack, Anj Petto, Ray Scupin, Robert Lawless, Wade Tarzia, Lynn Manners, Martin Cohen, Bruce Josephson, Richley Crapo, Tom Kavanagh, Scott MacEachern, Mike Pavlik, Thomas Riley, and Phil Young) and my fellow Savage Minds, (Alex Golub, Kerim Friedman, Chris Kelty, Nancy LeClerc, Kathleen Lowery, Tak Watanabe, and newbies Thomas Erikson, Maia Green, and Thomas Strong) I offer both my gratitude and respect.

In the end, I’m not sure I could have written Anthropology at the Dawn of the Cold War without having had this forum to develop those ideas. The other Minds and the many people who comment here not only helped me to refine my thoughts on anthropology and its role(s) in society, but to rethink myself as an anthropologist.

By way of gratitude, then, I asked my publishers if I could offer at least a little something back to this community which has offered me so much. They responded enthusiastically, providing me with a discount code to offer Savage Minds readers. So here’s the deal:

  1. Order Anthropology at the Dawn of the Cold War from U Mich Press.
  2. At checkout, enter the coupon code: WAX08UMP
  3. Enjoy a 20% savings!

With the coupon code, the US price is $26.00 instead of the usual $32.50. As far as I know, this offer is not limited to US buyers, but I’m pretty sure the price of international shipping will eat up any savings over buying the book at full price locally. The coupon code expires on May 30, 2008.

For more information about the book, check out the review by Penny Howard at the Socialist Review. More reviews and information about the book will be posted at my personal site on the book page as it becomes available.

And if you’re not interested, for whatever reason (maybe your mother was cruel to you as a child?), that’s cool, too — I offer you as a member of the Savage Minds community my thanks.

But really, buy the book. Buy the book or I shall plug at you a second time! Tphptptptptp!

Anthropology and Global Counter-Insurgency Conference in Chicago, April 25-27

I’ve been invited to speak at a conference hosted by the University of Chicago later this month on the topic of “Anthropology and Global Counter-Insurgency”. Other speakers will include David Price and Hugh Gusterson, who are doing yeoman’s work on the issue. Despite the fact that my introduction to Anthropology at the Dawn of the Cold War discusses issues related to counter-insurgency at some length, it is because of my work here at Savage Minds that I’ve been invited to speak. Take that, traditional publishing models!

Here’s the skinny on the conference, from the organizers: Continue reading

The Resistance is Dead! Long Live the Resistance!

For five decades, the People’s Republic of China has been proclaiming the death of the Tibetan resistance. In the 1950-60s, they discursively denied the existence of the Tibetan resistance army by referring to them as “high class separatists” and “rebel bandits.” Since then, they have attempted to curb any resistance by immediately putting down protests through arrests, beatings, imprisonments, disappearances (remember the 11th Panchen Lama?), and deaths. The PRC has done everything they can to give the impression that resistance in Tibet—armed or peaceful, coordinated or everyday—is a rare and unwise exception to their benevolent rule, is conducted only by monks or members of the “Dalai clique,” and is not representative of the majority of the Tibetan people who love the Chinese motherland.

Yesterday, therefore, marked a major departure from this stance, perhaps for the first time ever. On Thursday, March 20, 2008, the PRC government acknowledged that Tibetan protest is widespread. That is, it is not just confined to Lhasa or to monks, but is spread throughout Tibetan areas of China and is being committed by Tibetans from all backgrounds—by monks, laypeople, and students, and by men and women, young and old.

Why does this matter?
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Garton Ash and Havel on Tibet

The Guardian has two comments, one by Vaclav Havel and one by Timothy Garton Ash on the situation in Tibet. Havel’s, signed with others, is a strong indictment of inaction, and both essentially call for the same thing: allowing the media in, opening dialogue with the Dalai Lama, and otherwise moving towards a path of dialogue. Ash in particular points out (as commentors here did as well) that the issue is not “independence” but autonomy. Whether or not to boycott the Olympics also seems a bit undecided here, especially if things escalate further. The Olympic torch leaves Athens on Monday. It’s still scheduled to stop in Lhasa.

On Tibet

The recent violence in Tibet has been poorly covered by American media, and even more poorly analyzed, if at all. In fact, the only analysis I’ve seen so far is at Boing Boing, where they pay attention to things like this if it involves China blocking traffic to Boing Boing (which is actually probably a pretty good proxy measure of serious human rights abuses). I’ve been looking for anthropologists who have something to say on this, and with any luck, Vincanne Adams of UCSF, who is currently in China, will send us a short analysis on the subject. I and others (including Paul Rabinow, who suggested that we start a discussion here) would like to see this get more sustained, intelligent attention, given how completely dull the US media has been on the subject. I suppose it’s no surprise that the current administration has been silent. However, it’s also demoralizing that the current presidential candidates are, if not silent, weak and ill-informed on the subject (Obama seems to think the Tibetans are angry with the way Beijing is ruling Tibet, not that they are). Clinton, meanwhile, has said next to nothing on the subject.

This is another one of those instances where anthropologists should have something informed to say on this. If anyone has pointers to intelligent analysis, meaningful ways to show solidarity or other ideas, please share.

Anthropologists on Pakistan

Cultural Anthropology is currently hosting a forum and a collection of articles on Pakistan, offered by Veena Das and Naveeda Khan. It contains a number of short pieces, an article from CA by Khan and a forum and blog on the CA website (registration required). It looks like they’ve had no discussion so far, so for those of you with Pakistanimania, head on over…


Shameless endorsement of the week

Although only slightly germain to the topic of anthropology at war, readers may still be interested in this shameless endorsement of a book by a former teacher of mine: “Torture and Democracy”:http://press.princeton.edu/titles/8490.html by Darius Rejali. I have not read a single word of the book, but have a super high regard for Darius, and with blurbs on the back like “Monumental. Definitive. Devastating.” and endorsements from Philip Zimbardo and Kenneth Roth it is probably not going to suck. So if what you’ve been looking for is a definitive, 880 page genealogy of torture, look no further.

AAA Executive Board Resolution on HTS

I didn’t see that anyone had posted this yet, and though people might be interested in the AAA Executive Board’s resolution against the involvement of anthropology in HTS. From the conclusion:

In the context of a war that is widely recognized as a denial of human rights and based on faulty intelligence and undemocratic principles, the Executive Board sees the HTS project as a problematic application of anthropological expertise, most specifically on ethical grounds. We have grave concerns about the involvement of anthropological knowledge and skill in the HTS project. The Executive Board views the HTS project as an unacceptable application of anthropological expertise.

The Executive Board affirms that anthropology can and in fact is obliged to help improve U.S. government policies through the widest possible circulation of anthropological understanding in the public sphere, so as to contribute to a transparent and informed development and implementation of U.S. policy by robustly democratic processes of fact-finding, debate, dialogue, and deliberation. It is in this way, the Executive Board affirms, that anthropology can legitimately and effectively help guide U.S. policy to serve the humane causes of global peace and social justice.

Update: This seems to be the official link.

Israeli Assemblages

This article was making the rounds a couple of days ago so I thought I would repost it here:

“The Art of War”:http://www.frieze.com/issue/article/the_art_of_war/

I asked Naveh why Deleuze and Guattari were so popular with the Israeli military. He replied that ‘several of the concepts in A Thousand Plateaux became instrumental for us […] allowing us to explain contemporary situations in a way that we could not have otherwise.’

My Thoughts on Anthropologists in the Military

With all the discussion about Anthropologists in the military on this blog, I’ve had a long time to think about it. So I figure I should finally have the guts to put my cards on the table and say where I stand on this issue. While its seems that some colleagues on both the left and the right think that this is a clear-cut case of “you are either with us or against us,” I actually think that there are some very complicated issues here which warrant the discussion we’ve been having. I hope that this attempt at formulating my own position will help further that discussion.

True, for anti-imperialist commie pinkos like myself, it initially seems as if its an open-and-shut case. Anthropologists shouldn’t be working with the military. Period. However, even if that’s how some of us feel deep-down, I think we have a moral obligation to articulate the ethical basis for our objections. Since it seems as if Anthropologists in the military are going to be a fact of life for some time to come, we also owe it to our colleagues to begin to articulate our objections as clearly as possible so that we can all work towards finding common ground.

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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 concerned.anthropologists@gmail.com.
  2. Forward this message to your colleagues, and encourage them to sign.
  3. Join our network by emailing us at concerned.anthropologists@gmail.com. Be sure to include your name, title, and affiliation. We will add you to our email list.
  4. Visit our web site at http://concerned.anthropologists.googlepages.com/home for more information and updates.

Email us at concerned.anthropologists@gmail.com 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