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Max Forte's List: Militarized Academia, Imperial Anthropology

    • In Khost Province, a controversial group called the Human Terrain Team, or HTT, provides the Indiana soldiers with on-the-ground information. Comprised of social scientists embedded with the military, HTTs have been operating in Afghanistan since February 2007. Late that year, the American Anthropological Society issued a memorandum, criticizing the military’s use of the academic discipline. But one of the anthropologists, Alec Metz, argues the HTT mission is vital to the war effort.
    • “The HTT mission is to provide the brigade with the socioeconomic and cultural understanding of the people,” Metz said.  “The idea being in a counterinsurgency environment, the center of gravity is not any particular bit of terrain, but the actual people in the area in which it operates. It’s imperative that this brigade understands the people in its AO (Area of Operation). They’re trying to influence them, to win them over. And it’s not an easy fight either. And it’s not anything they can fight with any of the traditional ways they’ve been trained. It’s not kinetic.”
    • So as the U.S.-led forces battle both a popular insurgency and an indecisive Afghan populace, cultural familiarity and time are in the Taliban’s favor.

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    • From January to July, Holbert, a former social studies teacher at Lincoln High School, was one of five U.S. Army officers assigned to serve on a special liaison team in Afghanistan.

         

      He was a member of the Army’s first Cultural Operations Research-Human Terrain System team, stationed with the 82nd Airborne Regiment in eastern Afghanistan

    • Holbert spoke at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln on Friday evening about the Army’s efforts to exercise respect for, and develop an understanding of, the complex relations among religion, tribal culture and politics in a lecture sponsored by UNL’s Department of Classics and Religious Studies.
    • “Bottom line: we’re trying to teach soldiers about the culture they’re operating in so they have a better understanding and appreciation of Afghans and their culture,” Holbert said.
    • I am a cultural anthropologist (or social anthropologist if you wish) with a long-term research commitment to countries in conflict in West Africa – Sierra Leone and Liberia in particular. Last year I was approached by the Swedish National Defence College. They wanted me to head their Africa programme. It was a part-time commitment and the attractive part of it was that I would be in control of funds where I myself could pretty much decide the focus of research as long as it was related to conflict on the African continent. Sweden is, still today, more or less neutral and has kept a low profile in the war on terror (or the terror on terror), and Swedish military interest in Africa is by and large peacekeeping missions.
    • Moral panic has entered US social anthropology
       

       

      and the American Anthropological Association in particular

    • This kind of non-commitment charter is, I would argue, just a way of putting ones head in the sand and risks ending up as an act of ignorance only

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    • This is something I've thought about a lot, especially since agreeing to take over as the director of the Middle East Studies program at the Elliott School of International Affairs
    • I expect that over the next decade, this will turn into a flood as smart, young veterans look to put their experiences into a broader perspective and to apply their hard-won granular knowledge to broader academic and policy problems.
    • And not only military veterans -- there are plenty of civilians, contractors, and NGO workers who have worked in Iraq as well.

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    • Some skeptics view the trend as likely to raise concerns -- most prevalent in anthropology -- about whether scholars with military ties can be true to their disciplinary obligations, especially as they relate to research subjects. One commenter on the article writes: “It depends on whether those scholars are prostituting themselves to the Pentagon. There are going to be quite a few 'anthropologists' (quotes intentional) who are about to find themselves unemployable over the next few years due the ease with which they spread (their wallets) wide open for a John named 'The Pentagon''s funding.”
    • The AAA’s Ad Hoc Commission on Anthropology’s Engagement with the Security and Intelligence Communities (CEAUSSIC)
    • Laurie W. Rush, U.S. Army Archaeologist, Fort Drum, NY, member CEAUSSIC
    • an opportunity to learn more about the extent, scope, and variety of engagement that US anthropologists currently have with the military, as well as the wider security sector, and with particular attention to ethical forms of engagement

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  • Aug 08, 09

    So far, this is one of the clearest indications of the roles performed by HTS employees in directly contributing knowledge needed for battle operations.

    • "In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together." Dwight David Eisenhower, "Military-Industrial Complex Speech," 1961
    • The Myth of the Grand Chessboard: Geopolitics and Imperial Folie de Grandeur
    • dominance creates megalomanic illusions of insuperable control

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    • Anyway, she lists a bunch of stuff that happens, then, “A brave researcher, Paula Loyd, was doused in cooking oil and set on fire when she ventured out of her compound last year.” Look, we don’t have to belabor the point: Paula was the social scientist on a Human Terrain Team, she was a former Army Civil Affairs Officer and USAID and UNAMA employee with years of experience in southern Afghanistan. She was on a first-name basis with the governor of Zabul, for crying out loud! Plus, she was embedded with an Army battalion. She didn’t “venture out of her compound,” she was out doing research, fully aware of the danger. Do not make her weak when she was nothing of the sort.
  • Aug 15, 09

    The application of various academic concepts such as culture, society, politics, colonialism, imperialism, the military, war, warfare, etc. should be consistent with the principles and standards of our home academic discipline.

    • The contributions to biosecurity that I outline above do not fit neatly with the terms of anthropology’s present ethical debates, driven largely in relation to Department of Defense developments such as the Human Terrain System, the Minerva Initiative, and a new counter-insurgency doctrine mindful of local culture (as Rob has discussed). Nor does my work, I believe, easily align with the boundaries to current controversy within public health about the militarizing effects of a counter-bioterrorist agenda and a preparedness mindset. I hope that colleagues in both public health and anthropology come to see security not simply as a homogenous, static sector with “obvious” ethical pitfalls, but more as something in the making, worth wresting the meaning and means of.
    • Under an experimental program in Afghanistan, teams of anthropologists and social scientists are working alongside soldiers to help win the war by winning over the Afghan people.
    • It may seem like a brilliant idea. But in this battle, nothing is as it seems.
    • extra clips of ammunition strapped to his chest

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    • The Human Terrain System, the Army’s social-science program, has seen pay cuts, tragedy — and an exodus of talent. But plans are still in the works to boost the number of anthropologists and social scientists the Army has deployed overseas.
    • “The number of highly trained social scientists with extensive knowledge about Afghanistan and Iraq is extremely limited, and most of them don’t want anything to do with the military,”
    • Neither Sleiku nor Lang have any prior Afghanistan experience

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  • Sep 01, 09

    Winning the War in Afghanistan:
    An Oil Spot Plus Strategy for Coalition Forces
    Karl A. Slaikeu, Ph.D.

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