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19 October 2009

Why I am Opposed to Military Anthropology

I feel I need to make a statement. I realize it won't be read by many people, and that those who do read it will likely agree with me. However, I want to go on record with my very visceral opposition to Military anthropology. That way, should there be a need, I can refer back here and show that there is some basis for my feelings.

In recent years the field of anthropology has been abuzz with discussions and debates about the use of anthropology in the military invasions and occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan in the context of the Human Terrain System (HTS) (a good source for critical perspectives on these issues is Max Forte's Zero Anthropology blog, formerly Open Anthropology. Also see the Network of Concerned Anthropologists). The HTS has been active in other fronts as well, but Iraq and Afghanistan are the most obvious applications of the model. The primary argument on the side of the HTS is that they do not carry weapons, they don't kill anyone, they don't assist with operations or intelligence gathering, and that their research actually helps reduce armed engagement and casualties on both sides.
First of all, contrary to those claims, some opponents have argued that the anthropologists (and other social scientists) involved in the HTS do in fact provide key information for targeting operations. Secondly, the claim that the HTS effectively reduces casualties is unfounded and strongly disputed.
However, my opposition to the HTS is even more fundamental than that. The premise of the HTS is that it makes a military invasion and occupation more humane. Let me repeat makes a Military INVASION and OCCUPATION more humane. Are they idiots? Do they not see the basic contradiction contained in that premise? Or do they really just use that argument as a mask for using anthropology as a tool for oppression?
It's the same argument they use to support Doctors and Psychologists assisting with torture - they make the torture more humane. How would you feel about going to a Doctor whose main credential is that s/he worked with the CIA on humane torture methods (as if that isn't a contradiction in itself).
Even if the HTS could prove that they reduce casualties, even if they were clearly not engaged in targeting, the fact that they work for the US military and provide information for military goals (which will always be oppressive) makes the HTS fundamentally unethical.
Why not turn the tables? Should anthropologists work for the insurgents in these countries to oppose the US military? Would the military be open to that if it could be "proven" that those insurgent anthropologists reduced casualties?
Or think of this. How would you feel if some foreigon power, let's say the Taliban just to be provocative, invaded the US and then brought in a team of Taliban Anthropologists to learn about our culture and make the Taliban presence more humane? Would you go up to those Taliban Anthropologists and thank them for reducing casualties? How would you feel about anthropologists after that experience?
Of course, I'm not saying that anthropologists should work for insurgents or the Taliban - but I'd urge anyone who supports the HTS to think about that potential. Military anthropology - in whatever guise - is oppressive, damaging to the field and unethical. That is why I am opposed to Military Anthropology.

1 comment:

Maximilian C. Forte said...

Good post Jeremy.

Incidentally, some HTS personnel do in fact carry guns. Also, the question of whether HTS people kill anyone is somewhat less of a question now: Don Ayala was in fact a member of a Human Terrain Team when he committed a war crime by executing a detainee. So HTS does have at least one kill under its belt, thanks to hiring a mercenary.

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