Sunday, July 25, 2010

An Anthropologist Responds

Posted by Chris at 11/23/2007 10:58 PM ...

Dr. Marcus Griffin has a thoughtful and insightful discussion of the problems with the American Anthropological Association's Executive Board's decision to denounce the Human Terrain System developed to help American troops stabilize Iraq and Afghanistan. I urge you to go read his complete post, but a couple of things stand out to me:

  1. The Executive Board of the AAA did not actually conduct a systematic study of HTS and its work. This means that their decisions are based on second and third hand information, assumptions about the HTS teams, and assumptions of the U.S. Army and its mission. In part the AAA's objections about the HTS seems to derive as much from opposition to the war in Iraq than any understanding of what social scientists are doing, or what the Army's mission actually is. This seems like a fundamentally flawed way to do things to me.
  2. A main concern of the AAA is that the studied population not be harmed as a result of being studied, either by the observation process or by deliberate use of the study data. Specifically, the AAA is concerned that the data HTS generates might be used to target individuals for assassination or imprisonment. As Dr. Griffin points out this is a valid concern, but illustrates an inherent misunderstanding of the Army's pacification mission, and distrust of the Army as an organization. Some of misunderstanding and distrust is a legacy of the Vietnam War and the 1960's, specifically public perception of Project Phoenix and other Vietnam-era COIN activities. Distrust and lack of respect for the Bush Administration in the aftermath of Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, debates over torture, and the CIA's "black" prisons also play a role here. I think, though, that a huge amount of the lack of understanding and trust of the Army in this arena has a lot to do with the separation between the military and the civilian components of American society since the draft ended in the 1970's. Most Americans have little direct connection or understanding of the military - as Mark R. Stoneman blogged about today. What this means is that the folks in the AAA likely have only the collective memory of a dark past and their fears about the present to inform their opinions of both the military and its missions in Iraq and Afghanistan. I'm not sure what the best way to combat this problem is - some people have suggested reinstating the draft, while others advocate for more inclusion of military history in the curriculum. Although I certainly see the attractions of the draft, my inclinations tend more toward the education end of the spectrum.

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