ideologues on any side produce what?
Academics Turn On "Human Terrain" Whistleblower
By Noah Shachtman December 03, 2007 | 3:52:42 PMCategories: Human Terrain
The fight between the Army and academics over the military's social science projects has taken a strange, ugly new turn.
On Thursday, Zenia Helbig, a former researcher with the Army's "Human Terrain System," took the stage at the annual meeting of the American Association of Anthropologists. The executive board of the organization had already spoken out against the program, to embed social scientists into combat units as cultural advisers. And so when Helbig began taking the the military to task for its "inept management and execution at every level" of the Human Terrain effort, audience members nodded their heads in approval. (Here is the text of Helbig's talk.)
But as Helbig started answering questions, the mood turned ugly. Turns out Helbig still backed the idea of boosting the military's cultural IQ -- she just didn't think the Human Terrain program was doing a particularly good job at making it happen. That set some in the audience off. Why, they demanded to know, was she still sticking with the military? And wasn't she "embarrassed" by her fiancee, Captain Matthew Tompkins, for continuing to serving as a Human Terrain team leader in Iraq?
People in the audience began to clap. Helbig began to cry. And one of the biggest critics of the Human Terrain System, George Mason University professor Hugh Gusterson, had to stand up, and tell the collected academics to stop their jeering.
"They just didn't want to hear anything that didn't jive with their conspiracy theories," Helbig tells DANGER ROOM.
Inside Higher Education has more from the meeting. After the jump: excerpts from Helbig's speech.
Having spent four months with the Army, I can't stress to you the tremendous need for both social science and academic rigor in the military. More particularly... the Army is in need of regional experts, who possess a knowledge of the history, culture and languages of both Iraq and Afghanistan... Yet even HTS, despite its millions of dollars of funding, is proving incapable of delivering those much needed skills to the military in Iraq. HTS has proven unable to deliver because of its own internal tensions, and due to a lack of professionalism, organization, and general competence on the part of its staff, contractors and administrators.
HTS' greatest problem is its own desperation. The program is desperate to hire anyone or anything that remotely falls into the category of "academic", "social science", "regional expert", or "PhD". As such, the program has made numerous regrettable decisions regarding both its civilian and military personnel. HTS currentl y has 18 individuals serving down range - 8 in uniform and 10 civilians in Iraq, working as social scientists, linguists and analysts. The 10 civilians include:
* 3 PhDs in Anthropology, none of whom have prior regional knowledge
* 1 civilian with "Arabic proficiency" and an MA in something IR-related, currently serving as a Social Scientist
* 2 native Arabs working as analysts, one of which has relatively poor English, and neither of which seems to have prior work experience as a linguist or analyst
* and 2 prior-service individuals working as team leaders, both of which seem to have served in the Middle East, but neither of which has studied the Middle East...
If AAA [American Association of Anthropology] is concerned with the welfare of the civilian populations in question, please consider whether these populations are better served by anthropologists primarily concerned with maintaining their ethical purity or by anthropologists teaching the military to engage populations more effectively. Your collective ethical concerns would be relevant if the military were onl y "fighting the enemy" and nothing more. In a situation where the military has been ordered to create governments, restore public services, rebuild economies and foster social ties within stratified societies, anthropologists should ask themselves if they want to leave such complex tasks in the hands of people who almost universally have little training and no pre-existing interest in either these tasks or the population.
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