RE: [SACC-L] Ideologues on any side produce what?
- On this we totally agree Brian...I was there at the Business Meeting and found enormous ideological peer pressure on each political vote...I think that our discussions on the list serve on this issue were intensely honest expressions without personal rancor yet with personal meaning. I tend to be a contrarian whenever there is something close to unanimity in debate on any tough issue since anything complex must have a variety of perspectives. I am not sure that a conflict style of communication is never appropriate as I always enjoyed the Marvin Harris versus Chagnon battles, but that is not the same as personal attack such as what was described in the blog that I reproduced. I think also that we must recognize that there are different levels of analysis in these issues that must be sorted out rather than simply reduced to a Cheney-like generalization that fits a simplistic ideology. I agree on a general principle of academic non-involvement with direct military operations but that does not mean we should not discuss village reconstruction efforts engaged with the military, just like we need to discuss how we approve corporate involvements now that the military is more corporate and private in contractual service.
From: SACC-L@yahoogroups.com on behalf of Lynch, Brian M
Sent: Tue 12/4/2007 10:32 AM
Subject: RE: [SACC-L] Ideologues on any side produce what?
I wasn't able to attend the annual AAA meetings this year, and eagerly
watched for reports from the meetings especially around this whole
discussion of our association and its formal view of professional
participation in military-intelligence gathering. I was not surprised,
but disheartened nonetheless, that our professional, 'collegial'
discussions seemed to be anything but, at least in the case reported in
the article by Noah Shachtman below.
One of the things that has struck me is how quickly any level of
disagreement in our discussions gets interpreted as (or reduced to)
personal criticism. There almost seems to be a tone that if we dare to
keep things at the level of critical intellectual analysis without
making it personal, we are committing the error of speaking from the
ivory tower. I guess I have the ideal notion that the same kinds of
standards that would be applied to, say, making an argument in a
professional paper or peer-reviewed publication, would be applied to our
professional discussions; isn't that the process that we put forward as
the model for advancing knowledge and understanding in our very
I am extremely skeptical of the ability for professionals
(anthropologists, journalists) whose stock in trade is trust among
'informants' (sources) to 'embed' in military operations without
severely compromising professional integrity. And yet, this current
military situation for anthropologists is so much more: these
professionals are not just 'embedding,' like so many objective
journalists. Instead, they are deliberately working within these
military operations to assist them in their military success; what this
does to undermine the integrity (not just some ivory-tower ideal, but
the practical integrity of what we do and how we do it) of our
discipline needs to be looked at clearly and carefully. As well, those
anthropologists who are attempting to rationalize such practices as
normal and unproblematic for our discipline certainly need to be
challenged in their assumptions if not in their commitments. This isn't
easy or comfortable, but it is necessary, if our profession has any
standards for itself.
And yet, this needs to be done, it seems to me, with the same
intellectual and professional care that we feel should be reflected in
our other professional exchanges that get a peer review.
From: SACC-L@yahoogroups.com [mailto:SACC-L@yahoogroups.com] On Behalf
Of George Thomas
Sent: Tuesday, December 04, 2007 7:11 AM
Subject: [SACC-L] Ideologues on any side produce what?
I'm disappointed (restraint prevents me from honesty in admitting I'm
actually "horrified") at the ideological attack at the AAA meetings (NOV
2007) on one of several people performing (attempting to perform?)
anthropological work (if only for preliminary observational purposes)
with the military "downrange." The attack was not a complete surprise.
There are many ideologues trying to enter our complex, even conflicted,
incredible field. I'm ecstatic that Hugh Gusterson, long-time critic of
how anthro fails to function in conjunction with entities that ooze bias
and generate miscommunication from their very titles (US Forces, the
CIA, etc.), stood up in defense of Zenia Helbig, "former researcher?"...
with the Army's "Human Terrain System." He is clearly aware of the
sensitivity and intricacy of the whole matter.
For one thing, Helbig is a "former researcher?" This suggests either the
expiration of a contract through natural process, or some form of
decision to disassociate. Far better for us (in a Gustersonian kind of
way perhaps) to cool down and ply Helbig, Montgomery McFate, Anna Simons
etc. etc. for valuable insight into this rather old problem. I for one
am awed that people with anthro training/education can manage to "embed"
with the mil at all. Clearly many misunderstandings have been put on
hold. Now ideologues may manage to create new ones. But that's a danger
of this area on inquiry. Ideologues happen. Our task is to discover how
to deal with the problem constructively. Now we must define
Great of you to run this post, Mark!
ideologues on any side produce what?
Posted by: "Mark Lewine" mlewine@...
Date: Mon Dec 3, 2007 3:33 pm ((PST))
Academics Turn On "Human Terrain" Whistleblower
By Noah Shachtman December 03, 2007 | 3:52:42 PMCategories: Human
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
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
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
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,
possess a knowledge of the history, culture and languages of both Iraq
Afghanistan... Yet even HTS, despite its millions of dollars of
funding, is proving incapable of delivering those much needed skills to
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
HTS' greatest problem is its own desperation. The program is
desperate to hire anyone or anything that remotely falls into the
"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
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
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
ethical concerns would be relevant if the military were onl y
"fighting the enemy" and nothing more. In a situation where the military
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
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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