“A Surge in Plagiarism”…Or How to Make a Molehill out of a Mountain

I very much respect the work being done by academics in the Network of Concerned Anthropologists to oppose the alignment of anthropological expertise and counterinsurgency, and I particularly appreciate the articles written by David Price that appear in the bibliography on this blog. This is why I must now wonder if I am missing something subtle, yet critical, with reference to the criticisms made by Price that the US Army and Marine Corps’ Counterinsurgency Field Manual plagiarizes a number of anthropological and sociological sources, thereby detracting from its value as a serious work of scholarship.

My apologies for asking this, but do scholars normally look to military sources for examples of serious scholarship? And when they fail to find serious scholarship, are they always this shocked? I do not mean to trivialize what some critics think is an oxymoron–military intelligence–when I say that the placement of quotation marks and a complete bibliography is not meant to be its strong point, or its selling point.

When an article, such as in Harper’s Magazine can appear with the mocking title, “A Surge in Plagiarism?” this should at least be read in two ways: making fun of military prowess (which cannot even get quotes right) and yet making light of this particular academic critique. It is, at best, an amusing story.

Price’s criticism strikes me as just a little too much on the nerdy side, and some of the statements are starting to sound naive–for example, Price tells Harper’s that the military has to make a choice, “doctrine or scholarship.” I’m sorry, come again? That one might just work…on someone who knows nothing about academia in general, or anthropology in particular.

Let’s try to keep things in focus: the war in Iraq is a major crime against humanity, resulting in the deaths of tens of thousands of non-combatants, employing mercenaries at the same time as the invaders wash their mouths with the term “unlawful combatants”, with an unending series of atrocities, some of which we will only hear about in detail well after the US is forced to withdraw. Anthropologists should object to anyone profiting from the gang-bang of Iraq. Plagiarism is totally inconsequential. Please, move on.

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