Counterinsurgency Field Manual: Links to Discussions

The following is a list of links to some current discussions and debates taking place online surrounding David Price’s criticisms of the supposed scholastic soundness of the US Army and Marine Corps’ Counterinsurgency Field Manual:

“Ivory Tower? Or Glass?” Small Wars Journal
Regular readers here are aware that Dr. David Price is an ardent critic of the “pilfered scholarship” behind FM 3-24, COIN. There are many nuances to that discourse, and I don’t doubt that I am about to bludgeon them into one dimension. But a core issue Dr. Price consistently raises is that of attribution. Or more accurately, non-attribution. Non-attribution seems to be the big proton-like nucleus issue around which the electron issues of plagiarism, shoddiness, informed consent, ethics, dim-wittedness, speed-to-press, and pesky utility to the warfighter seem to spiral in infinite relativistic velocity.

“Desperate People with Limited Skills.” Small Wars Journal
In the current issue of “Counterpunch”, anthropologist Dr. David Price continues his assault on social scientists assisting national efforts to succeed in Iraq and Afghanistan. This time he impugns the work of anthropologists who helped write Field Manual 3-24, the Counterinsurgency Field Manual that was published by the Army and Marine Corps in December 2006 and republished by the University of Chicago Press in July 2007.

[For those interested on academic assistance with counterinsurgency, see the David Kilcullen archives on the Small Wars Journal]

“Army Response to Counterpunch.” Small Wars Journal
The essential point to be made is that the messages contained in the manual are valid, regardless of any discussion of academic standards. Any argument over missing citations should in no way diminish the manual’s utility in the current counterinsurgency fight. The emphasis on cultural understanding and increased reliance on non-lethal forms of engagement to achieve military goals represents a giant leap forward in U.S. military doctrine.

Counterinsurgency Manual (FM-34)

Draft of the Counterinsurgency Field Manual

David Price, “Army’s Prime Salesman of Counterinsurgency Manual Seeks to Defend Stolen Scholarship.” Counterpunch, Nov. 3/4, 2007, Weekend edition.
Nagl’s response shirks the central points raised in my article. My primary aim was not, as he falsely claims, to continue an “assault on social scientists assisting national efforts to succeed in Iraq and Afghanistan,” it was to examine how the University of Chicago Press’s republication of the Counterinsurgency Field Manual was part of the Pentagon’s efforts to convince the American public that victory in Iraq would occur with a new academic approach to counterinsurgency. That some of this scholarship turns out to be fake scholarship exposes the hollowness of this sales pitch.

Discussion at the “Small Wars Council.”

Noah Shachtman, “Counterinsurgency Author Hits Back on ‘Plagiarism’.” Wired: Blog Network, Nov. 1, 2007.
Price describes the failure to cite all sources used in the manual as evidence of “shoddy academic practices”, but in fact he is applying the standards of one society to those of a very different one-a violation of the anthropological norm of cultural relativism as I understand it. To paraphrase von Clausewitz, military Field Manuals have their own grammar and their own logic. They are not doctoral dissertations, designed to be read by few and judged largely for the quality of their sourcing; instead, they are intended for use by soldiers. Thus authors are not named, and those whose scholarship informs the manual are only credited if they are quoted extensively. This is not the academic way, but soldiers are not academics; it is my understanding that this longstanding practice in doctrine writing is well within the provisions of “fair use” copyright law.

James Joyner, “COIN Manual Plagiarized?” Outside the Beltway (OTB), Nov. 6, 2007.
Anthropologist David Price has a harsh and rather unscholarly critique of General David Petraeus and his team for “pilfering” from the social science literature without proper attribution, including “no quotation marks, attribution, or citations” for ideas loosely paraphrased from academic works and an incomplete bibliography.

“More on the 3-24 and the Vanguard of the Revolution.”Abu Muqawama, Oct. 31, 2007.
This blogger is reluctant to write-off all of academia as irrelevant, tweed-lovers. Most all of her advisors did significant government consulting work, and the academy and policy-makers were better for it. But these sad, petulant attacks from a small Ivory Tower fringe shouldn’t be tolerated. They are the last refuge of ill-informed scoundrels.

“FM 3-24 ‘Scandal’: Nagl Responds.”Abu Muqawama, Nov. 1, 2007.

“Controversy: FM 3-24 Plagiarism ‘Scandal’.”Abu Muqawama, Oct. 31, 2007.
Yes, folks, it’s a smear piece. (Price can’t even be bothered to get John “Jon” Nagl’s name right in the original article, he’s so full of righteous anger.) Yes, it was published by CounterPunch, whose breathless headline was “Pilfered Scholarship Devastates General Petraeus’s Counterinsurgency Manual.” (Who writes their headlines? The Sun?) And yes, the charges that Page 3 stunner Montgomery McFate is “prostituting” the field of anthropology to the services of empire is nothing new either. (Abu Muqawama guesses this is because of the obvious financial rewards involved with a Harvard Law graduate working for, uh, the federal government.) But the plagiarism claim is new and deserves attention. Read the article, and don’t feel bad if you skip toward the end to the unacknowledged sources section.