Why is Anthropology Linked to Counterinsurgency?

Still speaking of comments posted in the discussion on the AAA’s new blog, I noted that one writer in particular posted the following reasonable objection, one that unveils certain facts that I myself have downplayed:

Recently, I listened to McFate, the HTS [Human Terrain System] designer, present the basic structure of the HTS as well as her justification for it to an audience of anthropologists. In the cracks of her official presentation, we found out that, of the 12 people who are currently part of the HTS, only a few are anthropologists. Others hold degrees in international relations, history, sociology, economy, and psychology. Why, then, is there a link between the HTS and anthropology and what’s the problem with it?

The link has been instigated by the fact that its designer is an anthropologist and the talk of ethnography, participant-observation, and culture in the HTS documents. The media has helped establish the notion that HTS pertains particularly to anthropology. But given who the members of the HTS are and the kind of work they apparently do, the notion that the HTS is tightly linked to anthropology is as warranted as the association of HTS with say, history.

I believe that the part of the statement that I have underlined above makes the association between anthropology and HTS largely valid. These are critical points. It is not difficult to overlook the involvement of other professionals, especially as they may have been recruited out of even greater desperation. The selling points here have been indeed, culture, knowledge of the Other, participant observation, and ethnography. I said in another post that anthropology is thus a victim of its own success in achieving precisely that which anthropologists continue to claim to lack: recognition of the special skills of anthropology.

Now, that anthropological skills should be so specially suited to counterinsurgency should give us all pause (all, except for those institutions in “former” colonies which have banished anthropology–and here I think specifically of my own alma mater, The University of the West Indies). It should give us more than just pause, and compel us to think in broader terms than just mere, seemingly superficial, apparent coincidences. Decolonizing anthropology will have to involve either totally transforming or simply terminating those dimensions that render anthropology so recruitable, and so fruiful in the hands of opportunists graduated by Yale.