The Narrative of Imperialism: Revisiting the Ugly American (Anthropologist)

“In Favour of Anthropological Support for Counterinsurgency”
(Notes from AAA blog #1)

Winning quotes:
“Think about it this way, wouldn’t [it] have been nice if the U.S. military knew that an Arab’s primary source of pride and power was the home and family, and that ‘kicking in doors’ was an afront [sic] to their honor?”

“Lives…will be continue [sic] to be lost because of misunderstandings between our cultures.”

The Ugly AmericanThis is the first of two sets of personal reflections on, and analyses of, the formulation and representation of anthropological research ethics, the social context of knowledge production, and the vesting of political interests in anthropological work. This first essay focuses on the side of the debate with which I am in greatest disagreement, that is, support for anthropological involvement in American counterinsurgency campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan. Unlike perhaps a few others with whom I might agree on a great many issues, I have no problem in saying that both wars are imperialist wars of aggression and occupation of two countries that have never attacked the United States, and that of course did not invite the presence of American troops. Keeping those two facts always in mind changes everything else.

In the next essay, I will present a summary, and a critique, of the side with which I feel the greatest political and intellectual affinity, that which is opposed to enlisting anthropology in supporting US military and intelligence campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan. I think that this side has also manifested certain shortcomings, some inherent to the discipline itself, some inherent to the structural form of a professional association, and some stemming from the flawed actions and strategies taken by the Executive Board of the American Anthropological Association.

Following the submission of over 100 separate comments to AAA blog #1, it seemed that the time was right for a critical anthropological analysis of the vision of anthropology being presented by, mostly, anthropologists on that blog. The methodology used in preparing this analysis is a fairly elementary one: (1) posts, and sometimes select comments within individual posts (since some writers offered more than one self-contradictory opinion) were sorted according to those that stood for, and against, the statement against HTS-anthropology by the AAA Executive Board; (2) comments on one side that seemed to share certain discursive elements in common were then sorted into groups based on the similarity of the content of opinions; (3) the main theme, from this writer’s perspective, that seemed to emerge from each group was then used as a means of indexing and analyzing those comments; and, (4) the main themes were then grouped (as shown below) to provide the basic structure of what is here called a narrative of imperialism.

We live in an era of re-colonialism. Any of the work done by former colonial regimes that has come undone in some senses, is now being “repaired”. Peoples outside of the West are, for now in select cases only, referred to as “not civilized”, aliens to “freedom”, prone to immense cruelty, and incapable of self-governance (“rogue nations” and “failed states”).

In that perspective, American anthropologists arguing in favour of the US military’s Human Terrain Systems project (HTS), have started by wrongly identifying the causes of violence in Iraq: “cultural misunderstandings” rather than imperialist aggression and foreign occupation. Their aim is to provide a kind of running cultural sensitivity training. The logic here suggests that one needs to interpret the animals for their captors, a kind of adventurist zoology. The writers refute the notion that American forces have killed indiscriminately, and yet speak of the need for reducing harm, even of “refining target selection” (in the most extreme and least representative of the postings supporting HTS). They do not see the US as having engaged in any gross violations of human rights, as if the fact of the invasion itself, shock and awe, cluster bombing urban areas, and the use of white phosphorous on civilian homes, were all inconsequential.

This is a narrative of imperialism. Americans, and American anthropologists, are right to be there, and have rights to be there, not just regardless of what other anthropologists might think, but regardless also of the peoples resident in those territories. What is therefore absent in the discussion, on either side, is any mention of what Iraqis and Afghans might want–Iraq and Afghanistan no longer belong to their long standing residents, it seems, and thus their views do not count. So much for consultation, so much for negotiated entry, so much for establishing rapport. The focus is only on how HTS may benefit anthropology, and be of specific benefit to particular anthropologists. Right wing nationalism is confidently espoused, no signs of remorse, self-doubt or modesty can be found here. These are square jawed, stubble faced, bare armed, white anthropologists cum heroes in a foreign adventure. While most Americans are now saying “enough”, and most Iraqis said that long ago, these anthropologists see opportunity in other people’s misery and in the desperate propaganda efforts of the American regime which has failed to overcome the resistance of insurgents. Indeed, were it not for these very insurgents, these anthropologists would not enjoy their HTS opportunities.

One of the risks of this presentation has to do with the assumption that there is “one mind”, a collective intelligence at work behind all of the pro-HTS posts. On the one hand, there is little evidence of coordination between the posts: they seem to have been produced by separate individuals with distinct interpretations. On the other hand, orthodoxy is at play, and certain cherished American cultural values, formerly hegemonic, provide ready made tools for expressing ideas, seemingly any ideas, that might cast those against HTS in the poorest possible light. Pro-HTS posters then beg to be understood, while making no obvious attempt of their own to understand the criticisms. In addition, some posts may appear to be distinct simply because a subsequent poster may not wish to simply repeat what has already been said, while adding another twist to the argument. Either way, the pro-HTS comments are presented here as a collective production, even if direct collaboration was absent.

The repertoire of themes used by these posters consist of the following, each of which is commented upon, with emblematic examples, more fully in the sections that follow:

(1)Politics versus science
(2)The AAA is Un-American
(3)AAA criticisms may be illegal

(4)Ethics statements are limited and not good for all situations, at all times
(5)Anthropology is already dirty
(6)HTS could benefit anthropology
(7)I need a job, and this is the only job for me

(8)Reducing harm, which is almost like doing no harm at all
(9)What human rights abuses? America can do no harm, we are the good guys
(10)Your duty is to help the troops
(11)The troops are heroes, as are those who support them
(12)Since America is always good and right, American wars are always just and for the good of humanity
(13)But don’t wait for a good war if you disagree with this one, jump in now!
(14)Wars are inevitable, civilian deaths are normal
(15)Not assisting in domination makes us complicit…with?
(16)Savages must be exterminated

Opponents of HTS should depoliticize their critiques. Otherwise what might be called the politics of nationalism, imperialism, and state-control over knowledge for the purpose of killing locals in their own countries, these positions can all go without saying as being non-political. Politics should not be allowed to get in the way of anthropology, as long as anthropology is defined in terms of being embedded with occupation forces. Science is serving the military, and politics is criticizing that service. Science is at stake here, and apparently science can best flourish in a context of warfare and domination, indeed, it is only in such a context that it can progress. The critics should also try to show more allegiance to country. There is also a distinctly American twang to discussions of “politics” and “ideology,” demonstrating a duplicitous puritanism characteristic of mainstream American political discourse: that politics and ideology are “bad” things, and duplicitous because the argument is usually made by those who have a political agenda, and even by politicians themselves. In much of the rest of the world, such pretenses of innocence have been dispensed with.

“the very incisively stated reasonings are … watered down somewhat by a judgement of the present war”

“the Association should not seek to dictate what is essentially a political position to its members”
[not an unreasonable point: if the positions were reversed, anti-HTS anthropologists would also make this point; this reintroduces important questions about the limitations of professional associations in a world of public conflict; perhaps professional associations should be replaced by political bodies for professionals]

“don’t allow politics to get in the way of anthropology”

“the statement itself strikes me a knee-jerk reaction to what is admittedly a complex issue and one that deserves to be grounded in a careful and thorough investigation of particulars”

“but I found it unusual for a large academic organization to take a political position, to make such a definitive, if not strangely vague, statement”

“AAA is moving the discipline farther away from anything resembling a science and to more of an ideology”

“This is a dramatic example of the politicization of an academic profession”

“Sounds like more ideology rather than actual science”

Even Nature Supports the USA?This is an American classic, and sure not to go away anytime soon while Americans remain unable to escape from their own culture. The AAA does not “support the troops”, and this suggests treason. One must enforce one’s own silencing lest any criticism be perceived as a critique of the actions of these sacrosanct, heroic, larger than life figures known as “the troops” whose work is only for the good of all humanity. The troops are killing Iraqis so that American anthropologists can drink cocktails (and have rights that American forces deny to Iraqis, which is not mentioned).

“Members of the American Anthropological Association should remain mindful that the first A stands for American, and that it is not the United States Army that is at war, but the United States of America.”

“I suppose any rationale will do given the AAA’s relentless drive to depict its own country as the source of all evil”

“I find it interesting that virtually none of the ‘concerned anthropologists’ has served in the military, let alone served as a sworn police officer (badge, gun, powers of arrest, uniform, nervous spouse at home, nightmares regarding witnessing the aftermath of violent crime, etc.). Not all of human behavior is nice…and it’s a shame that those who have taken such a strident view have virtually no experience confronting the evils that people can and often do to one-another”
[hence, wash oneself in the blood of others, so that one can benefit from “realism”]

“How can you place a scarlet AAA upon the chest of those anthropologists willing to risk their lives in an endeavor that they believe to be the most meaningful they can ever undertake; an opportunity to apply their chosen profession for the good of humanity, not to wage a war but hopefully to end one?”

“How ethical is it to criticize and condemn from afar, safe behind the gated communities of academia, while those who stand to benefit from your skills are suffering and dying?”

“The fact that American soldiers’ lives have been saved as well is immeasurably important to me. Disturbingly, it seems not to even be a factor for consideration in the dialogue above.”

“I dissent from the AAA executive board’s decision, and why I dissent with much of the reactionary, politically motivated, anti-US-armed forces cant that I hear in this blog.”

If those in the AAA who are anti-HTS will not be silent, then perhaps they can be silenced. Another classic piece of modern Americana: “I will sue you!”

“Given that discrimination based on military employment is currently held to be a violation of civil rights (, what sorts of precedent exists for an ostensibly “professional” scholarly association such as the AAA to establish or redefine the criteria by which discrimination is legally acceptable”

“exactly how much opprobrium can it [the AAA] heap on anthropologists who perform military service before it crosses a legally actionable line?”

In my view, this is not an unreasonable position. It is very difficult to use the AAA’s succinct Code of Ethics as even a reasonable set of guidelines that speaks to the complexity of any one researcher’s situation. Having said that, ethnographic research should not assist in killing, especially not in the context of wars of imperialist aggression and occupation-that much should be obvious, except that this discussion then becomes one that must inevitably succumb to political debate.

“Anthropology is an experimental science, and thus in most cases cannot dictate ahead of actual encounters what sort of individual participation is least or most desirable”

“Such condemnation will not contribute to clarifying modes of ethical engagement, but only make us feel good”

“The only other basis claimed so far for the AAA’s judgment against these anthropologists is ‘the do no harm’ rule….In reality, it is a principle resting on sand, since it still leaves in the hands of the anthropologists the definition of ‘harm’.”
[it should not, however, and this reveals something of the approach to research done by the accuser: the AAA code also emphasizes the need for ongoing and negotiated rules for interaction and access to information, so that a responsive and conscientious anthropologist should in fact be aware of what “informants” think is meant by “no harm,” and most assuredly it would include not dying as a result of the research of the anthropologist]

“There was a time when anthropologists understood the concept of situational ethics and that during times of war, things are different”
[i.e., no need to value human life any more, if we ever did]

“The position that the AAA has taken with respect to ‘ethical anthropology,’ especially as relates to war and terrorism is shameful, self-serving and naive”
[self-serving? Who is getting the $400,000 pay cheque? Naïve? Who is casting this as a “war on terror”?]

“Beyond that, there is a clear need for anthropology as a profession to rethink its ethical positions in a world in which clear black and white ethical choices rarely exist.”
[It’s all so ambiguous now, as right wingers conveniently discover post-modernist rhetorical tactics. A salary of $400,000 can often inspire one to rethink ethics in a much more “complicated” way.]

The discipline itself contains important internal contradictions that open the way to all sorts of unethical abuses and manipulations. Why focus, and only now, on anthropologists embedded with the military?

“Data elicited from research participants should NEVER be assumed to be provided without, in one sense or another, ‘coercion.’ You delude yourself to think otherwise. On the other hand, reliable, accurate data of the kind anthropologists working for HTS projects aim to collect cannot be collected by ‘coercion’ of the sort I suspect that the AAA Executive Board supposes”
[of course here the author of the statement seems to be oblivious that a massive, foreign armed presence, whose occupation is despised by the majority of locals, is somehow not in itself coercive]

“If the anthropological participants are wearing military protective gear, surrounded by military units and accompanying military commanders in negotiations, everybody is informed. Wars tend to be coercive, but people can still ignore us if they so volunteer, or feed us information if they volunteer, no doubt at great risk to themselves. But they are surely informed by the context”
[consent, not mentioned, it is an inconsequential after thought at best]

“I have multiple instances in interviews of Iraqis saying that they can not say more, or be seen amongst American military, because of fear of retribution by non-coalition personnel in the Iraqi environment. They are, at this point, fully informed regarding whatever information or interaction they allow or resist.”
[fully informed, perhaps, but now the question is of what value is knowledge that is extracted or offered under such conditions? There seems to be an extremely, unforgivably, naïve presumption that just by asking questions, HTS anthropologists will be getting useful and true answers]

“You do realize that there are many cultures around the world that believe that anthropologists are imperialists themselves. They go to a foreign land, take artifacts, dig up remains of people they have nothing to do with. But when there is a present need for us, your hatred for your own country and political agenda gets in the way.”

“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”

“The only other basis claimed so far for the AAA’s judgment against these anthropologists is ‘the do no harm’ rule….In reality, it is a principle resting on sand, since it still leaves in the hands of the anthropologists the definition of ‘harm’.”

“Anybody remember [Ruth Benedict’s] [T]he Chrysanthemum and the Sword? A long way from embedded anthropologists, but the profession has been involved in warfare for generations”

“All anthropological research places anthropologists in positions where choices may result in harm to some groups or informants that anthropologists study. The Executive Board then may as well condemn all informant based anthropological research.”

“When anthropology faculty screw students (literally), junior faculty, or each other, no one actually dies. When soldiers make the decision to shoot or launch a weapon, they are on the whole acutely more aware of the consequences of their behavior — more so, in my opinion, than many anthropology faculty I have known over the years”

“I am not a member of your association nor an anthropologist, but I think this audience is well familiar with the contributions of Cora DuBois and Margaret Mead in World War II. I think we can learn from history that there anthropologists can have a positive impact on our national security strategy and the military.”

See a previous post at
There are stoundingly naïve misreadings of power here, and sudden unfamiliarity with the basic decision-making structure for going to war, and how opposition takes place: here the argument is that by enlisting as underlings in a military unit, that is the locus from which anthropologists can challenge or prevent unjust wars, when not even dissident generals have been able to do mount effective resistance to poor policies from where they sit in higher positions. One might also call this line of argument the “Hey little girl, want some candy?” approach to abducting and molesting anthropological research

“These interactions via the United States military could be a brand new study in itself, which could open new doors and new ideas in anthropology”

“The ‘success’ of the HTS project shows that cultural anthropology might play a role in setting up such a system.”

“I think we need to take advantage of this new awareness, among some in the U.S. armed forces, of the usefulness of ethnographic knowledge, to begin to form relationships inside military institutions through which we can better understand how to use our expertise to avert war and to protect the peoples we work with from damaging foreign policies”

“Don’t simply write off the military’s attempt to change because you ethically disagree with the war, that will only get us more of the same, a self-fullfilling prophecy of sorts. Exploit the window of opportunity available to exact real anthropological change. Having served in the Marine Corps I can say that such windows rarely open, we may not have another chance for many wars to come”

CHA-CHING!Very few of the posts spoke of the monetary rewards for participation in HTS, ranging from reported lows of $200,000 US per annum to as much as $400,000. The question of financial gain was largely left unaddressed, much like the 500 pound gorilla in the room. Only one comment was submitted without anonymity, which suggests that those who agree feel that it is inappropriate for them to publicly admit to the instrumental calculations behind their choices. Anonymity is also an issue for those who fear some sort of retribution, a retribution that we are all subject to when our work does not meet with the agreement of others, and these individuals seem to assume that they will always be able to hide their participation in HTS. Of course an anonymous poster may also be trying to hide the fact that he or she is not anthropologist.

“AAA statement cannot possibly be seen by anthropologists taking part in HTS as anything but a threat to their careers and future employment prospects”

“What is wrong with working? Who cares if it is with the military or helping the Gov’t. Why not offer alternatives or suggestions for employment instead of rejections and ignorrance for those just entering the real world which, in case you haven’t noticed, has little need or to offer those in such a niche market as anthropology and cultural studies”

“The world has changed a great deal and people need to work and support themselves apart from being an adjunct or lecturer with no benefits just because they are a new graduate with a couple publications”

“It is very easy to reject the lucrative job offers that the HTS provides considering (assuming) all of you are full-time professors with job security, benefits, savings, no debt from school loans and a nice office. In reality, those of us, like myself, who are considered the next generation of anthropological academia don’t have people/universities knocking down our doors with offers of a career or even job security”
[In other words, “it’s all your fault I have to go to Iraq to earn $400,000”]

Who is doing the harm? HTS anthropologists abide by the harm, working with it, even for it. The best way to address the harm caused by US intervention is after the fact, and only by enlisting in direct service to the state. Then, as if to surrender the argument, HTS proponents turn to saying that avoiding harm is impossible anyway, so just live with it, in fact, refine it.

“The Executive Board evokes the ethical standard of “doing no harm,” but given a situation where harm is occurring, anthropologists at the front may be in a position to reduce that harm. If we oppose HTS and similar types of programs unconditionally, we will not be doing our best at using the knowledge we have gained through our “studies of others” to improve US policies”

“The only other basis claimed so far for the AAA’s judgment against these anthropologists is ‘the do no harm’ rule. Nice to convince yourselves you actually ever can be so pure. In reality, it is a principle resting on sand, since it still leaves in the hands of the anthropologists the definition of ‘harm’.”

“the argument that HTS anthropologists may be allowing the US Armed forces to reduce noncombatant deaths seems to me to not only be a good argument *in favor of* HTS, but also an argument that HTS opponents have simply “rejected” by refusing to address the point”

CAPTAIN AMERICAHere we have to understand the generalized knee-jerk impulses of mainstream American culture, cultivated and inculcated over generations of invading other countries, of countless military mobilizations, and of the quest for superpower dominance all while protesting that it is for the good of the world (“you would all be speaking German otherwise”). This imperial habitus consists, in part, of the belief that Americans are always the good guys, always right, and don’t forget, God is on their side. America, even in the midst of “shock and awe” campaigns against severely weakened, impoverished, and nearly defenseless nations that never attacked the United States, does nothing in the way of abusing human rights (the right to life, and rights to self-determination–cherished by Americans and denied to others, are conveniently avoided in the discussion). It is so extraordinary that anyone should think that Americans are capable of wrongdoing and harm, that any time one suggests this, it should be accompanied by copious substantiation, referencing, statistics, and all, one can imagine, from sources that these jingoists cannot personally vilify and thus dismiss. Entire histories of imperialist intervention are thus conveniently erased from memory, unless one can reproduce and repeat those histories with each and every utterance. There are no “insurgents” in this perspective, no “resistance”, no liberation movement, no “freedom fighters”: they are all “terrorists”. What these pro-HTS anthropologists have to offer, in the way of anthropological knowledge, is a simple recycling of the demonization of the other from the mass media, casting others as savages, Americans as naturally civilized.

“without documenting who, precisely, claims that the war fighting ongoing in Iraq and Afghanistan denies human rights and without recognition that the pre-existing regimes in both countries systematically violated/denied ALL commonly recognized human rights”

“without documenting the ‘faulty’ nature of specific forms of intelligence, and without recognition that the heart of the matter was (see [a]) to stop the violations of human rights in both Iraq and Afghanistan”

“What authorized agency responsible to any democratic polity anywhere has found the US war in Afghanistan to be against international or Constitutional law?”

“I can state that I simply disagree that the United States Armed Forces have in Iraq engaged in widespread human rights abuses. So far, I have seen no evidence apart from the Abu Ghraib prison events that are so notorious (and, I would point out, in which no Anthropologists or HTS personnel seem to have been involved), there is really no compelling evidence of any US Armed forces human rights abuses”
[unprovoked, naked aggression against the people of another nation is not, you will note, a violation of human rights, according to this argument]

“Occupation per se does not make the US Armed forces ‘bad guys’ in the most general sense, nor does accidental deaths of noncombatants. Otherwise, one would have to argue that many productive occupations (such as those of the Axis states by the western Allies post WW2) were, of themselves, ‘bad’ when in fact these occupations were part and parcel of a general plan that seems to most historians to be objectively ‘good’.”
[Accidents, in the thousands? One could imagine one or two accidents, but when the numbers start reaching the tens of thousands, and one when honestly confronts the fact that the US military has a vocabulary that rationalizes such deaths as “collateral damage,” and that such “damage” is factored into military strike calculations, then no, these are not “accidents.” Occupation does not make the US military the bad guys unless, of course, it is your nation that is being occupied. Likening the invasion and occupation of Iraq to actions in WWII is a standard feature of these arguments that are built on a heroic notion of just and moral US force. It also leaves out that the fact that the US detonation of two nuclear bombs in civilian cities, perhaps the greatest single acts of state terror anywhere and at any time in history, were also part of that war, and have not generally been seen as “objectively good” which is in any case a contradiction of terms (ascriptions of “goodness” are always subjective).]

“Clearly, the implication is that the US works rather more diligently at avoiding noncombatant casualties than most nations, despite the unsupported aspersions you offer here.”
[note that the author’s assertion is itself unsupported, other than by a belief that, once again, Americans are “the good guys” by default, and everyone else is a savage or nearly so; for a nation whose military and political establishment so easily established the idea of “collateral damage”, while denying others the same justification, it seems that the US works rather more diligently at avoiding responsibility for calculated casualties]

RIGHT WING AMERICAN HUMOUR“If the US withdraws immediately, as you suggest, the death rate will escalate. The US armed forces are keeping a lid on with arguable success sectarian violence that, prior to their occupation of Iraq, was more pervasive but rather unidirectional”
[this sectarian violence only exploded after the US invasion and it is irrefutable that the US forces altered the balance of power in Iraq in such a way as to cause the violence, not to mention that the US occupation has openly sided with one of the parties to the violence, primarily Shia parties. Prior to the invasion, as most informed readers will know, sectarian violence was by no means “more pervasive”.]

“The ONLY harm that the US does is when it (regrettably) kills civilians mistaking them for terrorists. When the US kills real terrorists, that is not a harm by any standard.”
[Again, mere accidents. This poster, who is almost certainly not an anthropologist and refused to support his claims to being one, seems to have a very simplistic notion of a “real terrorist” and, worse yet, one that requires anthropologists to identify them for termination, and, of course, absolves US forces from being labeled as terrorists]

DO YOU DARE TO DEFY UNCLE SAM?The argument here is that HTS anthropologists can help save lives of American troops. From an anti-imperialist perspective, the lives of occupying forces are not a priority. However, even from a nationalist American perspective one question is: if one is so concerned about saving the troops lives, then surely they can be saved no better than by bringing them home? Why should resistance to the war be deferred? If troops’ lives are unnecessarily at stake in an imperialist adventure, then surely resistance to the war becomes more urgent? Why is it up to anthropologists to repair the irreparable? Who is penalizing the soldiers, who chose to enlist voluntarily? Those who enlisted since 2003 should have had an excellent idea of what they were heading into. The blunder seems to be a generalized one indeed. This argument also contradicts the “doing less harm” argument-now that argument begins to fade, as the argument that HTS anthropologists have a primary responsibility to help reduce American loss of life finally comes out of the shadows.

“So, because the United States made a HUGE blunder, we should penalize them and the people they are hurting by not offering our expertise?”

“Anthropologists, she [Montgomery McFate] said, need to balance ‘the anthropological interest in protecting informants and the national security interests of acquiring valuable information and knowledge that might potentially hurt an informant but might protect the lives of American and foreign civilians and members of the armed services….But most anthropologists…live in a pretty simple moral world. Their only interest is the interests of their informants. That is the sine qua non of anthropology. That is the prime directive. And I live in a more complicated world where that is a directive, but it is not the prime directive. Perhaps that is what they find so objectionable.'”

“Think about it this way, wouldn’t have been nice if the U.S. military knew that an Arab’s primary source of pride and power was the home and family, and that “kicking in doors” was an afront [sic] to their honor?”
[Apparently, American troops viewed Iraqis as animals, until anthropologists informed them otherwise. Either that, or kicking down doors is quite common in America, much like a casual greeting, and practiced just as often. In all seriousness, the US military seems to be hiring from the bottom of the barrel if these are the kinds of simpletons they are taking on board for $400,000. HTS emerges more clearly as a propaganda campaign, not one that is serious about anthropological expertise, and with this level of public discussion, Anthropology will get an even bloodier nose than it has in the past.]

“Anthropological service in the identification of genuine combatants is not only ethical, in my view, but fair, appropriate, just, and worthy of commendation rather than condemnation. The Executive Board, and the blog participants here who have been quick to condemn the program, the anthropologists participating in the program, and the US military, should be embarressed [sic] and ashamed.”

“armed forces will need ways to discriminate between noncombatants and people who use noncombatants as shields”
[insurgents are fighting in their own cities, in their nation, and so by definition one could always misrepresent them as using human shields, after all this a convenient justification for cluster bombing cities]

“How ethical is it to criticize and condemn from afar, safe behind the gated communities of academia, while those who stand to benefit from your skills are suffering and dying?”
[i.e., “support the troops”]

“all Americans have an ethical obligation to provide the soldiers that we send in harm’s way the best tools our nation can provide to succeed in their missions and return home safely.”
[it’s your war too, and you have to shoulder responsibility for it; the ethics of the situation, according to this view, demand that there be no anthropology that stands outside of the state, no independent academic positions, no universities free of the demands of world domination. Again, an exact reversal: having failed to convince that what HTS anthropologists do can in any way be ethical, a simple inversion of the argument is attempted, and now it is all non-HTS anthropologists who are unethical.]

“So anthropologists can engage the military and help us to get it right, or we’ll do it ourselves without your expertise, and surely do it with less efficiency. If this is really about ethics, and not about politics, it cannot be ignored that the effect of getting it right is many lives saved, more efficient applications of our resources for civil affairs and reconstruction (things like schools, hospitals and utilities) and a quicker resolution of the war.”

“It is naive to think that a firewall can be erected between anthropology and intelligence anyway. Anything that is published, particularly that available in the Internet, can be used by whomever accesses it, for good or evil.”
[another vulnerability of anthropology is exposed]

“I won’t pretend that the insights generated by the HTT’s won’t be used by military intelligence. But what is relevant here is that military intelligence is pursuing that same security and stability mission.”

Another way of reaping the rewards of domination.“The fact that American soldiers’ lives have been saved as well is immeasurably important to me. Disturbingly, it seems not to even be a factor for consideration in the dialogue above.”

“American (US Citizen) Anthropologists in particular do not have the luxury of just pretending that they have no obligation”

“Lives that will be continue to be lost because of misunderstandings between our cultures.”

“I wonder if that will cross their minds when they drink their trendy wines and congratulate themselves on taking such a ‘strong ethical stand’, that people are going to die so that they can feel good about themselves when they meet in their conventions in some Howard Johnson’s drinking Cocktails or work in safety as they search for bigfoot in Northern California”
[The pompous self-righteousness of the poster is noteworthy. Heroic self-images, while casting academic anthropologists in such a bizarre light that, once again, one must wonder where these HTS “anthropologists” actually come from. Searching for bigfoot? Not to mention the endless cocktail parties, it seems that we are aristocrats. Given the poster’s resentments, one wonders what motivates him to sacrifice so much for the alleged benefit of others who despise him so much. Is it that the person is a fool?]

“I explain cultural differences like, celebratory fire, so that soldiers won’t think they are being shot at and understand what and why something is going on.”

“Hey thats the way it is, hope I am not upsetting anyone’s brown bag luncheon.”
[Once again, this man is a hero, not a member of cushy elite, but a raw, masculine, down in the trenches, warrior sacrificing for all of us. No modesty here, no sobriety either.]

By not supporting the troops-heroes-you become, by default: villains. The logic is simple, and it is reproduced in countless bibles of American culture, namely superhero comics.

“How can you place a scarlet AAA upon the chest of those anthropologists willing to risk their lives in an endeavor that they believe to be the most meaningful they can ever undertake; an opportunity to apply their chosen profession for the good of humanity, not to wage a war but hopefully to end one?”

“How ethical is it to criticize and condemn from afar, safe behind the gated communities of academia, while those who stand to benefit from your skills are suffering and dying?”

“They are willing to risk their lives because they believe they have potential to do immense good, for the benefit of the people of Iraq and Afghanistan. This is evidence of altruism and selfless service”

“The individuals who are volunteering for this program are equally idealistic and cognizant of professional ethics as those who would oppose HTS”

The American led invasion and occupation of Iraq, preceded by over a decade of sanctions, bombings and another invasion, is not the problem, no matter how many civilians are killed, no matter how many lives are permanently ruined, no matter how much Iraq has been vandalized by the US. In fact, the US occupation is like that of a UN force, there to stop genocide, as if the US were a mere disinterested party, a scandalized bystander. Now come the false analogies:

“suppose that a fully authorized UN mission to stop the genocide in Rwanda had asked for an anthropologist to advise its commanders on the nature of the ethnic revenge system in existence? Would you preclude giving advice to stop genocide simply because someone on one of the two sides would probably get shot in order to compel the violence to stop?”

“your alternative plan would seem to radically increase the homicide rate in Iraq”
[this is where the killers say, “we are here to help stop the killing”–given that the US invasion radically increased the homicide rate in Iraq, the sudden concern for human life is very disingenuous]

“If doctors were to apply their oath to ‘do no harm’ the same way that you do, they would never treat a patient, invoking the risk that harm may occur.”
[a war of occupation now becomes like practicing medicine, destruction as a “healing” process]

Questions about whether it is right to participate in war that was unjust to begin with have been answered by proponents, not by asserting that this war is a just war, but that, simply, it’s the best we got:

“So I guess those of you who concur with the AAA statement believe that you can pick and choose which war you should be able to help?”

Yet another twist, from the war is a good one, to it might not be, to “who cares” they are here to stay. These arguments seem to have various fall back positions, and at the end, they fail back into unbridled endorsements of conquest of savages.

“Let’s face it, war is not going away.”
[so one might as well just take part in the bloodbath]

“War is as old as man’s congregation in like-groups”
[“man’s congregation”–the sociobiologist has spoken. Clearly this is someone of the National Geographic generation, when we spoke of “man” and reduced human behaviour to some unchanging replay of some caricature of a primate drama]

“Non combatant casualties happen. It has been a characteristic of every war ever waged. Most agree that one should endeavor to minimize noncombatant casualties.”

“And yes, the US does risk harming noncombatans. There is no geneva convention requiring the US to wholly avoid harming civilians. Only one that requires an effort to avoid such harm”
[and so anthropologists should be at peace with actions that bring about the deaths of noncombatants, because this is what we do as a profession]

No, but I wish you would for one day.One rhetorical trick has been to clumsily invert the argument put forth by critics of embedding, who charge that HTS-anthropologists are complicit with a dirty war of occupation. Now the war becomes good, necessary, and all anthropologists who fail to get involved are complicit. Non-war is bad. Indeed, the duty, the mission of all anthropology is to saddle up, lock ‘n’ load, no more teaching, no more research that is not line with US military objectives-in other words, welcome to the Third World of American Anthropology in the future.

“if we obstinately refuse to help a culturally naive civil government and our military to deal with cultural issues, because mistakes might get people killed, are we then complicitous in the deaths of the many that will surely be killed in the absence of cultural knowledge?”

“To not participate is to consent to the deaths of more Iraqis than need be the case”

“Yet, anthropologists are reluctant to offer their services in helping end this war, which makes them (us) hypocrites”

“Anthropologists, recognize that you are part of the system. Instead of standing by and watching, participate–and create change”

“So I say wash off the blood already on your hands in any case and pitch in”

“Those who wash their hands and stand away feel better, but the war continues”

“If you believe, after thorough investigation of the information that is available to you, that your intervention might possibly alleviate the harm done, do you not have an obligation to intervene?”

“you will have in effect conceded [if you agree with the AAA Executive Board] that there are no legitimate means for combating terrorists, murderers, and other people for whom civilian populations are nothing more than a politically convenient shield against retaliation”
[now the duty of anthropologists is to combat terrorism, without even the benefit of a discussion of what terrorism means, or debating who is the terrorist. Dehumanize and demonize the other, by lifting pages from the book of Donald Rumsfeld…this is what anthropology is about? And are we against all terrorists and murderers, or just the ones who are against the United States, or just in Iraq?]

” ‘No anthropological interventions can help there, on the ground, now in Iraq.’–Apparently HTS anthropologists seem to disagree. Since they’re the ones over there on the ground, they’d be the ones to know whether or not they’re making a useful difference.”
[the first person writing about his experiences as an anthropologist in the military in fact argued the exact opposite]

THE RELIGION OF 911Another way of putting this is: this discipline is in very serious trouble if this is what it produces within its ranks, assuming that anonymous posters were anthropologists as they claimed.

“By contrast with the US Armed Forces, these “insurgents” deliberately target civilians, saw the heads off of captives, hide weapons stores in or close to schools, medical clinics, and the like, all of which are egregious violations of the Geneva Convention, to say nothing of basic human morality”

“Clearly, the implication is that the US works rather more diligently at avoiding noncombatant casualties than most nations, despite the unsupported aspersions you offer here.”
[note that the author’s assertion is itself unsupported, other than by a belief that, once again, Americans are “the good guys” by default, and everyone else is a savage or nearly so; for a nation whose military and political establishment so easily established the idea of “collateral damage”, while denying others the same justification, it seems that the US works rather more diligently at avoiding responsibility for calculated casualties]

“Think about it this way, wouldn’t have been nice if the U.S. military knew that an Arab’s primary source of pride and power was the home and family, and that “kicking in doors” was an afront [sic] to their honor?”

“Recognizing that the US *is* there and likely will *stay there* whether or not you approve, if anthropologists can help the US armed forces avoid killing noncombatants and, yes, kill terrorists, then those anthropologists are reducing harm and doing good (IMO) respectively”

“because the terrorists (who are in violation of the Geneva Convention) use civilian populations as shields”

“When you are dealing with the kinds of people who hide munitions in hospitals, saw the heads off of prisoners, and *deliberately* target children, public markets, &c, the general rebuttal is to eliminate the terrorists. But it has to be done in a way that minimizes harm to noncombatants. If American anthropologists can contribute to the refinement of target selection, that is a contribution that reduces harm.”
[anthropology is now about refining “target selection”, in this perverse misappropriation of the discipline by an anonymous poster who almost certainly lied in claiming to be anthropologist]

Next: an essay on perspectives opposed to HTS-anthropology.

One thought on “The Narrative of Imperialism: Revisiting the Ugly American (Anthropologist)

  1. Pingback: American Anthropologists against Counterinsurgency: Part Two « OPEN ANTHROPOLOGY

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