In “A Pentagon Olive Branch to Academe” in the April 16, 2008, issue of Inside Higher Ed, Scott Jaschik describes a proposal by Robert Gates, US Secretary of “Defense”, for expanded Pentagon research that includes the humanities and social sciences, in what is sure to be another installment of the growing military creep in universities. (A watered down version of Gates’ remarks was presented in the Chronicle of Higher Education, along with cute quips about students. The text of Robert Gates’ speech can be found by clicking here. Lastly, the American Anthropological Association also posted a short article about Gates’ speech: please click here.)
Gates seems to want to assuage any concerns about the militarization of academic research, claiming that the research will not be secret, will be open access, and respect academic values, with the aim being to better inform public policy. That is interesting, especially since it skirts the simple question of why funding for academic research should emanate from the Pentagon at all then, rather than another agency without ties to imperial adventures and a long career of war crimes.
Gates renewed language that calls for the greater participation of anthropological research, and once again this is not just any research, or even research designed to “better inform public policy”, but rather research designed to win wars against peoples in other nations. Gates argued: “Too many mistakes have been made over the years because our government and military did not understand — or even seek to understand — the countries or cultures we were dealing with”.
Again, what an odd statement, the idea that cultural misunderstandings may have been at the root of abusing children in the streets of Iraq, leading them in chants of “fuck Iraq”, or taunting male passers by with homoerotic proposals, or taking a dump in a mosque, or firebombing a herder and his sheep for fun, or torturing and executing prisoners, or raping young girls and burning their families alive, the grotesque execution of the Iraqi head of state (see an earlier post on this) after over a decade of sanctions that led to the deaths of half a million children, and after repeated bombings since 1991, after polluting Iraq with depleted uranium, after smashing a country into ethnic sections, after leading millions of Iraqis into internal exile and flights to refuge abroad, after leading to the deaths of 300 Iraqis for every person killed on 9-11-2001, in a country with one-tenth of the population of the U.S.–all of this…cultural “misunderstanding”. Are American anthropologists being called upon to cure the pathologies of their own society, to reduce the toxic glorification of war and the malignant sanctification of brutes in uniform, or to provide practical advice on how to better control subject populations?
Following on from Gates’ call for research that improves cultural understanding–you see, we anthropologists have been very lazy for over a century now, and apparently we have yet to publish a single book of relevance to increased cultural understanding, this is all so new to us!–Jaschik reports:
“Such language was welcomed by the university presidents, who said that it could point the way to a new relationship for academe with the Pentagon. At the same time, the plans were questioned by scholars who view ties to the Pentagon as posing ethical or other dangers to themselves or their research subjects. They said that while Gates may be using language that reflects academic values, they believe there are inherent conflicts between their work and Pentagon support.”
University presidents are not a reliable source of credible opinion here. Most are so starved to improve their institutions’ bottom lines, and eager to prove their acumen in raising dollars, that if meat packers offered cash in return for the right to open a meat packing plant on a campus, added to applied courses on butchery, one can expect that at least some of these presidents would carefully consider the appropriate window dressing for the new slaughterhouse cashcow on campus.
The article also tells us that Gates was president of Texas A&M University (no surprise there), and when we recall that Condoleeza Rice was also president of Stanford, one has to wonder at how these two managed to escape the strangulation of “liberal hegemony” and “Marxist indoctrination” on campus, to reach the safe shores of the Bush regime.
Gates: on top of anthropology like a GI on an Iraqi teen inmate
Gates reaffirmed his interest–here we go again–in anthropology among other disciplines: “The government and the Department of Defense need to engage additional intellectual disciplines – such as history, anthropology, sociology, and evolutionary psychology.” The interesting idea behind his proposal is that all of this research is to be externally-oriented, that is, about people in other countries. We are told in the article that highly prized areas of research would be: Chinese military and technology studies, and “Iraqi and terrorist perspectives” (they go together it seems), among others. The problems, therefore, are seen to lie abroad, and we need psychological studies of Others, and not of the paid beasts in uniform who will harass and taunt thirsty Iraqi children.
Jaschik also reports that Gates praised the role of anthropologists in Human Terrain Teams, repeating the same unsubstantiated figures that have become common place, even while both Iraq and Afghanistan have seen an increase in violence, an increase on already high levels:
“Gates also defended the Human Terrain System, in which anthropologists and other scholars have served with military units in Iraq and Afghanistan, advising them on local cultures and societies. The program has been condemned by the American Anthropological Association and cited by many anthropologists as an example of the way ties to the military can corrupt scholarship and the trust that anthropologists must build with the people they study. Gates, however, praised the program.
” ‘The Human Terrain program … is still in its infancy and has attendant growing pains,’ he said. ‘But early results indicate that it is leading to alternative thinking — coming up with job-training programs for widows, or inviting local power-brokers to bless a mosque restored with coalition funds. These kinds of actions are the key to long-term success, but they are not always intuitive in a military establishment that has long put a premium on firepower and technology. In fact, the net effect of these efforts is often less violence across the board, with fewer hardships and casualties among civilians as a result. One commander in Afghanistan said last year that after working with a Human Terrain Team, the number of armed strikes he had to make declined more than 60 percent’.”
The last time I heard of growing pains–pardon me, birth pangs–was when Condoleeza Rice cheerfully assessed the Israeli cluster bombing of civilian areas in southern Lebanon in August of 2006 as if it were part of some natural growth process. One must applaud Jaschik for having the stomach to regularly wade through such disgusting propaganda with all of the dispassion that I am free to avoid.