I do not actually go looking for videos of abusive American troops in Iraq, first because there are too many and I would not be able to choose which to post here without flooding the page, and secondly because I prefer to come across them randomly through others since this suggests a network of interests and circulation of these videos which gives them added weight as more common reference points.
Here we are then with a video of U.S. forces in Iraq complaining about not being allowed to shoot children who throw rocks — a new policy, by a new sergeant, if I heard correctly. These “liberators” are being showered with rocks by a gauntlet of persistent and fearless children. One of the children shows us which English words he has learned from U.S. occupiers, and is thus able to shout “FUCK YOU” at the troops, if you listen carefully. Let’s watch the video before I comment further:
One must ask: just how many videos of how many instances such as these are needed before one hears people beginning to at least doubt or lose some enthusiasm when urging others to “support the troops”? One can hear this cheering more often in Canada too, with reference to Canadian occupiers in Afghanistan. My question is: no, why must I support them? Were they drafted? Did they have a choice in where they went? And when considering the possibility of being sent to someone else’s country, to kill the locals there, what was their motivation? Rather than support the troops, I would prefer: “troops, explain yourselves.” There is a less polite slogan I would prefer to that, but I am relenting today.
Secondly, when some “anthropologists,” such as the disreputable media star wannabe, Montgomery McFate and her Human Terrain System, advocate for embedding social scientists in the military, they take at least two things for granted (in fact they take much more for granted, such as the fact that they never expected to be exposed and criticized as viscerally as some of us have done, but I focus on two points for now):
(a) That they are entitled to be in Iraq and Afghanistan. The notion that these places belong to others, supposedly the people they claim to be studying and whose rights they claim to respect, is simply never voiced. Since U.S. forces are in these places, then they, as American “social scientists” are therefore entitled to be there. That is buying into the very logic of occupation itself. There is absolutely no point in saying “we also thought the invasion was a bad idea, but…” — invasions and occupations are inseparable, one does not get the chance to nuance one’s way out of taking responsibility for one’s actions. One supports the invasion by endorsing the occupation that follows from it, and by supporting the objectives of that occupation. One cannot then protest about the lack of “measured judgment” from critics when one’s lack of scruples is what mandates the search for alibis. It is not the job of the critic to defend the indefensible, nor to defend McFate.
(b) That they can help to lessen the chances of innocent civilians being killed by U.S. forces. Do they know what is a ‘sure fire’ way of totally eliminating any possibility of U.S. forces murdering kids who throw rocks? By getting their unwanted backsides out of Iraq. They pretend to be unaware of this “option”, because advocating for that would mean, first, no salary from BAE Systems, and second, joining the anti-war forces. What their argument does is to engage in pure emotional blackmail: either you support us, or these goons go back to the heavy firepower and murdering civilians (remember, the same goons we were urged to support). Read McFate’s own words to the San Francisco Chronicle:
“My fear is that … he’s [General David Petraeus] going to go over there and it’s going to be too late, and he’s going to fail. And the whole thing is going to be delegitimized: the counterinsurgency doctrine, non-kinetic force, delegitimized,” she said softly. “And then what’s the Army going to do? It’s going to fall back on what it had before … technology and firepower.”
Blackmail. Either we get our Human Terrain System and our share of the tax pie wasted on the occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan, or the killing begins again in earnest … except that the killing never stopped, and the notion that it has lessened is a fabrication of creative statistical analysis, that “this month was less deadly than last.” If one chooses a short enough timeline, then almost any argument becomes feasible, and no less absurd.
So what’s a good American anthropologist to do? These individuals, such as McFate and the small minds at the “Small Wars Council” claim noble and humanitarian aims (even while chastising the rest of us for being “moral” and “self-righteous”, which really speaks to their actual sense of self in damning ways). Their claim is to want to lessen the killing of innocents. But they do not, not under any circumstances, wish to criticize the war, when now most of their fellow citizens and the majority of the planet has shown open revulsion to the war. They think that they can “anthropologize the military.” But that never happened on the many previous occasions detailed in David Price’s publications, and will likely not happen. Moreover, what does it really mean to “anthropologize” the military? In my view, it would effectively mean getting the military to disarm itself and seek informed consent before entering another country. I have no idea of the extent of the distortion of “anthropology” that has unfolded in McFate’s mind since her moment of genius on a cocktail napkin:
Despite her return to American shores, McFate found herself still grasping for purpose until one night in 2002 when she ended a long talk with her husband about their futures by scribbling a sentence on a cocktail napkin: How do I make anthropology relevant to the military?
“It’s one of those times where you get goose bumps all over your body,” she said.
Absolutely, one can understand the excitement, especially as the honest side of the napkin read, “How do I make myself useful to the military?” The quote above says as much: looking for purpose, talking about their futures. There is no notion of changing the military here, which is why it is important to scrutinize the psycho-pathology of McFate’s discourse, especially since she has elected to project herself as the headline-grabbing spokesperson of the Human Terrain System, and of a new wave of anthropology.
Now if one really wanted a culturally sensitive military, non-lethality, and work against naked aggression against nations that never attacked the U.S., does one do that by putting on a gun and a uniform? Some may object to “hand on hip” poses of anthropologists, while seemingly advocating “hand on holster.” At every turn, the proponents of embedding anthropology undo their own stated arguments — they are the most awfully conflicted individuals it seems, with an unstable set of shifting narratives.
Never does it occur to them that there are other ways of training people to be more humane and better informed. For example, better educating Americans so that they do: (a) not vote for war mongers; (b) not buy into hate mongering; (c) not ignore the costs of their lifestyle for the rest of the planet; (d) learn about other cultures from young, and a learn some basic respect and ways of interacting with people of other cultures; (e) work toward serious job alternatives, without this desperate narrow-mindedness that it’s either Walmart or the Marines; (f) learn to question the state, state power, and the reasons why militaries exist in the first place.
Anthropologists against lethality, invasion, and bald adventurism have choices that do not reduce to one: join the military. Their primary aim ought to be helping Americans to escape American culture, a culture of violence if there ever was one.
(And for once, please stop resorting to facile myths and silly caricatures and stereotypes about academia being safe and easy, an insult that McFate often likes to repeat: many if not most academics these days are temporary, underpaid workers. Safe? Two floors below mine, four faculty members were shot dead. Two other shootings have occurred at post-secondary institutions in Montreal itself, one a small massacre. The U.S. has plenty of its own. Anybody who claims these institutions are “safe” … is probably someone who is ringed by armed men in uniform who serve to protect her overpaid hide.)