David Price: Human Terrain Systems Dissenter Resigns, Tells Inside Story of Training’s Heart of Darkness

Human Terrain Systems Dissenter Resigns, Tells Inside Story of Training’s Heart of Darkness: How U.S. Military Gameplans War on Greens Inside U.S.; “Ethical Concerns” a Bad Joke.

By David Price


February 15, 2010

I first came into contact with cultural anthropologist John Allison a couple of years ago when he invited me to join a session of a global organization of archaeologists presenting innovative papers at the World Archaeology Congress in Dublin, including themes related to military uses of anthropology and archaeology. I couldn’t make the conference, but we corresponded occasionally after that. I hadn’t heard from John in a while, and then last November I suddenly got an email from him telling me that he was writing me from inside the Human Terrain Systems training program in Leavenworth, Kansas.

My initial inclination was to wonder if this was a gag, or, having written several critiques of the Human Terrain Systems program describing why it is an ethical and practical anthropological disaster, whether someone was setting me up. While I’ve had several other Human Terrain social scientists write me with complaints about the program, it didn’t seem likely that Human Terrain Systems (HTS) would hire someone with John’s politically progressive views. But the email address was the same one John had used for years, and John’s story checked out and made sense, so I approached our correspondence along the lines of his initial request to help him organize his focus and to understand critiques of HTS. As he undertook his HTS training, we corresponded and I passed along articles, and offered friendship and critiques of what he was learning in this training; not that John needed help with this critique, the flaws in the program were pretty obvious to him.

John explained to me that a few weeks earlier he had lost his job working as a Cultural Resource Management archaeologist. He had been terminated for fulfilling his duties as a Program Manager, which led to him being accused of failing to follow the Chain of Command after having consulted with the California State Historic Preservation Officer. Within minutes of posting his resume on a job hunting website, he was contacted by a HTS contractor and recruited to begin training as a HTS social scientist. The contractor indicated John was just what they were looking for because he had conducted anthropological fieldwork in Afghanistan in 1969-70 while working towards a PhD in anthropology. So, the Human Terrain program recognized him as potentially a very valuable asset to the program. All this for a handsome salary during the pre-deployment training stage at a rate that is twice the salary I earn as a full professor.

Given the public claims that the Human Terrain program is saving lives of Afghan civilians, it made sense that John Allison would consider joining Human Terrain Systems (HTS). HTS proponents claim that it mixes ethnographic fieldwork and troop education in ways that will reduce violent interactions between troops and occupied/enemy populations. But the claims of what Human Terrain Teams (HTT) accomplish are far different from the reality; and anthropologists’ ethical commitments to secure voluntary informed consent and to not harm studied populations creates insurmountable ethical problems for anthropologists in the HTS program. A recently released detailed report written by a commission of the American Anthropological Association (of which I was a contributor) found that HTS was an ethical and practical failure that sloppily mixed education, research and intelligence gathering functions and had such poor safeguards that it inevitably contributes to the targeting of populations. This report concluded that, “when ethnographic investigation is determined by military missions, not subject to external review, where data collection occurs in the context of war, integrated into the goals of counterinsurgency, and in a potentially coercive environment – all characteristic factors of the HTS concept and its application – it can no longer be considered a legitimate professional exercise of anthropology.” Yet, the well orchestrated PR campaigns pitching HTS to the public has made it an inviting program for many.

From the beginning, John was skeptical of the claims offered by the Human Terrain Systems program. While his research in Afghanistan, not to mention the deaths of Afghan friends made the possibility of reducing harm a personal issue; he was skeptical that the military could use anthropological knowledge in ways that would serve the Afghan people. Given the range of claims about the Human Terrain program and conflicting reports that its social scientists did or didn’t engage in targeting or collect intelligence, he knew he was in a unique position to observe how the training program approached these issues; and the closed door reports from HTS team members reporting in from “down range” could provide a clear view of these and other issues.

Since mid-October I’ve heard from John several times each week. Sometimes John wrote me, asking for links to articles and sources on HTS; things like the American Anthropological Association’s 2009 report on HTS, and articles written by Roberto González and other members of the Network of Concerned Anthropologists. Other times he wrote with brief reports on the day’s activities.

Early on, a lot of my correspondence with John consisted of just sending him journal articles, drafts of papers I was working on or the same news clips that I regularly sent to friends. A few days after his initial email, I sent John a link to a pretty typical, uncritical HTS story that had come out in World Politics Review, writing that I thought “it reads like the dozens of uncritical propaganda pieces that have come before it. Anything that you can gather on how the forty or fifty of these uncritical hegemonic press reports keep coming off the assembly line might be interesting–it isn’t really a mystery how it works, it just might be interesting for you to watch how these reporters are corn-fed the party line from the inside.”

John replied, that the function of these ongoing uncritical feature profiles on Human Terrain was clarified for him earlier that day when a retired Colonel had spoken to the group about the status of HTS, explaining that,

“the program is still in the status of a Project. Projects are funded from year to year as non-recurring line items. They are trying to get the status of ‘Program,’ which is a recurring budget line item. So, all these articles that are published in the military press and in public media, are attempting to influence both the military budget decision-makers and anyone in the civilian sector who might be able to influence the military decision-makers. That is what it is all about: budget turf wars.”

Some of what is told to the media in these PR stories is simply not true. But the impossibility of Human Terrain Teams ever achieving most of the claimed outcomes, such as establishing local rapport and being the patient listening face of a harsh military occupation, so regularly fed to the American public, was made very clear to HTS trainees. In late November John wrote that,

“One interesting fact that was revealed today is that the time that an anthropologist or social scientist has to finish an interview before the probability of a sniper attack becomes drastically high, is about 7 minutes. How deep an understanding, rapport or trust develops in 7 minutes? It seems that the ‘data’ sought is very limited to operationally tactically useful stuff. For anything deeper, they “reach back” to the research centers for work from anthropologists that they will use without permission and without attribution.”

Classical ethnographic research usually takes a year or more of fieldwork before anthropologists begin figuring how things work. Given HTS’s difficulty in hiring culturally competent social scientists, seven minutes isn’t even enough time for an ethnographer to get properly confused. John’s reference to a “reach back” to Human Terrain research centers refers to the program’s theoretical practice (theoretical, because the technology doesn’t work as designed) of HTT field social scientists linking with US based HTT staff accessing published and unpublished social science data for use by HTT social scientists down range, with or without consulting with and getting permission of the researcher for using their data for this purpose.

Several emails from John detailed how the training used a classroom setting with a pretext of “teaching” and fostering “discussions” as a way to impart heavy-handed distortions about topics ranging from counterinsurgency, history, anthropological research methods and norms of ethical anthropological practice.

Some Human Terrain Team classroom training tried to address questions of ethics. But John wrote me that these classes were “strictly pro forma as, no doubt, required; but not much relevant discussion of the salient moral/ethical questions about what we would be required to do as integral part of a platoon.” But John wrote me that anthropological ethics conflict with HTS mission, and rather than focusing on ethics, the training focused on:

“the pressure to conform to the military mindset by the dominant and majority of the class that is military, either in uniform or in civilian clothes. If you don’t join the lockstep notion that a US life is much more valuable than an Afghan life, then you will get marginalized and stigmatized in the class and down-graded during the peer review process. Most civilian ‘social scientists’ (which include historians, psychologists and industrial psychologists) have merged into that military mindset. The few who have not are being made to feel our separateness. If I was allowed to go downrange, those who would be my Team Leader would relish to opportunity to get rid of me at the first difference of opinion.”

John wrote that one of the training instructors, a Ph.D. anthropologist who worked mostly with statistical sociological methods as a public relations consultant teaching the class in “Ethnographic Field Methods” – that never touched on the central methods of ethnography – dismissed the ethical complication of HTS ethnography telling the class that, “Consent is implied by the continued participation” of the ‘informant’, and also, by those who join in the discussion without an invitation.” Not only is this a predatory standard of consent, but it runs counter to the Nuremberg Code, the Belmont Report, and US federal research consent guidelines.

Human Terrain Systems is desperate to hire anthropologists, but the ethical problems presented for anthropologists working on HTS counterinsurgency operations makes it difficult to keep actual anthropologists in the program. John had important insights into the program’s failures to hire anthropologists or social scientists with pertinent cultural or linguistic experiences:

“Though they want to have an anthropologist be the HTT Social Scientist, they are happy to get anyone with what could be remotely considered an ‘advanced’ degree in a social science. So, although we have five anthropologists, we also have several historians, an economist, an industrial psychologist, etc; and only one for the Iraq group and one (me) for the Afghanistan group has any previous experience in the region of their destination.”

There are good historical reasons why anthropologists find HTS’s practices to run counter to their disciplinary commitments to the people with whom they share their lives when doing fieldwork. Historians and industrial psychologists often approach the people they study as “objects,” or in ways that are more distant, or are fundamentally different than anthropologists. After reading these observations about the program’s difficulties in finding anthropologists, I wrote to John that,

“Though the HTS dream is to use anthropologists, it will have a next to impossible time hiring any (or at least any decent ones, esp. not ones with actually field research in the areas where HTS will work—today Afghanistan, tomorrow AFRICOM), so they will grab historians, religious studies, political science, accountants etc. to fill the gap, but these people won’t come from disciplines that champion ethnographic fieldwork.”

John wrote me that HTT personnel are given cursory lectures on research ethics, including information on the basics of the Nuremberg Code and ethical principles by professional organizations such as the American Anthropological Association, but that the specifics of how to negotiate ethical research in armed, occupied settings are not made clear to students. But such discussions are by far overshadowed by the demands of the larger military mission which HTS personnel exist to support. John wrote,

“Clearly [HTS] does not give its participants [the] luxury [to] consider whether the orders they comply with consider the ethical obligations to those they interview in the presence of their armed Team Leaders; some of whom have a deep dislike for “the enemy” which includes most Muslims. And this is why they are hiring economists, historians and others as “social scientists” who, initially, were intended to be cultural anthropologists.”

These issues have such significance to professionally trained anthropologists that the military is increasingly becoming aware that the unethical nature of the everyday procedures makes it difficult for them to hire Ph.D. anthropologists with normative understandings of ethical practices. One choice for the military facing this problem would be to halt a program that necessitates engaging in ethically problematic behaviors; the other choice for the military could be to start training their own “ethnographers” and “anthropologists,” with a different standard of ethical behavior. According to John Allison, the military appears interested in the second of these two choices; in early December he wrote me that he concluded, “that the military is beginning to do an end run by producing its own anthropologists/social scientist PhDs at West Point, the Air Force Academy, the Naval Academy and other cooperating institutions; thus marginalizing the criticism.”

This makes a lot of sense. It fits with larger institutional moves in which the military (through programs like the Minerva Program, the Intelligence Community Scholars Program and the Pat Roberts Intelligence Scholars Program) is trying to bend independent scholarship in ways that will recruit scholars ready to will tell them what they want to hear or what they already believe.

This military university system can be used to produce social scientists operating with different ethical commitments, where military scholars can be trained to do the military’s bidding without raising the sort of fundamental ethical questions that members of the American Anthropological Association (AAA) and other groups have raised. They can develop their own “ethics codes” that can warp ethical commitments in ways that will align with military missions. Allison wrote,

“If military academies want to displace the AAA’s ability to advise and sanction through resolutions, by providing degrees to career military officers who will not question the chain of command, then they will have their way … for awhile. When the results of the HTTs in providing “data” to the brigades are shown not to be what they had been anticipating, the “HTS Project” will be denied “Program” status, and the military will again turn to PsyOps, Provincial Reconstruction Teams, and the other standard military options for COIN. In the end, David, it is all really about profit and control.”

Huge profits for the military contractors running the program (HTS training is managed by CLI contractors) and control for the army commanders directing HTS activities in the field. Promises of profit and control are the sort of desired outcomes that will keep HTS funded long after internal military evaluations show the program to be an abject failure.

John wrote me that in a class covering Information Operations (InfoOps) they were told that HTTs are used to “measure the change in the population’s mental image after a PsyOps propaganda pamphlet drop.” John wrote that “part of HTS’s job is to devise such measures and make such an evaluation to be presented to the commander as a brief PowerPoint slide presentation.” Such mercenary acts transform anthropological sensitivities into mechanical instruments measuring the efficiency of military occupations.

Throughout our correspondence John’s hopes for the program came and went. He began with hopes that HTS could shift the military’s focus away from violent “kinetic engagements” towards engaging with the population without force. In early January he wrote me an enthusiastic email after engaging in some training role-playing when he had,

“asked one of the two Arabic-speaking HTT woman who where the interviewer and the interviewee, whether she would feel more safe if she were there with the woman alone, rather than accompanied by armed, uniformed soldiers. Her answer was “yes” (she has done fieldwork in Yemen for couple of years). I went on to make two suggestions that were well-received:

1. That HTT’s job is as much to shift the ‘Center of Gravity’ (COG, in COIN-speak) of the military, including those military who are participating in HTTs, from the Kinetic to the COIN position. That is, to get them to see the world and their role in it differently. That they need to do that before they can effectively try to shift the COG of how Afghans perceive them from negative to positive. In other words, their intent toward the Afghan people needs to become positive, not that of forceful occupiers.

2. That this would best be achieved by putting the HTT social scientist as resident with the local people, not embedded in the military and ‘inside the wire.’

I was shocked at the response – quite positive, even from hard-nosed career soldiers.

Subversion, it may be; but for improving things so deeds match words.”

I replied to John pointing out that the political issues raised by military-anthropologists embedding with villagers or the political and ethical issues raised by anthropologists becoming agents of occupation and counterinsurgency. I wrote him that this proposal sounded,

“like the dream of panoptical control of the enemy: becoming the all seeing eye; surveillance ethnography brought to a new level. The counterinsurgency dream is to understand and control the other by shifting COG from the external shooting and threatening with harm by the military, to other means of cooption and control. The key is that the military still seeks to control local populations, not through hard power, but through soft power. The problem is found in what one means by ‘become positive’ in your sentence reading ‘the intent toward the Afghan people needs to become positive, not that of forceful occupiers.’ Notions of what would entail ‘positive’ would be measured not only by local standards (if this were the case, then ‘positive’ might include in some instances enabling insurgents to remove foreign occupiers by force) but by US military standards; in other words, if the US presence in Afghanistan, Iraq, (coming soon: Yemen, Nigeria, etc.) has anything to do with issues of empire (it does), then these issues remain elements of what a ‘positive’ outcome would be.

Moving HTT social scientists into local settings isn’t some form of social work; it is a form of social control. The HTT project seeks to blur what COIN is, so that we internalize it as humanitarian assistance and cross-cultural understanding; but counterinsurgency remains counterinsurgency. Soft power in these circumstances remains military power. It leaves less obvious dead bodies in the streets, but it remains a tool of empire.”

But even as John was working to keep his hopes for Human Terrain Systems alive, he – who had worked for five years as the Tribal Anthropologist for the Klamath Tribes – was engaging in some serious internal arguments with HTS personnel in which he openly compared the outcomes of HTS enterprises to other disastrous American campaigns. John wrote to HTS training personnel that this,

“is not so different from what the European-Americans did to the Native Americans in the USA. Now, several generations later, the stories are passed on and are deep in the collective consciousness of those Indian peoples and colors their way of seeing the European-Americans today, having its effect on how they view “government programs”, attempts to change their view of work, alcohol & drugs, etc.”

In January, John wrote that his HTT training group was undertaking intense role playing where Human Terrain social scientists advised commanders about whether or not the US military should undertake an air strike on a specific northern Afghani village. Johns said the information used for these decisions, in the classroom and in Afghanistan, was mostly whatever they could muster from Google, but in one role-playing scenario assigned to him: the village under consideration in this instance was one he knew from his dissertation research. John wrote me that one team was ask to advise on a training scenario set in the Waigal Valley of Nuristan; the HTT social scientists assigned this case,

“based all his information on internet resources – as did everyone; and, as would be necessary for the real situation, since the air assault was necessary because the people their were not receptive to our occupation.

Waigal Valley is the next valley east from the Ashkun area, where I did my doctoral research. When he finished, I gave a brief summary of the reality of Nuristan, told them that the suggestion of attacking them because they resisted invasion as they had against Islam, against the British and against the Russians, made me want to cry. I suggested that there has to be another function for the HTTs than simply to loyally and without direct knowledge of the people, subscribe to such an attack. I made it clear that I understood that the Air Assault would have to be followed by air support fire because the Nuristanis WILL RESIST. Afterward some of the career military folks and career CIA folks came over to try to explain the difference between an air assault and an air attack; and I told them that I understood the difference and also knew that the assault would be followed by air support if there was resistance; and that there would be resistance.”

Insofar as Human Terrain seeks to connect hearts and minds, it is doomed to fail for all the dynamics played out in the above training scenario: the voice of anthropological knowledge and moderation was plowed under by the dominant military approach. If such failures were the rule in the classroom, there is no chance these views could hold sway in the battlefield.

John and a second anthropologist dissenter regularly raised questions about ethical and political issues related to HTS’s mission in class. In the beginning this was welcomed as normal classroom discourse. With time these dissenters became increasingly marginalized within the cohort. Two months into the program John wrote me that the program was,

“getting tighter on those who don’t buy into the military’s version of what HTT should do. Now, it is becoming highly pressured to begin private lessons with firearms; and the image is that we will actually be soldiers who also do a little intel work as prescribed by the commander. The truth of the situation in the field is not quite that, as told by some who have recently returned, but the various career guys make it out that way: that you have to carry a weapon because you are bumping a soldier from the vehicle going on a mission that is exclusively military, and they are being so kind as to maybe allow you a few minutes to do some interviewing; but you better have a gun so as to be able to fill in for the soldier whose place you took in case of attack. The old Stockholm Syndrome pressures are increasing.”

I wrote him back that,

“from the outside, the timing of now introducing firearms lessons seems pretty smart: at this point you have all been indoctrinated with enough stories about what ‘really happens down range’ that whatever logical resistance to becoming armed members of a counterinsurgency team that would have naturally been vocalized by many in your class will have been pushed below the surface. The notion that you are all ‘taking the seat of a soldier’ on a mission where you may have to kill those you are trying to defeat with soft power is just another way of establishing how HTS social scientists are soldiers. I can only imagine how nasty the subtle and not so subtle group dynamics with all this can get.”

During the past month, John’s descriptions of the program increasingly presented a picture of an inflexible program that turns against individuals offering advice aligned with perspectives outside the narrow limits of military doctrine. During the first week of February, John described how the range of acceptable views was rapidly narrowing and adherence to military doctrine became an objective unto itself, writing that the most important of:

“the Targeting indoctrination presentation by the contractors, was that we all need to adopt the doctrinal language and viewpoint. Only by doing that can we successfully influence the tactical and strategic decisions of the commander and the planning team. When I tried to point out – again – that by being limited to talking and thinking like one of them the social scientist loses his own perspective and cannot really make the changes in perspective of the military – that is, to move the military’s Center of Gravity toward a more human terrain, anthropology-focused viewpoint. Of course, then I had to put up with facing the usual solid wall of musk oxen telling me that I would be excluded from the Team if I tried to approach it with that suggestion.”

Wargaming Against Radical Greens in Kansas and Missouri

John’s last day of HTS training was the first day of MARDEX, a military role playing exercise designated as “Weston Resolve.” For the exercise, the class was presented with a training scenario in which the fictional nation of “Lakeland” was located in an area to the northeast of Kansas City was the focus of operations. John wrote that,

“In the PowerPoint slide presentation laying out the background for the “operations”, the Wargame role-playing is represented by staff as merging into the real world drug, crime, and environmental “contention” within the community. The whole mission is represented as bringing a military state control of the local population which has recently elected a local government that is a “permissive” (supportive) environment for US Army activities after the previous local government had withdrawn from the US as a sovereign society. Now the US military is taking over the area to reestablish public security.”

The class was then told that the mission they were training to support was one in which the military was establishing order in a setting where environmentalist-separatists had taken over. John explained that in this hypothetical training scenario,

“IATAN, a coal-fired power plant on the Missouri side of the river is one of the main military foci due to “contention within the community” over the environmental pollution it is causing. Sierra Club and other, more radical groups have been active in this area: ELF is one such radical group. Even though there is an elected government and rule of law in Lakeland, there are some ‘insurgents’ who are opportunistic.’ That is why the US Army has moved into this area that has broken away from US control.

Staff Assignment to the several Human Terrain Teams that make up the class of the November Cycle were issued as follows: 1. ‘Find out more details on the criminal activity.’ 2. Find out the best conduits to pass ‘information’(PsyOps and InfoOps) to the local population. 3. HTT is assigned to produce a ‘Research Plan’ to understand the situation at the IATAN power plant – people’s concerns, desires, etc., and identify those who were ‘problem-solvers’ and those who were ‘problem-causers,’ and the rest of the population whom would be the target of the information operations to move their Center of Gravity toward that set of viewpoints and values which was the ‘desired end-state’ of the military’s strategy.

As I thought about what was being done in this activity, and the way it adapted COIN strategy for Afghanistan/Iraq to be applied by the US military in situations in the USA where the local population was seen from the military perspective as threatening the established balance of power and influence, and challenging law and order, I began to think back on stories that circulated among the ant-war movement in the 1960s-70s, about concentration camps being developed just for imprisoning such protestors an “problem-causers”. And I wondered who would be working on the Human Terrain Teams to enable the US military’s actions against unruly segments of their own countrymen; perhaps Afghan and Iraqi anthropologists who had specialized in US ethnography?”

Human Terrain Teams practicing training scenarios set in regions actually within the United States bring the very notion of “human terrain” back home to its domestic counterinsurgent roots. As anthropologist Roberto Gonzalez documents in his book, American Counterinsurgency: Human Science and the Human Terrain, the very phrase “human terrain” grew out of domestic counterinsurgency initiatives. Gonzalez describes how in 1968 the US House Un-American Activities Committee released a report entitled “Guerrilla Warfare Advocates in the United States” which warned that the Black Panthers and other militant groups threatened the country’s political stability. HUAC warned that “irregular forces…possess the ability to seize and retain the initiative through a superior control of the human terrain.” The clear implication was that the control of civilians in America’s cities was vital to winning the counterinsurgency struggle at home.

When John resigned from the program last Wednesday, he submitted a summary critique of HTS to those directing the program. John’s words convey his hopes and disappointments for the Human Terrain Systems program, and clarify the deep systemic problems with this flawed program. Below is the critique he submitted upon his resignation:

Summary Critique of Human Terrain Systems from a Trainee’s Perspective

John Allison, Cultural Anthropologist. (Resigned from the Human Terrain System Training Program, November 2009 Cycle, effective February 10, 2010)

“I volunteered for the HTS program because I had done my doctoral research in the Hindu Kush area of Afghanistan known as Nuristan long before the train of disasters, caused by foreign forces over the past 35 years, ran through this land of diverse peoples, historic sites and monuments, and ecosystems. I had hope that I could help to save the loss of any more innocent Afghan lives. Several of my Afghan friends had died, some having been executed because of their associations with US agents there.

After beginning training in the HTS program, I was shocked when I first mentioned that this was my purpose and one of my classmates expressed contempt for that motive and said that he was only there because he didn’t want to see one more US soldier’s life lost; didn’t want to have to take the US flag to the door of an US mother and tell her that her son was killed. And, when I asked about Afghan mothers whose sons were killed by US errors of judgment causing “collateral damage” in their kinetic warfare, he responded that he didn’t ‘… give a fuck about those people. I would just drive through their village in my Humvee and throw money at those mothers.’ This was a Colonel who is a doctoral candidate in a military history program at a military-funded university; a Team Leader. Although this man was more out-spoken than most of his military colleagues, my impression now is that he expressed what almost all of them think and feel.

My experience in the program included both instruction in such things as military culture, military language, military decision-making process, Counter-Insurgency doctrine, and many other topics intended to socialize the trainees into the world as seen by the military. During this time, more than once, the majority of the class – who were either current or retired career military or those with former military service who were hoping to convert into an intelligence role such as CIA – would speak about the ‘Stockholm Syndrome’. This refers to how the majority in a group can shape the values and perception of the minority. Apparently, in most ‘cycles’ (six-month long training group schedules up to deployment), the majority of the HTT candidates are such military personnel as were in our November 2009 Cycle, which actually began mid-October. It became clear that the majority saw their job as to expedite the acculturation of the rest of us – those who had the skills and credential that were needed to support the ‘soft’ warfare image that HTS advertises – an image of winning the hearts and minds of the peoples of Afghanistan and Iraq – to win the anthropologists over to their military culture’s world view and values; or to marginalize and force the non-compliant to resign.

In addition there were a couple weeks of ‘Introduction to Anthropology’ and three weeks of ‘Ethnographic Method’. The Introduction to Anthropology was cursory and quick. Some important terms were introduced – e.g. ‘emic’ and ‘etic’ – but not taken to enough depth in examples to drive home the deeper implications. Holt, who served on an HTT in Afghanistan and wants to return, is a cultural materialist, and limited his perspective to mostly the etic. He was the dominant voice. He soon transitioned into a scenario in which he assigned the several class teams to provide a 5-slide PowerPoint presentation (with a maximum of 5 bullet ‘points’ on each slide) to the Commander to advise him on what to do when he has troops on the ground in a village area that he has heard is ‘hostile’, based on HTT research. Of the seven teams, only one dared to suggest that the commander should wait until the HTT had done further field research before launching the assault. This was clearly the Stockholm effect of the Team Leader and others forming the behavior of the Social Scientist.

There were several weeks of ‘Ethnographic Method’, in which there was no introduction to real participant-observer methods or anything really related to ethnographic method. Instead, this was a rapid fire, cursory presentation of a myriad of methods used in sociological statistics; but not in enough depth in any one of them to really become functional if the student did not already have a strong background. It was also rooted in computer software that might not be available ‘downrange’. It gave colorful, simplistic representation of complex social facts – in US society – that fit well into the PowerPoint presentations of five slides, each with a few bullets or a single, simple graphic.

On the one hand, HTS contractors make a concerted effort to recruit and hire cultural anthropologists because these are the obviously most qualified professionals to participate as social scientists on the HTTs in the theaters in Afghanistan and Iraq, and for the anticipated expansion of COIN to sub-Saharan Africa, Indonesia, Malaysia and other places in the Islamic world. In the November cycle, I was the only social scientist on 5 teams who had previous experience in Afghanistan. Among those teams scheduled for Iraq, there was also only one social scientist who had such experience.

Yet, on the other hand, the prevailing military culture, and the nature of the operations at the Brigade and lower unit levels at which HTT’s are assigned, subordinate the judgment of these anthropologists and other ‘social scientists’ (which include such as historians, psychologists, and economists who have absolutely no training in cross-cultural field research) to the dictates of the Brigade or Battalion command.

The command is dominated by the military (specifically US Army) culture and the related inclination to use the HTT to aid in gathering intelligence useful for supporting kinetic operations; which is strictly forbidden in the surface representation of the HTS. Yet, it is made clear in training that this is the fact of life on the Team. Since the Team Leaders are part of the military culture, the social scientist has no recourse. One presenter from the Reachback Research Center (RRC) estimated that 30% of the HTTs become tools for such intel needs of the Brigade rather than to provide needed information for moving the population’s Center of Gravity from favoring the resistance forces’ agenda to favoring the occupying ‘Coalition’ forces and their agenda, as represented in the public representation of HTS.

There is a great distance, an effective separation, between the HTS ‘Directorate’ and the training staff and the trainees. This was emphasized in my exit interview with my Seminar Leader, XXXXXXXX. When I told him that I had only one other possibility other than entirely resigning, he told me in so many words, ‘forget it’; explaining that there was not a lot of interest at the Directorate level in talking with trainees about such things. XXXXXXXX clearly regrets this fact.

This was reinforced in my telephone conversation with my CLI supervisor XXXXXXXX when I told her of this conversation with XXXXXXXX. She reciprocated with a story from a returning social scientist who had served a tour in Afghanistan. He told her that he had many suggestions for improving the program that he hoped to communicate to the HTS Social Science Directorate. However, when he got to his debriefing interview and attempted to relate his thoughts and suggestions to the upper echelons, the interviewer (either Montgomery McFate or Jennifer Clark) simply blew him off and cut him short, not allowing him to really express himself in less than ten minutes allotted to him after a year of service.

You, yourself, Mark, told me that this was consistent with your impressions: there is not a lot of receptiveness to feedback from the rank and file if it runs against the grain of military culture – especially US Army culture, as contrasted with US Navy, Air Force or even US Marine culture, that still is the dominant kinetic perception of the purpose of deployment. Even though Generals McCrystal and Petraeus have made the transition to the “soft” strategy of modern COIN, the predominant US Army mindset is still deeply set into the kinetic approach.

Until the Center of Gravity of the brains of the US military’s ‘boots on the ground’ is moved to understand the value of a cultural anthropologist’s in-depth research to really helping the US military and civilian assistance to enable a nation such as Afghanistan to achieve self-determined stability and sovereignty, the money spent on HTS will be greatly a waste of US taxpayer money. This includes the need for the military as well as the US Department of State to understand the reasons behind the ethical concerns of anthropologists regarding this program.”

The significance of John Allison’s insider account of HTS training is found in the details he provides about the program’s inability to address basic ethical or functional issues. While John was open to the possibility of reforming a program with so many structural shortcomings, I remain convinced that the program’s flaws are too fundamental for a course correction; the ethical problems alone will make it impossible for the program to recruit competent anthropologists. As the Human Terrain program is now under review by the House Armed Services Committee, I would hope that John Allison is called before the House Armed Services Committee so that his first person account of the failures of the program will add some serious weight to those informed voices who are calling for the termination of the Human Terrain Systems program.

David Price is a member of the Network of Concerned Anthropologist.  He is the author of Anthropological Intelligence: The Deployment and Neglect of American Anthropology in the Second World War, published by Duke University Press, and a contributor to the Network of Concerned Anthropologists’ new book Counter-Counterinsurgency Manual published last month by Prickly Paradigm Press. He can be reached at dprice@stmartin.edu

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45 thoughts on “David Price: Human Terrain Systems Dissenter Resigns, Tells Inside Story of Training’s Heart of Darkness

  1. Pingback: Anthropology At War Update. « imagining the real world

  2. Holden

    I’m have a very hard time following the logic of these endless HTS posts. People seem to be against the teams because they function within the huge DOD bureaucracy that is filled with waste, fraud, and abuse, yet that isn’t rational. If ya’ll are against the fact that the HTS system can’t get anthropologists and is having to broaden the field, or that some teams are mismanaged, etc… then the solution would be to not rally against the HTS, rather to improve them.
    That is unless you are anarchists, and want all government to fail completely in its entirety. Our Congress are incompetent do nothings, but we rail against them, not the idea of having a Congress, or a Republic. You can hate the Bush White house, I did, but that is separate from hating the position. You guess are conflating one with the other.

    This is an ideological argument, that is being shrouded in bureaucratic issues.

    These are teams that operate within war zones, and things are going to happen as they do in war. There is a constant battle within the army over how soldiers behave, contractors not doing their jobs, etc… The army is a much more loosely centralized organization than I think people realize. The on ground commander is given a great deal of freedom in how he carries out the intent of his boss, and that goes all the way up to Obama, and all the way down to a sergeant leading a patrol. War is fluid, and that is just the way things work.

    We need to ensure that these teams are run well, and in line with our high ethical and professional standards, and stay within our discipline. Ya’ll are why things aren’t going well. You want the HTS to fail, and you do everything you can to ensure that they do, and tout completely unrelated issues and events to stigmatize them.

    The fact that 3 anthropologists have been killed is not a strike against the teams. They went into a war zone and risked their lives. Journalists are killed and we are killed doing fieldwork. That isn’t an argument against journalism or fieldwork. All that does is highlight the bravery of the people that risk their lives to save lives. An anthropologist doesn’t have to be in a warzone to be killed. I have friends that have done ethnography in areas controlled by drug cartels, in dangerous ghettos (myself for one), you name it. Deep down inside most of us are adventurers and that’s why we got into the game. Most of us want to be Indiana Jones.

    An HTS member is accused of manslaughter. Was it an anthro.? What does the actions of a rouge individual have to do with the HTS? Again, if we wanted to ensure that things like this didn’t happen, we would take ownership of it, not sit on the side lines. If a cop kills an unarmed civilian, that doesn’t make every cop evil.

    I see no difference between what you guys are doing and what the current Republican party is doing. They want government to absolutely fail, and do everything in their power to ensure that it does. When it does fail, they use circular logic to support their original positions, which is that government doesn’t work. We are going to make it fail to say that it doesn’t work. What kind of shit is that?

    I’m an anthropologist, and I’m also a soldier in the reserves, and we need more, not less influence from anthropology there. Regular army soldiers are not big picture thinkers, and Spec. Ops. where I am, doesn’t have a lot of influence on them. We need help. I’m sick of being a soldier trying to fight the system, and I’m getting out. I’m getting out, because its hard to change things as an enlisted soldier. Officers and civilians, like HTS members, can influence and change things. You might think they can’t, but you are speaking from a position that stems from your imaginations, not empiric reality. We arescientists, not a novelists. Actually, I have influenced those around me on the ground and if I wasn’t there, then things would be worse in many way. Often people are just waiting for one brave soul to step forward and say “this isn’t right, we shouldn’t do this.” They are thinking the same thing, and just waiting for someone to disrupt to momentum of the Fog of War. You have to gain their respect and trust before they will listen to you though. And, they hate you, so they will do the opposite of what you want them to do, just to spite you. You are literally hurting people, and making it very difficult for people on the ground that are actually trying to make a difference. It might make you feel good to rage against the system, but that helps no one but you and your ego. Real change takes real sacrifice and doing things you don’t always want to do. You have to be an adult in a world of children.

    The other less talked about issue, which is the true face of the ideological argument is that what we contribute will help kill people, but that simply isn’t true. The kind of intel. that the military needs to kill people already exists and they are much better at it than we could ever be. They wouldn’t listen to us even if we wanted to help kill people. The direct military application of ethnographic knowledge could only really be used by USASOC, the US Army Spec. Ops. Command. Civil Affairs and Psychological Operations are the only ones that can actually use this data, and neither are tasked to kill people. They are the hearts and minds people. If they get people killed then they have failed their mission. They also have trouble influencing ground commanders, but HTS help to add credibility to “soft power,” which saves lives. It does nothing but save lives. Theirs and ours.
    Check out the PSYOP Regimental blog to see what is on the mind of these people.


    Its the same thing that on your mind. How to we defeat the type of radical ideologies that want to kill us, without actually killing people which only increases the problem.
    General McChrystal has stated this repeatedly.

    1. Maximilian Forte

      If I have the time, I will come back to this later, and perhaps others will feel encouraged to reply more in depth in the meantime. The main point I want to make now is that it is quite clear that you have not taken the requisite time to try to understand the range of issues raised by a diverse body of critics (which you assume to be a bloc), and their impact on each and every one of HTS’ own proclaimed strengths and successes. It also seems that you did not read all of David Price’s article, because if you had you would have clearly seen the direct evidence, from an insider, that totally nullifies your assertions. In addition, there is no evidence whatsoever that HTS has saved any lives, but there is formal proof that it has taken at least one life, at the hands of HTS mercenary employee Don Ayala. Last point for now, there is also no evidence whatsoever that HTS has changed the military in any way, and a great deal of evidence to the contrary…from insiders themselves.

      Do yourself a favour now and please read the piece from start to finish.

  3. NV

    Maximillian, you speak a lot about proof- the only proof you have to speak of is the actions of a singular person- Don Ayala. There is no proof HTS took any lives- at all. HTS is an organization. For every one of the people in HTS who lost their lives or got injured serving their tour, it was their choice. Their choice to go in, their choice to go on mission, their choice to do what they felt they needed to do. Someone else’s choice to kill them.

    It appears that Holden did read the article by Price and is informed of the various issues. He seems to speak clearly enough.

    As for Mr. Price’s friend- you may want to do a little background checking on him before you tout the truth of his words. He wasn’t so squeaky clean and a lot of what he wrote in his article is untrue. Perhaps he is just masking his anger over being let go? He says he resigned, but what really led to that? Besides, if his whole intent was to go into training so he could be an insider- shouldn’t we question his motives? He earned a fat paycheck for 4-6 months while going through training with what appears to be absolutely no intent to deploy. That makes him a little shady, but you aren’t questioning that are you? You are just blindly accepting his words as fact. That is what is wrong with your blogs. You rarely show facts- but you use words that are intended to make readers think you know them.

    1. Maximilian Forte

      “the only proof you have to speak of is the actions of a singular person- Don Ayala. There is no proof HTS took any lives- at all”

      Read what you wrote: you contradicted yourself. To you, does proof mean an action repeated many hundreds of times? If so, that is quite an exotic definition of proof.

      Your point about those who died is wayward, and does not address what was actually argued here: that anyone who devises a program that puts the lives of colleagues in jeopardy, and often needlessly so, is someone who violates the ethical standards of the profession…that is, if one takes social science seriously. Whatever their choice was, I am sure that their choice was not to die.

      Holden did not read the article, or he would not have said that it’s only in the imagination of outsiders that the military imposes its values on the social scientists, rather than social scientists changing the military.

      As for Allison not being squeaky clean — we are not children here, and no one is “squeaky clean.” The fact is, HTS hired him, and this is yet another case where they are quick to stab in the back, and to trash, any one of their many employees who have left the program. Since this kind of defection, whistle blowing, etc., is repeated often, it’s time for you to start accepting as proof that something is deeply wrong with the program.

      As for rarely showing facts…that is utter nonsense and you know it. What happens is that HTS writers like you rarely, in fact NEVER, address the facts or answer any questions.

      But nice try.

    2. Dylan

      @NV Having read the same article, it does not appear Holden read it or is responding to its critique

  4. Holden


    You’ve raised an impossible standard of proof, because there is no direct way to measure the failure or success of HTS. You can know how many people an artillery shell kills, but you cannot know how many lives are saved through cultural knowledge and non-kinetic methods. In marketing there is a maxim, “Half of all advertisement is wasted, we just do know which half.”
    You can set up a statistical model in which the body count in an area of operations is compared to other AO’s over time before and after HTT’s are employed, and even if that’s been done, you don’t have access to that data one, and two, there are so many variables involved in the fluid nature of war that one would never be sure. Such things are qualitatively felt among experienced commanders and enlisted leadership. They know war, and have lived it over a career. They say it helps a lot, so I’m gonna go with the experts.

    Simply stated, HTT’s cannot gather any extra data necessary for kinetic strikes, than the S2 shop, or military intelligence.

    Actually, there is evidence that the HTS has saved lives. In Iraq about a year and a half ago, Mark… (forget his last name. Anthro. professor on an HTT), noted that we was able to make a strong correlation between food security, as measured by the quality, price, and amount of fresh food available in Baghdad neighborhood, and the degree of daily violence in those neighborhoods. He was able to show that certain groups were more vulnerable to corrupt government officials, and that he was able to predict with neighborhoods were likely to be more food insecure and therefore have more violence. We made and tested a survey instrument, and trained platoon leaders in how to fill them out in observations in markets, and talking to shop owners.
    That information helped strategic commanders understand what was going on, and they were able to counter the effects of government corruption, by ensuring an even distribution of quality food at a fix price in the city, which had a major effect of violence. It saved people’s lives.

    Other info. that they gave us, was used by Civil Affairs, and my job Psychological Operations, to understand that instead of going after an invisible enemy and killing a lot of innocent people, that we should empower local, and traditional power structures based on kinship and tribal identity. This lead to the Sons of Iraq, and basically that ended the war. Compare Iraq in 2003 to now. Are you gonna say that lives haven’t been saved? The infantry didn’t come up with that plan. They were very resistant to it, because they kill people, and it is hard for them to understand non-kinetic force. I knew infantry guys who were upset when the violence died down, because there was nothing to do anymore. Everyone I know in Iraq right now is bored out of there minds. That’s a good thing.

    As far as one man’s experience on an HTT, that’s a sample population N=1. Getting upset with the stupidity of army training, is to have little experience with the army. The training is set for the lowest common denominator. When I have to go to a regular army school, I turn my mind off. Even if you have to think fast, you are usually operating on only a few hours of sleep at any given time. The bureaucracy can be very frustrating, and bad things happen.
    There are the stories of women on HTT’s being harassed. That’s the nature of war, it is horrible and people do horrible things. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have female soldiers, or HTT members, it means we need to hammer soldiers that do those things as an example to others, and train them to have more respect.
    When women entered the work place in greater numbers in the 1970’s there was a lot of craziness that went on, and over the last 30 years, things have turn 180 degrees. We didn’t say that earlier harassment was proof that women didn’t belong in the work place. That is a ridiculous argument.

    Do I have to spend a lot of time hearing things like “Haji” and, “I don’t give a fuck about them as long as all of my men make it home. Kill’em all day, every day, as long as we all make it home.” Yes, I’ve heard those things. I’ve heard those things from other people that do my job in the army, and we are supposed to be the smart ones that see the big picture.

    There are good teams and there are bad teams. That’s no different than any other job on earth. I’m rarely on a team of any kind that doesn’t have at least one incompetent shitbag, and its the same in the army. I personally made sure two guys that were rotated onto my team were kicked out of the army.
    I once had a roommate in a military school that ended up having a personality disorder (sociopath), and he was institutionalized after a couple of weeks.

    Let me ask you this. Would you prefer that the small minded, rednecks were alone in the army with no counter weight to their influence on representing your country abroad?
    You want people like me there, and I’ve suffered to represent the American people overseas in a more positive light.
    Two years ago, there was a PSYOP Captain that was attached to Special Forces. He learned that 3 of the SF guys were abusing Afghans and taking pictures of it. He collected up the pictures and turned in the guys who were prosecuted. Would you rather that Captain not be there, to avert an international incident which would put all of our lives in danger?
    No one has been more frustrated as me trying to reason with a commander, but no one on an HTT can sympathize with that level of frustration, because they weren’t lower level enlisted guys. They were highly paid, civilian experts. Every HTT gets two psyopers attached to them, I know all about it. Did they expect to go to war and not be frustrated, to not experience cognitive dissonance? That is simply naive on their part. That is for 18 year old kids to join up. You have to put your ego aside, realize the world is not going to end, and pragmatically do what you can to influence the outcome. If the commander jumps in a lake its our job to drain the water. Only a fool stands on the sidelines and laughs, with “I told you so’s,” while people die.

    That isn’t to say that the only patriotic thing to do is serve in the military or on the HTS. It is patriotic to lobby our congressman, or to protest in the street. That to me is 100% patriotic, and just as noble. I even protested the Iraq war once. You do your thing to help, and don’t stand as a road block to others also trying to help. If you spent this much energy on raging against people actually responsible for evil, you’d do more for the cause.

    I think what’s at issue is that there is an imagining of an “other,” which is eternally depraved. Soldiers and those in the army are that other. That fails to capture the nuance of reality and of people.
    Here is an excerpt from a position paper written by a couple of high level officers in 7th Psychological Operations Group from 1979, arguing for things like more soft power. They used the term mindwar, to replace psyop because they thought it sounded better, but it means the same thing:

    “The advantage is that it conducts wars in nonlethal, noninjurious, and nondestructive ways. Essentially you overwhelm your enemy with argument. You seize control of all of the means by which his government and populace process information to make up their minds, and you adjust it so that those minds are made up as you desire.
    Everyone is happy, no one gets hurt or killed, and nothing is destroyed.
    Ordinary warfare, on the other hand, is characterized by its lack of reason. The
    antagonists just maim or kill each other’s people, and steal or destroy each other’s land, until one side is hurt so badly that it gives up [or both sides are hurt so badly that they agree to stop short of victory]. After such a war there is lasting misery, hate, and suffering.
    The only loser in MindWar are the war profiteers: companies and corporations which grow fat on orders for helicopters, tanks, guns, munitions, etc. Consequently what President Dwight Eisenhower referred to as the “military/industrial complex” can be counted upon to resist implementation of this as the governing strategic conflict doctrine.”

    Not liking war and being against needless destruction isn’t owned by civilians.
    Here’s an interesting short film that puts a human face on these people you seek to stigmatize. This is just an infantry soldier telling a story. I think this medium is the future of visual anthropology:

    Much respect, peace.

    1. Maximilian Forte


      if you meant Mark Dawson, then we do not know of any such story because he was apparently not allowed to blog about anything concerning his work and its alleged accomplishments, despite the many (false) assurances from HTS that its work would not be classified and would be freely available. In addition, we need to see such claims corroborated. I am not even sure how your example can be stretched to mean “it saved people’s lives,” especially as the “it,” HTS, is obviously just one of very many factors and agents at work even in your short vignette.

      In general, the saving lives argument emanating from the killing machine works like this, and I am clearly borrowing from Malcolm X here: I stick a knife six inches into your back, and then I pull it out by three inches. You still have three inches of steel in you, but I can now claim that I am “de-stabbing” you, and stabbing you “less.” It’s not less harm when the violence keeps increasing anyway — the more perverse case is the one offered by reality, where the blade keeps going in further and further, and the killer keeps shouting “I am trying to help you, to save your life!”

      Anyway, I appreciated your liberal spin on HTS, I realize that is the new emphasis of HTS, knowing that most U.S. anthros voted for Obama. Indeed they did, and now they equally share culpability. I am not American, I have always been critical of Obama, nor am I a liberal (in spite of the craziest of ultra-broad applications of the label from political lunatics in the U.S.).

      What struck me especially was this line you wrote:

      “If you spent this much energy on raging against people actually responsible for evil, you’d do more for the cause.”

      My dear sir, I thought I was doing that very thing.

  5. Angstboy


    Nice to see a fellow Psyoper and anthropologist. However, I have to agree (slightly) with Max here – David Price is one of the consistent and intellectually honest critics of HTS, and knowing people within HTS, I can tell you that their response to this article was “it’s critical, but it’s true.” A response which is typical of most critical articles about HTS (failing those by Stanton who seems to be on a personal vendetta against the Prog — err, Project). I don’t know, or know of John Allison, but I think that one of the flaws in the program is exactly what Max said – the recruiters (contractors) are not vetting people properly, since their only concern is making money – and they make money from having butts in the seats. Once the training is complete and the individuals move from contract positions to DA civilian positions, it’s a different story, and I think that one of the best ways to improve the program would be to remove the profit motive from it completely – hire people as DA civilians from the get-go.

    I do disagree with Allison and Price’s points on a fundamental level (and which strangely puts me more in agreement with Max): anyone who pretends that HTS is doing something besides making the military more effective is deluding themselves. Personally, I see no moral problem with making the military “more effective” in this context as that, to me, means fewer non-combatants killed.

    However, this belief comes down to, for lack of a better term, patriotism. If you believe that democracy/freedom/etc. is an inherent good, AND believe that the United States is the most effective representation of this, then there should be no moral quandary involved in working with HTS, or the Army/military in general.

    The counter to that, however, as Price has pointed out many times before (and in this article), is the arrogance of this belief, and its denial of the desires of local individuals to live their lives the way they want. That desire might be to have a nation run by a government which many in the United States would see as oppressive, tyrannical, or (horror!) socialist. The US government does not have a good track record for looking after the individuals in other countries, but rather makes its decisions to act based on its own national interests – Bosnia, Iraq, Haiti, Cuba, etc. are seen as important to our national interests, so we interfere; Rwanda, Sri Lanka, Darfur, etc. are not, so we abstain. The fact that the major debate over Afghanistan under President Obama was over “what is the national interest” rather than “what is the right thing to do” is indicative of this.

    Finally – and I save my shortest answer for the meat of the piece – can social science be ethically practiced by the military? Unfortunately, I do not think it can. On the one hand, as much issue as many make over the weaponry carried to meetings with locals, I don’t think that really matters – both Iraq and Afghanistan are gun cultures, and the imposition a weapon may make on an interview would be the same as wearing a handgun to an interview in Texas (not at all). However, informed consent and responsibility to one’s informants is essential not just to anthropology, and that dynamic can not (IMO) be properly negotiated within a combat environment.

    Last – it occurs to me in many of my posts I refer to Dr. Forte as Max, but all others by their last names. I hope the familiarity is not offensive, I think it is just that I think of my comments as a conversation, and the facts within them as references.

    1. Maximilian Forte

      Thanks for your engagement with this Angstboy. I am running once again, so hardly any time to respond, but I just wanted to assure you that I am not offended by anyone who calls me Max and in fact it’s my first preference. (Ha! It beats some of the other names I have been called on this blog!)

  6. Holden

    Angstboy, Holden is my last name so you have no choice in the matter with me.

    I have to say it is also good to hear from a fellow PSYOP/anthro., not enough of us out there. I have buddies that are linguists, poli. sci., Middle Eastern studies, but not so many anthros. (Airborne!) ;^)

    I still think that ya’ll are making fundamentally flawed arguments, because there are two separate issues that need to be address separately and which are being conflated. One is the role of whether anthros., and social science in general, should be associated with any military org., and the second issue is whether the HTS is or is not effective and ethical.

    A deconstruction of the texts, or even a simple SCAME analysis, leads me to believe that the motivation against the teams comes from the former, and the structure of the arguments are framed in the later.

    (SCAME, btw is an acronym for PSYOP deconstruction of propaganda: Source, content, audience, media, and effects.) Do it yourself and see if I’m wrong.

    I see these methods and themes everywhere now, like I breath, and it’s clear as day to me. I simply don’t believe for one minute that Max and others, would be happy if the HTS was run effectively, and didn’t have these issues of waste, fraud and abuse.

    When I recently found out that BAE was running the recruiting, it really pissed me off. Last year I was in communication with Dr. McFate, and she told me that any time I wanted I could get orders to attach to a team as a 37F (psyoper), and it still seemed very much in control of the DOD and herself. That of course, is an issue with the way recruiting is happening, and I completely agree with everyone that it is wrong. At the last SfAA meeting in Santa Fe, the HTT members there I talked to didn’t even foreshadow these events, so it was pretty sudden.

    However, we have to ask ourselves why it happened. This is happening not under Bush, but Obama, so it isn’t under an administration that is prone to privatize everything. It most likely happened, because they were not able to recruit quality people. You have to admit that in the last 4 years or so, the quality of all military personnel has declined. Some of the best people I’ve known have left different units due to operational strain. You simply can’t retain highly educated people, or just plain competent people, with that kind of strain. They simply have too much opportunity in the private sector, and too much to loose. You are going to get civil servants, and guys that work at Best Buy. (no offense to either).

    Most of the people here aren’t talking about improving the HTS, or fixing it, they simply want it to end. Anyone with half a brain, and any knowledge of the military, or new industries, could predict that the HTS was going to get off to a rocky start, and would need time to improve. These guys slammed the whole thing before it even began, and have done everything they can to stigmatize it and destroy it. They have helped to make it what it is, and then point to what it is as proof that it was inevitable. Like I said, look at what the Republicans are doing in Congress for health care, or the environment. Same thing.

    Also, let’s not get it twisted, the army is not who is conducting social science here. All of the layers of the HTS are support for the social scientist to do their job. That person or people, can be as ethical or unethical as they chose to be. That is no different from any of us working outside of academia, and these same arguments have been made against applied anthropology for a long time now. I am the only anthropologist at work. There are zero people that know anything about my professional ethical code, or who even care. Nothing that I write gets published and I’m in no hurry to publish it.
    Ethics are not the same as morality. Ethical guidelines are relative. What is ethical for an academic working with pre-literate people, won’t be the same for someone working in war. HTT’s have informed consent for everyone they talk with, and it is officially recorded. Anyone that thinks that an Iraqi or Afghan would be intimidated into talking to an HTT’s member because of their security detail is not dealing with any kind of reality I’m aware of.
    My ethics as a soldier are different than as an anthro, but even there I maintain rather high standards as a soldier.

    I also don’t think it has anything to do with whether you believe in the mission. Doctors without borders, and the Red Cross, operate in these areas and they don’t believe in the mission. I was in active duty on 9/11 and I couldn’t believe we were going into Iraq. It made no sense to me. I was against it from the beginning. There are those that fight against imperialism here at home, and there are those that get their hands dirty and try to limit the brutal effects where the rubber meets the road. I joined the reserves and PSYOP, because I got sick of other grad. students in my dept. consistently speaking out against the war, and Bush, and saying that our discipline could help, and watched them do nothing.

    Personally, I wish there was no need for the HTS. I wished that the army empowered existing USASOC assets like USACAPOC (US Army Civil Affairs and PSYOP Command), to actually do their jobs. HTS recruitment might be a joke now, but the standards and training for that command and internal army assets is ridiculously inadequate. There are many in the army and marines that feel that the HTS is hurting the military, by allowing internal assets to remain inadequate and poorly trained, but I don’t think we’d get much better without them. I just don’t see Big Army having the vision or ability to make that happen outside of SF. That is why I think it need to source experts with outside training. If it can’t get those, then it will fill seat regardless. We both know that. They will have people to put on mission, whether they are the right people or not. Nothing is going to stop a planned mission from happening.
    If we stand back and revel in the state of things now, then we are complicit in that.

    1. Maximilian Forte

      “One is the role of whether anthros., and social science in general, should be associated with any military org., and the second issue is whether the HTS is or is not effective and ethical.”

      No, there is no conflation of these, as you say.

      To clarify once again: on the one hand, “we” do argue against anthropologists serving military occupations, and, on the other hand, we are also evaluating HTS’ organization especially after the lives of several researchers have been imperiled. What unites both is a concern for ethics.

      I said “we” above, meaning those I tend to sympathize with, such as David Price. My own argument has been consistently clear: I do not care how well HTS is managed or not. However, any signs of incompetence make it look worse of course.

      I also do not share the positions of most of the NCA critics, or the AAA’s CEAUSSIC, when it comes to general relationships between anthropology and the military. I do not believe there should be any relationship whatsoever, of any kind, on any level.

      I hope this helps.

    2. Maximilian Forte

      “HTT’s have informed consent for everyone they talk with, and it is officially recorded.”

      Yes, by the way, that has got to be the STUPIDEST and most dangerously lethal thing to do. It confirms for me that most HTT personnel and their trainers back home, are either absolute incompetents, hacks, or idiots.


      It’s wrong, it’s stupid, and it flies in the face of the most basic common sense. So either people in HTS really are this stupid and reckless, or they do this deliberately, which makes them even more dangerous.

  7. Holden

    I was thinking about that last bit I wrote about belief in the over all mission. I think it’s too simplistic. Injecting a degree of humanity and cultural relevance, to counter other military forces are not the only reason to be on an HTT.

    I think that too many of us contextualize things in myopic ways through our cognitive taxonomies. For example, Edward Said wrote about the production of the “Other,” via Orientalism, and he was spot on in the overall framework of social and cognitive processes inherent in such things. I completely agree with what he and others since, like Escobar, have written on the subject.

    However, Said’s great sin in this issue of us/other research, and one that many anthropologists have not yet gotten past, and I think it relevant here, is the fact that he spends so little time in trying to understand the root cause of this ‘original sin’ of group dynamics; that of defining a group in opposition to other groups. He then, without skipping a beat, plays on the issue helping to produce the identity politics that he dislikes. After he analyzes large, multi-regional and global scale processes that produce Orientalism, he then applies his thesis it to a smaller scale in us/other production, by placing himself in the other (Oriental) in order to speak truth to power (Occidental) (1978).

    Within the popular culture of the Islamist argument in Middle Eastern discourse and propaganda for example, there is this theme in the Islamic world of victimization, and a lack of ownership of the fact that there is a very radical core within their culture. Just as there was during the classic, Islamic jihads which first expanded Islam faster and farther than any previous empire before it, and which Said notes as being one of the root causes of the Orientalist concept in the first place. There is also a faint ignorance of wider financial and social support of that radical core. This is no different from what most groups do to justify violent action, subjugation or understand why they were attacked. Americans utilized similar concepts of identity as victim, which plays out in the US media and popular conversations; thus making invisible all of the foreign policy decisions by military, government and corporate officials that gave others a rationale in attacking the US in 2001. Bourdieu uses this understanding of how the nonrecognition of the purpose of one’s labor is central to the meaning produced by that labor.
    Such discourse can all be rather disingenuous. Therefore, Said is right on a universal level, but on a more empiric level, such discourses often gloss over actual currents and processes producing them in the first place. This enables the kind of identity politics seen as victimized populations learn to use their victim status to their advantage and as a propaganda tool against other groups.

    This us/them polemic might be imaginary and arbitrary, but it still has historical precedence and exists in people’s minds. People do not interact with a “real” world; they interact with the pictures of the world in their minds. Said ignores this fact. Here he becomes either naive or complicitous. The protagonist in his narrative is the Islamic or Oriental world, which gives an example of anti-Oriental bias and racism on the part of Europeans, but covers up this exact same process and bias-taking place within those very groups. While he does mention the atrocities of various Oriental groups, he quickly glosses over them with immediate counter platitudes of their contributions to art and science; yet such an argument could also be made of the imperial, European powers that he criticizes.

    This same thing is being done in this argument. There is a fiction created that makes us think that if only we just left the afghans alone, they would actually be left alone. This simply isn’t true. They weren’t left alone before we intervened with the Soviets, then with the Taliban, or with the drug lords, or if we leave. They desperately want to be left alone, but it isn’t an option available in reality.

    And, while we have created a lot of blow back with horrible foreign policy allowing others to take advantage of fundamentalism, that doesn’t mean that global religious and ideological fundamentalism is our fault. It is a matter of the human condition that existed before we roamed the earth. We have no problem imagining many elements in our country, and Europe, needing to be suppressed lest they overwhelm our societies, but we forget that these people exist everywhere, and the structures to suppress them don’t exist in many places. We would fight in the street so that our fundamentalists don’t take over, whether they advocate a theocracy or a KKK/Nazi state, yet we feel that letting such things happen in other places is just allowing people to take control of their own destinies.
    No, we are simply letting other people take control of their destinies. You can’t put the cap back in the globalization bottle. The once oppressed Chinese are not the imperialists, and soon enough we’ll be working for them.

  8. Holden

    I’ll comment on your posts in detail tomorrow, but for now all I can say is thank you for helping to make anthropology more irrelevant than it already is. If anthros. want to actually have a say in anything on earth we have to get our hands dirty. Real life doesn’t happen in university halls. With an M.S. only I’m currently planning Federal Recovery Act development in the low income neighborhoods, of one of the largest cities in the U.S.
    I didn’t sit in a corner and cry because the world doesn’t fit every vision of what it should be. I’m actually trying to make it better, and thousands of people will be affected, I hope for the better. What I’ve found it a felt need for anthropology ever where I go, and there’s no one filling that need. There is so much work out there, yet no one’s realized it, because ya’ll read Marxist prose and feel like that helps people.
    Be irrelevant, that’s fine. Teach kids, and write things that no one will ever read. Have fun with that, but don’t stigmatize people for trying to help people.
    I’m gonna go into the world and introduce people to what we have to offer, and later you can thank me for helping your students actually get jobs.

    1. Maximilian Forte

      Being irrelevant to the national security state, and to imperial wars of occupation? Being irrelevant to war mongering policy elites?

      Thanks, I fully intend to be so irrelevant. I would also hope that you, Holden, might eventually be less naive and gung-ho about your propositions, especially your extraordinarily skewed view of “relevance” which is nothing other than sucking up to the power class. Indeed, you do not need anthropology to do that.

  9. Angstboy


    A lot to think about. First – I don’t know who has told you that HTTs collect signed informed consent forms, Holden, but I can tell you with complete certainty that that is simply not true. To Max: you’ve created a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” situation with that idea of informed consent. I agree, having individuals in a contested population sign their names to a piece of paper is ethically wrong. Unfortunately, if someone states “HTTs do not collect official informed consent” then they are also ethically wrong.

    I disagree strongly with Max on the subject of interaction between academic and the military. Numerous medical advances, for example, have come from engagement with the military. Two notable examples are the huge number of lives saved through the use of saline to increase blood pressure after a traumatic wound (from work with wounded soldiers in WWII), and almost all of the post-rape therapy techniques used by psychologists (from work with Vietnam veterans with PTSD). If you want to expand the realm of engagement to the entire “national security state” then let’s include pacemakers, every piece of plastic you own, and the internet itself.

    The difference between HTS and Doctors Without Borders (et al) is that those organizations are specifically and deliberately set apart from the military, in a way which HTS is not. As with your understanding of informed consent, I think your (Holden’s) understanding of HTT dynamics and how things actually work on the ground are a bit disconnected. Clashes between social scientists and team leaders account for the majority of issues within the program. Although SS are told (apparently) throughout training that they make the decisions about what and where to to research, in actual fact on the ground, those decisions are made by the Team Leader, who gets his direction from the brigade. These are military decisions that are being implemented – and this is where HTS itself is unethical. I also think it’s interesting that you should mention these organizations, as I met a woman at the last AAA conference who brought these same organizations up as viable (and ethical) alternatives to anthropologists or others who want to use their skills to help local residents caught in the crossfire of a war zone.

    I don’t think that Max or anyone else has, at least recently, been unclear about their dislike of HTS on two separate fronts (let’s call them moral and ethical). Morally, Max disapproves of military action, many others do not. Ethically, Max disapproves of the way in which HTS is managed and performed, most anthropologists also feelthis way. (Sorry to speak for you, but that is how I see your disparate arguments). I believe that in the beginning, Max, the members of the NCA, etc. did have a knee-jerk, political reaction to the program (probably based on the same articles you read, Holden). However, I have stayed engaged with much of the material, attended many sessions at the AAA conferences, and I have seen their arguments develop into a much more rational and thought-out objection to anthropologists working directly for the military.

    As one friend put it “HTS would be a great program if it didn’t suck.” I think that the “suck” in this case stems from many sources: the rocky start which Holden mentioned, the lack of vetting which is highlighted in this article, the separation of academic from the program which results in less than stellar applicants, and a “cult of personality” within the program in which hiring, advancement, and retention is based more on personal relationships with program leaders than on actual ability.

    Finally, I agree with you in spirit on the “ivory tower” mentality within anthropology. Most anthropologists (I have found) believe that because they are closer engaged with their subjects than, say, political scientists, they are operating more in the world than other academics. At the same time, most conversations by anthropologists about real world issues rarely achieve any sort of resonance precisely because most of their subject matter is arcane and academic.

    Max has taken a particular viewpoint on political issues which is particularly relevant today (whether we agree with his position or not), but simply look at most of the pieces written by anthropologists who attempt to address public policy issues (“Why America’s Top Pundits Are Wrong” – articles on The Bell Curve, which was over ten years old when the book was published and was only relevant to public policy for about three days after its publication, Dinesh D’Souza who hardly qualifies as a “top pundit”, 2 articles on Thomas Friedman’s Lexus/Olive Tree which is more debated within IR than any other work I’ve seen, etc.), and you see a discipline which is desperate to find some footing in public policy debates without any real understanding of how to go about it. Much like you say about HTS having a rocky start, Anthropology as a discipline is also going to have a rocky start engaging with public policy issues.

  10. Holden

    “I don’t know who has told you that HTTs collect signed informed consent forms, Holden, but I can tell you with complete certainty that that is simply not true.”

    How do you know this? Every member I’ve talked to tell me that they always get either written or verbal consent in accordance with proper ethical guidelines. In fact it has been helpful to gain the trust of people and separate them from others like the CIA.
    It would be difficult to get signed consent with illiterate people, which are most afghans, but that is no different than any other ethnographer. The AAA has signed off on the HTS, and one of the reasons is because consent was written in from the beginning. If what you are saying was true then the AAA would pull the plug in a heart beat and censor team members. They haven’t, and the AAA is not an org. that wouldn’t do something like that. That doesn’t pass the sniff test Angst.

    If certain members aren’t complying, then they should be help responsible. Just as a soldier should be help responsible for breaking the rules and laws of war. A social scientists doesn’t have to be on a team to do unethical things, and a lot of real like unethical things happen all the time in the real world outside of the military. How many people do you know that have not quite followed the instructions laid out by an IRB verbatim? Seriously.

    “Although SS are told (apparently) throughout training that they make the decisions about what and where to to research, in actual fact on the ground, those decisions are made by the Team Leader”

    That is to be expected. It’s no different than what we have to deal with in PSYOP. A team leader is supposed to be responsible for the safety of the team, and so has to have final word on these things. I wouldn’t want academics to have the final word on these things. This is also no different than when scientists have to rely on others for access to an area in any field. Marine biologists continuously get into conflicts with ship personnel and ship captains, who have the final say on where the boat goes. Do you think that NASA military personnel don’t have final say in a mission?

    I’d be amazed if conflicts like that didn’t happen. The most important thing in a conflict zone for a commander is to maintain positive control of everyone in their AO. I’ve seen a commander have an SF A-Team baby sat by an infantry company, because they wouldn’t behave in his AO. The other most important thing is trust, which is very hard to come by in the army. It is a mistake for anyone to think that a GO in the pentagon can wave a wand and have everyone in the sand step into line. From what I understand the 5 months of training is supposed to be a time to develop team work and trust among members. If trust and team work can’t be developed, or respect gained, then there will be serious problems. How many PSYOPers have you heard about that were fired and given no work, because they failed to properly integrate and gain the support of their supported BN? That is not supposed to happen, but it does.
    What would make it unethical isn’t if the team leader controlled the movement of the social scientists, it would be unethical if he tried to make them do unethical things. Not going somewhere is not unethical.

    “As one friend put it “HTS would be a great program if it didn’t suck.””

    Exactly, and that is the argument to make. While many say that they are opposed to the HTS one both grounds (ethically/morally, and pragmatically), they aren’t, I believe, being honest. People say a lot of things, and I’ve been in the game too long to not hear what they mean, rather than exactly what they want me to believe they mean. I fully concede that the HTS needs to be improved, and I have little doubt that what people say is their experience in them is true. That sounds like the Big Army that I know and bang my head against the wall over.

    However, the army and DOD is not monolithic. There are various competing interests and ideologies vying for power. There is continuous independence and decent within the ranks, which I think too many AAA members (I didn’t renew), don’t realize. Instead of making their voice known among those competing interests, they are cheering on those with interest apposed to their own. Like I said, there is a kind of wholesale stigmatization upon the military that would never be tolerated if directed at any other group.
    Here’s one Marine Major’s critique of the HTS: http://usacac.leavenworth.army.mil/CAC2/MilitaryReview/Archives/English/MilitaryReview_20090430_art010.pdf

    I completely agree with his thesis, however pragmatically I just don’t see it. I think that improving the HTS model is much more doable in any reasonable amount of time. Various other officers and HTS members reply in the comments section and say pretty much the same thing.

    The only way that improvement is possible, however, is with the help of the community of practice. If the academy would rather we did things for ourselves in the army, then they should set up a better training program. As long as enough people in the discipline want to see it fail then it will. I don’t think for a minute that people who invoke the double argument against the HTS, would want to see it actually work. I think they smile when a story about a failure is published. I think that is sad.

    Max has a video for a song by Faithless on his Youtube page. I love the song, and I especially love the line, “Inaction is a weapon of mass destruction.”

    As for the discipline’s “recent engagement,” you have your history wrong. We were fully engaged with the world until the late 1950’s, when the GI Bill and federal funding allowed for a massive expansion academic systems, which allowed anthros. to gain secure tenure jobs for 3 decades. So, you could say that the a military program, the one I used to go back to school, was responsible for the state of the academy today.

    An anthropologist founded modern PSYOP doctrine during WWII in the OSS. Actually, he wrote the book on black psyop that is used by the CIA.
    The effects that anthropology has had on the world have been profound, but relatively unknown within the academy. It is because of us that people think to look at demographic variables in the social sciences. That big green button on every copy machine was put there by an anthro. working for Xerox, and before her no one could operate one without extensive training. And on and on.

    When I went to my first SfAA meeting I didn’t understand some of the vitriol many professionals had towards the academy, but I’m starting to understand it. Many people have told me that I was the first anthro. they worked with, and they wished that it was common practice. It is because of the academy that its is the state of things. I lasted one semester in an academic grad program, and I transferred as soon as I could.
    Again, they can have that world, but leave the rest of us alone. We aren’t breaking any of the ethical ground rules.

  11. Holden

    I also forgot to mention that David Peirce spoke at the last SfAA meeting on this topic and he was less than convincing and thoroughly discredited by the HTS members there.

  12. Maximilian Forte

    Serious mistakes are being made on numerous fronts in the comments above.

    First, Angstboy, I did not say that HTS should obtain informed consent using actual, signed consent forms, or that I would condemn them if they had not done so. Therefore I do not see any “damned if you do, damned if you don’t situation.” I simply do not believe that any consent they obtain is ever actually voluntary and free of coercion.

    Holden said Afghanistan has a “gun culture,” transposing American terms to a non-American society. To reduce and stereotype a multitude of cultures in that manner is more than just an oversimplification. It displaces the fact that Afghans know what guns in Afghanistan are all about: warfare and coercion.

    Angstboy, I do not owe the military or the national security state a single thing, and nor does anyone else except for war profiteers — and Holden is wrong here too: HTS is encrusted in a cluster of war profiteering corporations, and is very much part of the military-industrial complex, not separate from it. None of the inventions you mentioned absolutely require a military, and you make the serious mistake of arguing that since collaboration with the military produced X, then X could only be produced through collaboration with the military. Cancer and AIDS may stimulate all sorts of medical research, some of which may have other beneficial applications. Hooray! I would rather do without the cancer and AIDS in the first place. I use what is in place, and it serves others that I do so.

    In addition, Angtsboy, there was no “knee jerk” reaction from either the NCA or myself. I suspect that some were naive enough, and expected a generalized knee jerk reaction of patriotism and jingoism, that they saw our reactions as “sudden”, abrupt, and thus “knee jerk.” I have been a political activist (off and on) since I was 16, and I have been fixed on the study of colonialism and empire for almost three decades now. Don’t belittle me by saying anything is “knee jerk” here.

    With respect, choosing my words carefully now, I definitely agree with your comments about the arcane and publicly irrelevant nature of anthropology today. You already know that my argument has been that it should not choose “relevance” through the well trodden path of seeking the attention of the authorities, yet again. They do that enough, in many other ways, already.

    Holden says the problem with HTS can be largely laid at the doorstep of anthropologists, which is astounding, and of course contradicted frequently by his other statements. However, to say that the “vocal minority” has such power, leaves me to wonder: why does HTS continue to exist then?

  13. Pingback: AAA deadlines « Erkan's Field Diary

  14. David Price

    I’m a bit late coming to this discussion, but I see that much of the same old HTS claims are being brought out without support by HTS fans; the idea that it is a good program in a broken vessile seems to be latest chorus from HTS HQ trying to save a program that they know isn’t working. But the problems with HTS run too deep to fix with a few patches here and there, the extent to which HTS mixes education with intelligence are a core feature of the program, and the ethical and practical issues this raises aren’t going to be fixed with a bit of rebranding and better management.

    If Holden is refering to me as the “David Peirce” who presented something that was discredited at the SfAA meetings last year, s/he is as mistaken about this as s/he is about his/her other HTS claims: I have never presented a paper on HTS at the SfAA meetings. Last year I presented a single paper on Vietnam era COIN operations as part of a SAR/SfAA co-sponsored session, I attended no sessions at the SfAA on HTS, you can find the SfAA podcast at: http://sfaapodcasts.net/2009/05/10/scholars-security-and-citizenship-part-i-sar-plenary/ Not that facts seem to matter to Holden.

  15. Holden

    Dr. Max, “Holden said Afghanistan has a “gun culture,” transposing American terms to a non-American society. To reduce and stereotype a multitude of cultures in that manner is more than just an oversimplification.”

    I didn’t say that, and I don’t think I would ever make that mistake. That was Angstboy. Especially since I’m a Texan.

    Max, I think its pretty clear that you, and others, have a visceral reaction to the HTS, and really no amount or framing of objective, or rational discourse on the matter is going to change things. You’ve set up your identity in in a state of opposition, and therefore to even consider counter concepts or arguments, would be to damage you sense of self, of who you are. You first have to open your minds to the fact that you might not know everything, and that much of what you think you know is based on imagining things you’ve never seen or experienced.

    I can relate, because I’ve done a similar thing with being a vegetarian since I was 13. At this point in my life it has become so much a part of who I am, that even when I feel compromise to be more than appropriate, I still feel as though others around me will criticize me for hypocrisy, which is how most people treat those who are able to deal with the nuances of reality.

    One could easily say that it is hard for anyone to believe that most of the subjects who have been subject to ethnographic inquiry over the last century gave true consent. I’m hardly not the first person to say this.

    Do you really for one minute think that global social divisions haven’t been responsible for the vast majority of the ethnographic record? Do you think that pre-literate peoples had no problem at all with a outsider imposing themselves into their personal and public lives? The idea for us to do such things to our own, or people with actual power is a very new idea. The record is replete with coercion and manipulation to gain data. Also, do you not realize that these same groups have traditionally used the anthropologist as a voice to the outside world? They aren’t stupid, and they often co-opt both the ethnographer, and Northern ecological and human rights narratives, to manipulate the actions of others for their benefit.

    Let me frame this in another way. When you roll up with a security element (infantry), people might be more prone to talk to you than otherwise, but they for the most part aren’t going to talk to you if they don’t want to. There’s always a guy that speaks for the group, and he doesn’t have to do any more than bullshit you until you leave. In order to gain actual, useful data, of the kind that we need for any ethnographic study, you have to build rapport and gain some degree of trust over time. This isn’t done over night. It isn’t done overnight for soldiers.
    As a soldier, I would never think of asking the questions I want to ask the first time I meet someone. The rule of thumb is 3 encounters, but that’s flexible.
    Before doing anything you have to ask about their children, wife, business, and have tea or alcohol, in that order. I know one psyoper who frequently met with and had dinner with a professor at an Iraqi university, who acted as a key informant of historical, social and cultural information. He was also a conduit of information from the army.
    These information flows are not one way. The army is desperate to create a flow of info. in a dialogue with locals. So, in a way this is more ethical than what traditional anthropology does. Gathering information is only one small part, and I think this is where you aren’t understanding the goals of the HTS.

    The army wants a way to help establish and maintain lines of communication with local people and structures. It just doesn’t have a way to do it. It has a felt need to be able to frame things in locally understood and credible ways, and to understand how information flows in social networks, so as to maintain high levels of communication. We have found in the army, over 50 years of studying conflict, that most of what we call conflict is a process produced when information ceases to flow between groups, allowing members in said groups to develop strong, static in group/ out group identities. The only way to disrupt this process is to maintain, and sometimes force, a high level of continuous communication among various groups. Human beings have a natural aversion to killing other humans. It is a part of our evolution, and the hardest thing the army has to do is actually get soldiers to kill people when they are being shot at. A study after WWII showed that only about 2% of all combat forces on our side actually fought with conviction and actually tried to kill the enemy.

    The best way to get people to kill each other is to cease communications between them. The best way to keep people from killing each other is to create dialogue. It is hard to kill someone when you know them, and are faced with their full humanity. The army has people do help them do this, but they need people with a greater level of competence, and ability to do it on a larger scale.
    See Marc Sageman’s work titled, “Understanding Terror Networks,” which is a part of the curriculum at the Joint Spec. Ops. University in Florida. I’ve gone for classes there.

    Local afghans and Iraqis, etc… want to tell their stories. They want the commander to know what they need, how they feel, what pisses them off, etc… What they also want is to feel that what they are telling you will actually make it to the commander, and actually make a difference. Just like an indigenous person talking to an ethnographer about logging companies in South America wants what they say to be heard by government and logging officials.

    Also, when we talk to people in Afghanistan and Iraq they are always armed. I have yet to talk to someone who wasn’t surrounded by armed men. I put myself at great personal risk in trying to create a dialogue when surrounded and outnumbered by men with automatic weapons. They can have guns, and we don’t stop them from having guns. I’d be stupid to be the only guy there without a weapon! Shit, if your in a war zone you need to know how to shoot, move and communicate under fire before you can even think about doing anything else.

    So all and all, you have created a straw man argument which is decontextualized from the actual ground of daily reality there. So when Angstboy says they have a gun culture, he is being far more accurate than when we say that we have a car culture. A man is not considered a man in most of Afghanistan without an Ak-47 on him when he leaves the house. Men tell us to please not take their weapons, because their wives will berate them when they go home, so we stopped taking weapons. We also stopped burning poppy fields, for what we learned from HTT’s, and began to find other suitable crops, such as hemp.

    At the same time, an HTT, just like a TPT (tactical psyop team), does not have an inherent right to the ear of the commander. They have to create rapport, and trust with military leaders they are supporting, just like the locals. If they go in cocky, like they own the place, then they will get shut out in both situations. You have to negotiate access and trust over time, just like any other ethnographer. I have little sympathy for an anthropologist that cries about having to learn and adapt to a foreign culture, which is what they have to do with the military. Our job is to act as cultural translators, and part of that job is to learn the culture of the client. That is applied anthropology. The client isn’t a department or an academy that you know, it is another cultural body. So, part of this argument is just a thinly disguised anti-applied discourse that has gone on for decades. This is what you do in applied anthro., and you need to just suck it up and deal with it. If you aren’t comfortable with the client or the deliverables, you either renegotiate, or you don’t take the job. If you find that the client needs to fire half of its work force, then you are ethically bound to tell them. I feel that you are also ethically bound to minimize the damage and find way to salvage jobs, but that depends on the anthro.

    I think the reason I’m not as shocked by these anecdotes, is because they aren’t very different from most ethnographers personal notes when dealing with new cultures. I have a friend that had to live in Paris for a couple of years, and she has similar horror stories of dealing with French bureaucracy, and hoodlums on the streets of Paris. If the ethnographer does not think they have double duty on these jobs, and only need to deal with local populations, then they simply are not properly trained for applied work.

    What I do for the army is really no different than what I’m doing for the City I’m working for right now. They want me to figure out how to open up lines of communication with low-income communities so that we can include local residents in future plans and opportunities for Recovery Act development. The people in my current field site completely mistrust my client, and many people have told me to fuck off to my face. Some people have a hard time believing that the City is doing this in order to actually include local agency into the process, and I’ve told my client that it is up to them to show people concrete examples of progress before anyone is going to trust this new way to doing urban development in the US. We are slowly working out the bugs. We have City architects working with community members at City Hall, as they actually design projects. The ultimate goal of my client is to create buy-in and compliance from local residents, but how that is done has been left to me. I bring to the job a back ground of continuous ethical indoctrination, and I’m glad that they don’t have an economist working on it. How successful I am will determine the future of anthropologists working for this city, and there’s a lot of pressure. I have little doubt that anthros. have a lot of responsibility for the conflict and reputations of HTT among commanders. The army is a merit based culture. If you are successful you get whatever you want, if you just get in the way, then you are dropped from memory.

    If you don’t think there’s major power asymmetry in the process, just like every other ethnographic processes, than you are not paying attention.

    1. Maximilian Forte

      Alright, it was Angstboy. The point still stands. I don’t understand the point of your correction, when you then go and add a lot more stereotyping oversimplification of your own, compounding the problem.

      As for this little bit of tripe,

      “Max, I think its pretty clear that you, and others, have a visceral reaction to the HTS, and really no amount or framing of objective, or rational discourse on the matter is going to change things. You’ve set up your identity in in a state of opposition, and therefore to even consider counter concepts or arguments, would be to damage you sense of self, of who you are. You first have to open your minds to the fact that you might not know everything, and that much of what you think you know is based on imagining things you’ve never seen or experienced.”

      It is simple nonsense. First, the main problem is that HTS heads have never answered anything. They only speak through favourable mouth pieces in the second-tier mainstream media, and are at their best (which is not saying much), only when they are not challenged. Second, they have had the benefit of ample opportunities to convince others, such as the AAA’s CEAUSSIC, which has spent literally years investigating this field of debate.

      As for setting up identities in opposition…do I really need to remind you whose identity is the one stomping around Iraq and Afghanistan in fatigues, trying to rewire whole societies and subjugate them to their will? Exactly, not mine. You need to disarm, and then we can talk.

      To liken HTS to “applied anthropology” — even while the AAA declares that HTS work is not in accordance with anything it would endorse as “anthropology” — and to splatter little bits and pieces of traditional ethnography and abruptly link them to what HTS does, is to heap fallacies onto illogical assertions and untested assumptions. HTS is not “like” anything except work by people in military uniform, carrying guns, as part of a war of occupation. That is the starting point. Until you have that right — and you do not — there is nothing to discuss. It’s no wonder then that you spin yourself around in so many circles.

      The rest is rather trivial page flooding, repeating what you have said before, and I don’t need to bother with it.

  16. Mark Dawson

    I am Mark Dawson, someone told me that my name was mentioned in the comments section here. A) I have never been an anthropology professor anywhere. I have always worked in the applied world. B) I have no restrictions at all in regards to writing about my time working in the HTS. I simply see no value in continuing to participate in the conversation for or against. People (on all sides, including this blog) have drawn their lines and become intrenched in their conclusions with little interest in ethics or facts. It has all been reduced to the lowest form or argument, one of ideology.

    That I choose to no longer participate is not evidence I am being prevented from doing so.

    1. Maximilian Forte

      Too bad Mark, that you say we have become “intrenced” [sic] when your own postings don’t show the least moderation — the only thing missing from your many snide commentaries on the NCA and the AAA is “grrrr…I hate the fuckers!“. It’s not that “ideology” is the lowest form of argument — as you assert (but I doubt can demonstrate) — it’s the argument that the ideological proponents of HTS never want to have, thus obscuring the ideological premises of their own arguments (not always of course). So it’s not even an argument. What critics of HTS have done is unloaded a mountain of facts, none of which have been addressed by HTS’ leaders. Let’s not continue to forget the dozens of questions posed to HTS over the past two years that continue to go unanswered.

      You say you had no restrictions at all in blogging about HTS…yet it seemed clear that you would not do so while serving HTS in Iraq. I was not talking about whether you could now write about it, looking back on your past experience.

  17. Holden

    “Last year I presented a single paper on Vietnam era COIN operations as part of a SAR/SfAA co-sponsored session”

    Yes, I remember it. It and the other opponents points were thoroughly discredited by the other side, including an actual member of a team. I remember thinking to myself, and the people around me were commenting on the fact that you kept talking about history as though it was the HTS. You didn’t make a single point against the HTS, rather of things that happened in the past.
    Everything else that was said against the HTS, is and continues to be based on misinformation, hearsay, and wild imaginations.
    I’m also not a “fan of the HTS.” I didn’t really have a positive or negative opinion of it when it first came about. I remember hearing about it and thinking, “huh, that’s interesting, I wonder what that’s all about.” Then I went to find out. Everything I think now is based on 1. factual information 2. talking with HTT memebers 3. talking with soldiers that have worked with HTTs 4. an actual understanding and actual experience in the military both the navy and army, and my job as a soldier is as close to being on an HTT as one can get.

    As I recall you helped to pass around petition, and lobbied to have the AAA censer the program before any information about it was available to anyone. That is the definition of serious bias unrelated to fact. You did that, I didn’t. I have never made excuses for any of it. I have fully admitted that things seem to be getting fucked up, and I really hate the fact that recruiting has been outsourced away from Mcfate. Like life, and pretty much everything on earth, this is not a black or white issue. I have gone through all of the arguments that you and others have made and deconstructed each in turn. I think that any outside observer of this would have to say I’ve done a pretty good job of it too.
    My opinion on the program is therefore different from yours in the sense that it is nuance, it changes as the facts on the ground change, and is based on what I’ve actually seen and experienced first hand, which is another way of saying that it is attached to reality.

    You’ve just dismissed each point and argument with a single invocation of the us/them narrative that you’ve helped to invent, “those fans of HTS.”
    That is intellectually lazy, and the last resort of someone whose got nothing of detail or substance to say.
    This can be seen when Max writes: “…said Afghanistan has a “gun culture,” transposing American terms to a non-American society. To reduce and stereotype a multitude of cultures in that manner is more than just an oversimplification.”

    His reaction to such a statement was reasonable, and very anthropological. In the case of Afghanistan, the comment was as accurate as such a statement of culture can be, but that’s beside the point. It is also the exact same one I’ve been making, and yet ya’ll are ignoring it, because it is not found within the cognitive or semantic taxonomies you’ve developed within the meta-debate of the HTS. That is, ya’ll have encapsulated the army, and anything associated it, into a static cultural construct the same way that some say that blacks are lazy, or the Chinese are shifty. All context and nuance of reality is lost, and no real discussion can be had. Once you’ve set yourself up in opposition in a way that the linguist McWhorter labels “therapeutic alienation,” defined as:

    “alienation unconnected to, or vastly disproportionate to, real-life stimulus, but maintained because it reinforces one’s sense of psychological legitimacy, via defining oneself against an oppressor characterized as eternally depraved.”

    This domain dependency of static categories, was also displayed at that same SfAA meeting. A scholar presented archaeological evidence that help show that our expectations and worldviews bias how we interpret collected data. I would have to say that this is about as safe an assumption that anyone can make, but it was valid, and also well understood for almost a century in the discipline.

    His example had to do with how archaeologists interpreted cave paintings as depicting warfare, and he gave other examples. He noted that later fieldwork showed that these were more likely depicting ritual behavior that had been observed by other ethnographers. Simple point, pretty air tight. He used this to build an argument that to a man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail. Shocking insight. I, and I think everyone else, agreed with the sentiment, and have to agree that we as a country, and those in the government, often interpret the actions of others in terms of aggression, due to culture, whether it is an accurate conception or not. I would have to of course we do.

    However, when he was done, I raised my hand and noted that he was just as guilty of the exact same bias that he had just spent 20 mins. talking about. I noted that it was interesting that in the army I, and others, are taught that we have to make an effort to understand the nuances and cultural difference of others, and not to be ethnocentric. I can actually send you a power point for one of the classes, if you’d like.
    The point was that soldiers are taught to not do exactly what he, and you, have done to soldiers. That is sad.

    That’s not to say that soldiers done create us/them dichotomies. They do it a lot, but they do it because they’ve spent evenings scrubbing the brains of a close friend out of their uniforms. You really need to understand a culture in its own terms, I think they teach that in intro. to anth.
    So, they have actual reasons for the feelings they have, you have no excuse.

    BTW, your other complaint that everything that is done in an HTT isn’t published is ridiculous. You don’t publish your field notes in a journal. No one knows all the mistake you make, they only know the finished article that you present to them marking your brilliance. I do the same thing. I think that ‘s why we had the post-modern turn.
    This is again, an argument against applied anthropology. A client owns the final report and all the data, unless other agreements were made before hand. Microsoft doesn’t let anyone see anything that their anthropologists report. In this sense the HTS is more transparent that most applied work.
    You simply owe your colleges the benefit of the doubt, unless you have a reason not to. Vietnam is not a reason not to.

    The HTS complies with the NAPA, AAA, and SfAA codes of ethics. Who are you to say that you speak for the discipline? You are you to define what we do or don’t do? Who we can or can’t work for? You guys are in the minority of this debate.

  18. Maximilian Forte

    Holden, I don’t know if you can understand this, or if it’s an example of your PsyOps “mindwar” to simply disgorge vast amounts of fog, with the hope that the article at hand is obscured.

    You continue to complain, very ironically in your case, about what is being “ignored” here, and then — amazingly — you actually wrote: “Everything else that was said against the HTS, is and continues to be based on misinformation, hearsay, and wild imaginations.”

    How about you try actually addressing what numerous insiders, like the one featured in David Price’s article above, actually say? Unlike you, they are the ones with the actual personal experience in the program, and you are in no position at all to simply dismiss them or to contradict them. So the thing to do then is listen and learn.

    In a moment of unguarded self-flattery, you write: “I have gone through all of the arguments that you and others have made and deconstructed each in turn. I think that any outside observer of this would have to say I’ve done a pretty good job of it too.” Sorry, Rick, but who the hell has ever heard of you?

    In any event, based on what you post here, I would counsel you to show greater humility.

    “BTW, your other complaint that everything that is done in an HTT isn’t published is ridiculous. You don’t publish your field notes in a journal.”

    No, what is ridiculous is your continued resort to tactics of studied misunderstanding. What we say is that NOTHING has been published, apart from glossy, cheerful self-appraisals published in the media, right down to Audrey Roberts writing an absolutely moronic rendition of HTS as “peace keeping” (see: http://www.box.net/shared/jpmgkuchrn)

    The point is that HTS promised it would produce unclassified reports, freely available to the public. One was seemingly leaked via Joshua Foust’s blog, and one was merely referenced by Fox News. So, where are the reports? Links only please, not promises, not vague references. Right now, HTS cannot maintain its own website…but at least McFate’s smut blog is back online.

    HTS, let’s be clear, does NOT comply with the AAA Code of Ethics. Holy crap, if you can’t get this detail straight then you are really hopeless. Did you miss the news, last December, of AAA’s final rejection of HTS on ethical grounds, even disclaiming it as being anything that could be called anthropology? IT WAS ONLY IN ALL THE MAJOR NEWSPAPERS.

    “You guys are in the minority of this debate.”

    Interesting twist. It’s the “minority”, however, that prevailed in the AAA. A “minority” that is gigantic compared to the mere six anthropology PhDs that HTS has ever hired, out of a total of around 450-500 employees. If we were such a minority, then you would have no debate with us: yours would be the winning team, rather than the whining team.

    So much for facts, so much for ethics, and so much for wild imaginations.

  19. Maximilian Forte

    David Price’s HTS informant must have really, really hurt these people, if they come out just to talk about anything and everything that is at best tangentially related to the article.

    Good job, on ignoring the facts. Keep doing that, especially while in Afghanistan, so we can look forward to an even more dramatic American failure.

  20. Maximilian Forte

    Here is what a debate about the facts looks like when HTS is present:

    (from: http://www.truthout.org/when-scholars-join-slaughter56379)

    “Stacey Fritz is a Ph.D. candidate in cultural anthropology at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, who studies cold war militarization of the Arctic and other aspects of modern American militarism, including its impacts on academia. She is also a member of the Network of Concerned Anthropologists, an independent ad-hoc group that seeks to promote an ethical anthropology and that believes that anthropologists should refrain from directly assisting the US military in combat. On November 18, Fritz debated Kathleen Reedy, an employee in the HTS, assigned to the 1/25th Stryker Brigade out of Fort Wainwright, Fairbanks.

    “She seemed to be trying to make herself believe the HTS lines, but they are so unbelievable that I think that it is very, very difficult to debate/defend that perspective, especially since I had plenty of quotes from military leaders saying very candidly that the HTTs do HUMINT [Human Intelligence gathering] that the military uses to figure out who the bad guys are and which good guys can be co-opted.”

    Fitz explained that Reedy opted not to debate the central HTS issues, but rather attempted to persuade the audience that she, as an anthropologist, had control over her information, and that she maintained “strong ethical guidelines concerning what she would pass on to them.”

  21. Holden

    I don’t have a lot of time today for a long posting, I have to work on a report, and I’m running out of steam on this issue. I don’t really have a feeling of commitment on the issue, rather an intellectual interest in understanding the various discursive dramas involved. Anthropology has taught me that nothing is really real outside of a person’s mind, so its hard to get sucked into social drama. In essence the Buddhists are right that doing so is to fight with a dream.

    Anyway, I just stopped in to mention something I saw in a conversation on a secure site. See I have access to secure sites on my computer, so I can actually look over the power points that are used for HTS briefings, comments between commanders, etc… I can’t post them, but I just find the disconnect between the conception and the reality.
    One of the things I thought was funny is that the vitriol from some AAA members over the program is being viewed by some in the army as positive, that something is being done right if academics are so angry. This is called blow back, or when you hurt your own cause by being stupid and misreading the situation.

    Another thing ya’ll haven’t figured out is that this is the only job of this type that is outsourced. The army has psychologists, doctors, nurses, economists, political scientists, etc… Officers trained in all of them. What makes you think there isn’t talk of avoiding all the bullshit and just sending soldiers to college for anthropology degrees? Can you say unintended consequences? Do your jobs exist without government funding?

    Oh, and I would like to apologize for that rude post above, with the ad hominims. I had had a few beers before I wrote it.

    1. Maximilian Forte

      “Anthropology has taught me that nothing is really real outside of a person’s mind”

      I very much doubt that anthropology taught you that.

      “What makes you think there isn’t talk of avoiding all the bullshit and just sending soldiers to college for anthropology degrees? Can you say unintended consequences? Do your jobs exist without government funding?”

      Let them, and I can assure we will not be following any military script, or prepping them for battlefield situations. On the contrary, they seriously risk getting back a number of defectors and dissidents. Indeed, the reason the army has not chosen this obvious route earlier, and with greater intensity, is precisely because it fears loss of control. Let these students show up in class, in front of their peers, and argue for going to war against people who never attacked their country, and who are simply fighting to retain theirs. Let these army students present themselves, and explain why their endeavors are worth so many billions of dollars, when seriously urgent human problems rage without control. I cherish the opportunity…send them to me.

  22. Angstboy

    I think the unfortunate element here is that both Holden and Max have both made statements in support of the other’s positions.

    Holden – “I just stopped in to mention something I saw in a conversation on a secure site. See I have access to secure sites on my computer, so I can actually look over the power points that are used for HTS briefings, comments between commanders, etc… I can’t post them, but I just find the disconnect between the conception and the reality.” If these powerpoints are only found on secure sites, that does not count as “published,” and is exactly what Max and others are complaining about HTS – scholarship should be publicly available, nothing from HTS is. There are lots of articles written ABOUT HTS, but none written BY HTS.

    Max – your quote simply proves the point Holden was making – it is a statement by an anti-HTS person about how she “won” a debate with an HTS antrhopologist, without any supporting documentation. A person who self-admittedly studies “cold war militarization of the Arctic and other aspects of modern American militarism” – as Holden said, if you have a hammer…

    However, yes, the AAA has condemned HTS, and knowing some of the members of the CEAUSSIC who have consistently personally struggled with the issue of working with the military, I think it can safely be said that this condemnation was not an ideological reaction to the program. There are definitely problems with the HTS program, not least of which is the issue of scientific ethics. And as I have mentioned before, I have worked frequently (in theater) with HTS, and also read the products they post on cleared computers. Yes, some are interesting and informative, but some are also ridiculously poor in planning and execution. If these were available publicly, then there possibly could be more debate about the efficacy of the program besides third-party comments from military officers on one side talking about “effectiveness” and scholars on the other talking about “ethics.”

    1. Maximilian Forte

      Angtsboy, the quote I produced from a published article was, at the very worst, at least as credible as Holden insisting Price’s arguments were demolished, at a meeting which Price says he never attended. That’s all. I was not at the meeting in Alaska, and I have not seen any further discussion about it. Of course the HTS anthropologist is free to counter that depiction, but has not.

  23. Holden

    “I think the unfortunate element here is that both Holden and Max have both made statements in support of the other’s positions.”

    Angstboy, I wish we were doing just that, because I think that’s a good thing, and is usually a sign that there is less variance of position, and that much of that variance can be accounted for with semantic differences only, which means that we are talking in circles. That would be a good thing.

    I think your also getting close to the heart of things when you say that both the effectiveness of HTT reports, and the murky ethics of academics, are somewhat over blown, due to the not knowing. As an applied anthropologist I have no problem with this level of transparency. As I’ve said, it is more transparent than much of the work I’ve done, and will probably ever do. I was on a team for Samsung mobile once, and you report will never be scene by anyone, outside the company. The participants didn’t get to see a thing. If it is ever written about it will be referred to as Company X, or something.
    The AAA cleared this kind of thing in the early 1980’s, after an almost 30 year ban, which is why we are not nearly as relevant to the world as every other social science. We have basically allowed economists to ruin the world, and run amok. (I feel about Neoliberal economics the way Max feels about the HTS).

    Again a real Content Analysis can be done on the written texts on this subject, and compared to text on other forms of applied anthropology to get at what someone is really saying. I don’t think any of us would be stupid enough to simply take everyone at their word and write in verbatim what our informants tell us. Many are simply trying to influence opinion, which is based on emotional reasoning.
    A quick test. The argument of a lack of transparency. We only have to look to see if anyone is protesting, and signing petitions, against the much greater lack of transparency in business, and other applied, anthropology. I’ve heard a bit, but it doesn’t come close to this. So the lack of transparency is not the issue. We can just toss that reason out. It has everything to do with the lack of transparency with the military, and really it is simply working with the military. That’s it.

    As for working with the military, one excuse is that it puts our lives in danger. So, if we look at the many deaths of ethnographers that have put themselves in dangerous situations, do we find protest? No. No one is actually against one of us making a choice to do something dangerous. Again just the military. Rather than grieving lost colleagues, or demanding the release of a captive, there is a kind of cynical joy in using it as fodder against the program. This is cutting off one’s nose to spite their own face. It is sad.

    Ok, then there is the, “it puts our informants lives in danger.” No it doesn’t. Our informants live in a war zone. Their lives are already in danger, and not knowing anything about what is going on on the ground is more dangerous for them. A sharp knife is less dangerous than a dull one. If we don’t talk to people, then soldiers will talk to them. Either way someone is going to talk to them, who do you want talking to them? The only way to ensure that they aren’t targeted by the enemy for talking to someone is to not talk to them. Does anyone really want that? To operate in a way that completely ignores any input from locals, so that our military simply assumes everything and operates from a complete position of ethnocentrism? That is how things were being done at the first push into Iraq, and we see how that went. It is a guaranteed way to kill more innocent people.

    So, then we have to see that things would be worse if there wasn’t a recognition that we need this type of knowledge, imperfect as the process is. The simple fact that military commanders admit that they want and need this so they can save lives, even if it is only their mens’ lives, is a net good. By saving their mens’ lives, they are saving everyones’ lives. We could save every American life by simply using nukes for every conflict. So again, this is an ethical choice that is on a continuum.

    I think there is also a fear that if the HTS is successful, then it might make this new type of war more successful, and fill us with even more hubris. This is similar to the old anarchist slogan, “the worse the better.” The worse conditions for workers and others were, the more likely a real revolution could be had to change everything. I find anarchist history fascinating.
    That would be valid, but very recent history (not Vietnam or WWII) has shown us that the worse things get, the more bloody things get, the more our resolve will stiffen. Now that things are better in Iraq, we are getting out.
    Us staying irrelevant is not going to change anything, or make anything better. If people think that we cannot make things better at least, then they are admitting that anth. is ultimately an irrelevant academic exercise, and that is not something I want any part of. I also know from actually working in applied projects, that it is not true.

    The only highly trained professionals whose absence would make everyone think twice about committing to military conflict are doctors, MD’s. If the AMA condemned their people from taking part in military conflicts, and pulled licenses from those that did, we would not be having a war. Of course, they are licensed by the state, so the AMA would be rendered irrelevant quickly. The ethical choice for MDs is much more serious, because they are bound to help, yet their mere presence acts as an enabling force. Perhaps they’d save more lives by not being involved. A commander would really think twice about attacking anyone if he didn’t have a doctor. However, Doctors without Borders realizes that if they were there or not, chances are the types of conflicts that they are involved in would happen anyway.
    This is the kind of holistic, systematic thinking that we should be doing.

    As an ethnographer if an informant told me that nothing of theirs could ever come into contact with menstrual blood, lest they loose all magical power, because menstrual blood is polluting; I would not actually think there was something special or different about their womens’ blood. I also wouldn’t start to think they might know something about hematology that I didn’t. I would immediately begin looking at how and why such a cultural construct exists. I wouldn’t think it was anything other than a belief and a construct.

    When anthropologists tell me the same thing about the military, I have the same reaction. This argument is no different. We can boil the whole thing down to them saying that the polluting effects of the military will damage my anthropological magic, and the fruits of the AAA will fail the next rainy season.

    Ok, now I’m really just wasting time to avoid work.

    Everyone check out article published in the JSOU jounal, title, “Psychological Operations: Learning is not a Defense Science Project.”

    [link deleted: U.S. government website that inspects the computers of those visiting the site]

    You can see something we all intuitively know. The inherent conflict between non-kenetic power and kenetic power in the Army. The article was written before the transition of the reserve component back to the reserve command, so things have gotten better, but not much.
    You will see almost verbatim the arguments that many HTT members and outsiders are making of the way the system in organized and sometimes marginalized in planning and execution stages. Number one on his list is cultural blindness. Big army essentially understands its role as, “stand ready to deploy, engage, and destroy the enemies of the United States of America in close combat.” (from the Army creed).

    Likewise, opponents of the HTS are also culturally blind, in the sense that they have frozen the view of what it is that anthropologists are and are supposed to do.

    So, is the answer to get rid of Civil Affairs and PSYOP?

    That sad thing is, is that conflict is simply inevitable at almost every scale. We as humans, have done more damage by ignoring this reality and making it a black and white issue. We should strive for zero conflict, or total war, and ignore anything in between. Conflict can rarely if ever be solved, rather it can and must be managed. Don’t take my word for it, others make the case more strongly here:
    “Working Through Environmental Conflict: The Collaborative Learning Approach”

    This is the model we need to try to replicate to make the HTS more successful in dealing with conflict between the two competing interests in the army.

    You cannot say that there are no proper ways to dealing with this problem, and at the same time not look.

    1. Maximilian Forte

      “I feel about Neoliberal economics the way Max feels about the HTS”

      Uh, no you don’t. If you did, you would see those two as very much tied together, and you would condemn both, as I do. HTS is itself an incarnation of the neoliberal economic ethos, with privatization and outsourcing of state functions and resources, relying on a range of private contractors. HTS employees may now be government employees, but HTS itself is supported by a nest of private firms. None of these firms operate transparently and with accountability to the American public — just visit their websites and see for yourself. Some are barely more than a flashy picture and a mailing address. In addition, HTS is part of the force projection inherent to the politics of neoliberalism, binding other nations into a system of free markets, “democracy” (meaning multiple parties and competition allowing for the entry of foreign interests, such as U.S. funding of political parties by the CIA), and “freedom” (meaning individualism and consumerism). If you rejected neoliberalism, you would reject its imperialism, and thus HTS as one of its expressions. Checkmate, mate.

      “So the lack of transparency is not the issue. We can just toss that reason out.”

      There is no ONE issue, but that certainly is one of them. Why? (1) Because HTS promised such transparency, and apparently that was a lie. (2) Because in a democracy the public is supposed to have oversight and be informed of what the government it pays for is doing.

      “As for working with the military, one excuse is that it puts our lives in danger. So, if we look at the many deaths of ethnographers that have put themselves in dangerous situations, do we find protest?”

      Apples and oranges. The first is putting someone putting your life in danger, and the second is about you choosing to put your life in danger. Anyway, I am sure there is an element of both in HTS. As for cynical joy about the loss of HTS lives…it’s not cynical, and it’s not joy. Actually, it’s usually a lot more of a collective, “I couldn’t give a flying fuck”. Noting how HTS has tried to capitalize on the deaths of its own (I think here of St. Paula), even while obfuscating its own role in their deaths (through lack of proper training, for example), and the degree of sentiment gushed out that reserves dead HTS perps for “humanity” while reducing others to animals…now that is the bullshit I have argued against. If you cannot follow the thread, put away your scissors.

      “Ok, then there is the, “it puts our informants lives in danger.” No it doesn’t. Our informants live in a war zone.”

      And guess what? HTS is part of what makes it a war zone for them. Did you miss the part where HTS is part of the U.S. Army, a foreign occupier that invaded to fight a war against people who never attacked the U.S. You put their lives in danger, by being there. HTS is not separate from the context in which it exists and plays itself out.

      “By saving their mens’ lives, they are saving everyones’ lives.”

      Oh boy, as far as logic goes, this one fails the smell test. The U.S. saved its men’s lives by dropping atomic bombs on Japan. Your argument has to then be that everyone’s life was thus saved. This is bizarre: death is life — but it’s not your only Orwellian approach to this debate. Remember, you’re the one who rejects neoliberalism and supports neoliberalism’s warfare. Bad is good then.

      “the worse things get, the more bloody things get, the more our resolve will stiffen. Now that things are better in Iraq, we are getting out.”

      No. You did not get such a bloodied face and confront such impossible options in Bosnia, Kosovo, and Haiti, and that’s why the U.S. and its partners are still there. You get out of Iraq because you have failed. The same will follow in Afghanistan, except that by then you would have wasted more lives, and more resources, for absolutely nothing.

      “opponents of the HTS are also culturally blind, in the sense that they have frozen the view of what it is that anthropologists are and are supposed to do”

      That cuts both ways, too bad this eluded you. The conflict between anthropologists and HTS began when Montgomery McFate started to unilaterally preach to the world about what anthropology’s new mission would be, which would be her mission in fact, and indeed it has served her very well financially. She told us we are dumb and irrelevant — and yet we were to be recruited for our brains. McFate declared she would make “anthropology useful to the military”, as if she had the right to speak for all of us. She said this would “anthropologize the military” — which does not follow from the last statement, at all — and she has been totally wrong. Right now, HTS cannot even anthropologize itself. McFate, in her extreme arrogance, assumed she could talk for all of us. Well, surprise, surprise.

      Anthropologists are in an immense debate about what they do, and why. McFate sought to exploit that crisis, and capitalize on it. Had she been less of a presumptuous “star of the show” type, she might have found many more allies in academic anthropology to back her up, apart from the marginal likes of a Liam Murphy, or the disreputable and sinister likes of a Felix Moos. Instead, she ended up alone, isolated even among those who initially admired her mission. This is the person who would bring insurgents in Afghanistan to their knees? She cannot even convert her own kind.

      The problem, as explained repeatedly elsewhere and by others as well, is that anthropology has no actual core that can be aligned either for or against “power.” It has a colonial past, and a continuing colonial legacy. It remains a club for middle class white people, travelers who need to get certifications to ensure that their travels do not undermine their quest for middle class comfort. What some anthropologists wonder is whether they should be kicked out by history while presiding over, and engaging in, more bloody colonial wars. It offends the sensibility, to different degrees, of most anthropologists.

      If you cannot respect that, you have no business being in anthropology, and even less in claiming that you can use it to serve the interests of big business (your beloved applied anthropology, of service to neoliberal economics) and the military. Had McFate really been a good anthropologist, rather than one graduated from Yale, she would have tried to understand this tribe better, and not march so triumphantly. She has failed, and there are no two ways about that.

  24. Holden

    Just real quick. I met with a professor today that is teaching a course in ethnomusicology and the subject in the use of music and sound by the military. I’m amazed at what he didn’t know about it, and he was teaching the course.

    Anyway, here’s a video I thought you’d want to see. Its from Jim Channon, the guy depicted in the movie, “Men who stare at goats.” He talks about his role in influencing the army. I think this is very important for anyone who thinks this that the military is a monolith, which influences one way.

    It’s a multipart video. He talks about dealing with officers near the end.

  25. Maximilian Forte

    No, influence is not one way, the military over everyone else — especially given the role of legislators, the Secretary of Defense, and the President. HTS is none of these.

    Really, try focusing on what the article actually says, than guess around it and raise issues and arguments that are at best tangentially related.

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  29. annonymous

    Price’s notion of brainwashing in HTS training is nonsense. There was no coercion to take firearms training and absolutely no notion that it would be necessary for HTT members. I am sure if you sent a closet communist to a Republican Party forum or a meeting of pro life people, he would come away with grave conspiracy stories. I went through HTS shortly before Price’s class so I know what I am talking about. Some of his criticisms are real, others are the imagined bogeymen of a dyed-in-the-wool lefty surrounded by military types. You could find the same schisms in any bar where you have a Marine on one stool and an Obama supporting, hate America firster on the next.

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