Multiplying Human Terrain Dreams of Victory and Fortune

PARWAN PROVINCE, Afghanistan – Task Force Cyclone Human Terrain Team’s, 1st Lt. Raphael Howard, research manager, speaks with village members of Shaykh Ali, Parwan province, Afghanistan, Dec. 19, 2009. (Photo by U.S. Army Spc. William E. Henry, Task Force Cyclone, 38th Infantry Division)

It is increasingly apparent that even if TRADOC’s Human Terrain System were to simply be deleted, that would not spell the end of the human terrain doctrine, the military application of social science, and the applied study of “culture” in American counterinsurgency. In the previous report, “Mapping the Terrain of War Corporatism: The Human Terrain System within the Military-Industrial-Academic Complex,” we find that some companies do not directly service the U.S. Army’s Human Terrain System as much as producing their own variant, one example being SCIA Solutions/Earl Industries which runs its own training classes at George Mason University.

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It is even possible that the absence of the program we know as HTS would open up new defense contracting opportunities for such companies, or increase what they have already gained.

The Military’s Human Terrain, but without HTS

In “Social Scientists Under Fire: How anthropology and other social sciences are transforming the American way of war in Afghanistan” (Miller-McCune, 17 February 2010), David Axe says that the “original versions of the so-called ‘Human Terrain Teams’— the basic units of the Human Terrain System—are now slowly going defunct. From one point of view, they have been rendered redundant, as the philosophy and practices they espoused spread throughout the military mainstream. But seen from another direction, the Human Terrain System is on the cusp of a much-deserved breakthrough into the military mainstream, and, after a rocky start, the social-science teams are primed for a speedy rise up the military hierarchy.” In fact, some of the changes internal to HTS over the past year have helped to further this trend, Axe argues. The deaths of Bhatia, Suveges, and Loyd prompted a gradual “hardening” of HTS: “The [Human Terrain] teams began to include a greater proportion of current and former military personnel. And even those team members who weren’t military started acting and looking more like soldiers. Some of the civilian social scientists now carry weapons.” Moreover, with HTS’ retired army/social scientist contractors being incorporated as government employees last summer, this has “hastened the militarization of the Human Terrain System.”

More than the above, however, is the growing realization within the U.S. military that what HTS offers is not so unique that only HTS can provide it. One former HTS employee, turned critic, quoted by Axe stated: “for 99 percent of what HTS does, it can be done by soldiers filling out survey forms and reporting back to a research center in the U.S. There’s no need to have these mostly crap teams out there not really doing anything besides getting in people’s ways.”

Indeed, Axe found military units that had never heard of HTS, and yet were doing the same work in Afghanistan regardless:

“Though they might not have heard of the Human Terrain System, Shepard’s troops were actively engaged in studying and exploiting the human terrain. They just used different terminology. Lt. Col. Thomas Gukeisen, Shepard’s beefy, gravel-voiced boss, described his strategy in Logar as an attempt to build ‘security bubbles’ in the communities that are most amenable to a U.S. troop presence. Deciding where to focus security efforts requires daily close contact with Afghans. ‘The security bubble is the human-terrain piece,’ Gukeisen said.”

Axe concludes that, “Soldiers are capable of the cultural interactions that are supposed to be the HTS’s exclusive domain”:

The Human Terrain System and less formal human-terrain efforts boil down to single conversations between two people from very different cultures, speaking different languages. Whether it’s conducted by a highly trained, highly paid civilian academic or a young soldier, the mapping of human terrain is mostly a common-sense effort that requires patience, respect and courtesy.

[Lt. Sean Mahard:] “We’re not really trained for this. The majority of our training is in infantry tactics,” he said, and then shrugged. “But if you can interact with people, you can be successful.”

Human Terrain in a University Class Room

Whether in the battle zone, or in the class room, the human terrain doctrine seems to be undergoing expansion, paradoxically at the same time that HTS seems to be buried under the weight of criticisms from many different quarters, including within the military itself. Paula Holmes-Eber is an anthropologist with a specialization in the Middle East, a Ph.D. from Northwestern University, and was formerly an assistant professor in anthropology at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. After spending time as a visiting scholar in Middle East Studies and the Department of Anthropology at the University of Washington, she took up a position teaching “operational culture” at Marine Corps University in Quantico, Virginia. National Public Radio, in a story titled “In Class, Marines Learn Cultural Cost Of Conflict” (09 January 2010), describes the following:

The students in front of Paula Holmes-Eber wear camouflage and have close-cropped hair. Most of them are Marine officers, and many of them have already been to war in Iraq and Afghanistan. They’re here to learn the consequences of their actions.

“Should we change another culture?” she asks the class. “The reality is, the second you land on the ground with 100,000 troops eating and using the materials of the area, you’ve changed the economy; you’ve changed the environment.”

“It’s not should we,” she tells them, “it’s what are we doing—and is that what we want to be doing?”

An anthropologist, Holmes-Eber trains American warriors to be sensitive to other cultures. She teaches operational culture at Marine Corps University in Quantico, Va. It’s her job to get soldiers to think through how every move they make on the battlefield has a consequence—not just for enemy forces, but for ordinary people.

Given the “bloody, horrible, protracted” history of conflict in Afghanistan, Holmes-Eber would like to see American troops in the region take a different path—and that means understanding local culture well enough to build cooperative relationships.

“The goal is mission effectiveness,” she explains. “If they fail because they don’t understand the culture, then they didn’t do what we asked them to do. So it’s not about being touchy-feely and sweet and ‘don’t we like the natives.’ “

“I really hope that we don’t kill as many people this way.”

The rest of the story can be heard here:

The basic principles voiced by Holmes-Eber are essentially the same we have been hearing from HTS propagandists, framing warfare in “culturally sensitive” terms, understanding local culture, building relationships with locals, and “saving lives” (which simply means killing, but not as much). Look past the gloss, and you see one face of counterinsurgency (the other is great violence, the face that tends to shy away from photos ops for the mainstream media back home)–it does not have to be untrue to be any less of an insidious attempt to subvert local societies and bend their people’s minds toward accommodation with empire.

The Other Human Terrain Programs

“The new emphasis being given to tribal engagement in counterinsurgency signifies that such tribal studies are highly relevant to the various military and civilian government agencies tasked to implement this new approach. Repeated public statements by US military and civilian leaders now downplay military operations in favor of gaining the support of local communities, not only by bringing tangible benefits, but also by acting in a manner acceptable to tribal people.In order to accomplish this mandate, we believe it is essential to understand tribal culture and society as a prerequisite to productive interaction.”–Tribal Analysis Center

A number of companies and research programs have been building their own “human terrain” programs. One of these is the Tribal Analysis Center (TAC). The TAC notes that “Traditional anthropological research conducted among tribes inhabiting remote areas where insurgents and criminals operate has become increasingly difficult to implement. Studies carried out among people living in small-scale societies now are nearly impossible due to the physical dangers associated with the civil and religious unrest found in those areas.” Indeed, this is a recurring theme across TAC’s pages: doing anthropology in Afghanistan is too dangerous.Thus the TAC adopts an “indirect approach,” which means using research from a variety of disciplines, collecting and analyzing data obtained from others, in the past and present. This is revamped armchair anthropology, the late 1800s dusted off for the early 2000s: “We assume that much can be gleaned from well-informed observers who are not anthropologists, ranging from journalists and travelers to government officials.”

TAC speaks highly and repeatedly about anthropology: “Although we value highly anthropological research and publications, none of us are full-time anthropologists.” The one TAC editor with a background in anthropology, a M.A. to be exact, is Arturo G. Munoz: “he applied anthropology to intelligence analysis and wrote intelligence assessments on various Latin American issues….he conducted counterterrorism, counterinsurgency and counternarcotics operations in diverse countries….In February of 2009, Munoz joined the RAND Corporation as a Senior Political Scientist. Working out of the Washington Office, he specializes in counterinsurgency and counterterrorism issues, focusing currently on Afghanistan.” It is no wonder then that, despite TAC’s open acknowledgment of anthropologists’ criticisms of work such as its staff conduct, and especially noting the ethnical problems, they proceed nonetheless–in the final analysis, with experience such as that of Munoz, where else can such individuals be employed? They are tied to the “terror” system of empire, because that is the side on which their bread is buttered.

But the bread has not been as buttered as TAC would like. At present, the TAC appears to lack any government contract, with its work done on a part-time and pro bono basis: “Some of us are employed full-time with various government agencies, others with private companies, or, are retired and do contracting as consultants or researchers for various clients. Our main source of funding at present is from the sale of books and teaching of courses.” In line with the latter, the TAC has set up the rudiments of an online course program through its Tribal Analysis University, which quite appropriately opens with a quote from none other than Rudyard Kipling himself, great visionary of the “white man’s burden.”

The Program for Culture & Conflict Studies is premised on the belief that the United States must understand the cultures and societies of the world to effectively interact with local people. It is dedicated to the study of anthropological, ethnographic, social, political, and economic data to inform US policies at both the strategic and operational levels.CCS is the result of a collaborative effort to provide current open source information to Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRT), mission commanders, academics, and the general public. Covering tribes, politics, trends, and people, this website – a 21st century gazetteer, provides data, analysis, and maps not available anywhere else.–Program for Culture and Conflict Studies at NPS

At the Naval Postgraduate School the Program for Culture and Conflict Studies seems to be virtually duplicating some of the intended functions of HTS, led by Thomas H. Johnson–“Under his direction, the program coordinates anthropological research activities on the human terrain of Central and South Asia.” According to one report, Johnson was supposed to “develop a database for the Human Terrain Teams,” which suggests a close working relationship that the others do not seem to have, and some online commentators insist, along with Newsweek, that Johnson not only served on a pilot Human Terrain Team in Afghanistan, but that he was also later fired from the program, all of which was flatly denied by HTS’ Montgomery McFate. In terms of “advising the troops,” which HTS claims to do, it seems that PCCS does so as well, only at much higher levels, and away from the battle zone: “Canadian Brig. Gen. Daniel Menard and a dozen top officers of his Joint Task Force-Afghanistan took time in their pressing schedules preparing to take charge of NATO operations in Kandahar, the center of gravity for the Pashtun insurgency, to attend the Conference on Culture and Counterinsurgency in Southern Afghanistan hosted by the NPS Program for Culture and Conflict Studies (CCS), Aug. 25-27 [2009],” with the goal of the conference being “to paint a clear picture of the battle space the Canadian Task Force was about to enter, enabling its members to better understand the institutions, organizations and individuals affecting conditions on the ground in their area of responsibility” (“University Experts Brief Canada’s New Afghanistan Task Force Commander on Winning ‘Mission Impossible’“). That was not the only such event.

It also clearly shows that what HTS boasts about, providing cultural knowledge, does not require a presence in the battlefield. HTS also does little/nothing to shape policy when it is focused on those lower down in the military food chain, whereas PCCS is clearly advising and engaging with those at the higher levels of command. In terms of mapping, PCCS also provides “tribal maps” on its website (anthropologists laugh out loud when they read such things) as well as tribe and clan genealogies.

Dartmouth College’s Laboratory for Human Terrain is perhaps one of the most obvious examples of the diffusion and appropriation of the human terrain concept. They produce lots of diagrams of boxes and arrows and balloons, so you know they’re busy producing real knowledge. They have three team members and have produced roughly a half dozen articles. The background of George Cybenko, the first person listed, is in mathematics. The others have backgrounds in mathematics, electrical engineering, and computer science — in other words, all the right disciplines for understanding human social relationships and meanings.

It’s About the Tribe: Three Cups of Tea, Hold the Grain of Salt

Roberto J. González’s article in Anthropology Today (Vol. 25, No. 2, April 2009), “Going ‘tribal’: Notes on pacification in the 21st century,” begins with an important, basic observation:

“Few anthropologists today would consider using the term ‘tribe’ as an analytical category, or even as a concept for practical application. Years ago, Morton Fried observed that ‘many anthropologists have attempted to avoid the word, or deliberately isolate it in inverted commas’ because of its persistent ambiguities.” (p. 15)

Lured by the simplicity of synchronic, static, functionalist snap shots, ludicrously conceiving human objects in the form of maps, it is not surprising that the human terrain cartographers either miss or cannot grasp the fact that the Taliban are a post-tribal phenomenon. The presence of the Taliban in every part of Afghanistan should suggest, to any reasonable people, that they simply cannot be equated with or tied to any “tribe.” It does not even seem that the military understands what “tribe” is supposed to mean, usually conflating (as González found) tribe with chiefdom. In the meantime in U.S. and NATO articles and photo essays, not to mention a plethora of dependent mainstream media recitations, tend to “also suggest – in Orientalist fashion – that ‘tribesmen’ are traditional or pre-modern people unfamiliar with Western ways.” González adds: “Official Defense Department photos depict US soldiers sitting on cushions and drinking tea with ‘tribal’ leaders, as if participating in such a ritual is enough to earn their trust and co-operation. Such images are reminiscent of Orientalist paintings from the late 19th and early 20th centuries.”

Capt. Duke Reim, 1st Battalion, 12th Infantry Regiment, Charlie Company commander, and Human Terrain Team members talk with a local village elder during a village assessment. The Human Terrain Team embeds anthropologists and other social scientists with combat units in the field. 1st Battalion, 12th Infantry Regiment Photo by Staff Sgt. Justin Weaver

I am thinking that the implication is also that these “tribal elders” are simpletons–show them enough kindness and respect, and they’re yours. In portraying locals as easily manipulated hicks (just flash the right cultural signs and provide some Western goodies on the side), the authors of such portraits reveal themselves to be by far the greater of the simpletons. If there is one thing that Afghans are experts on, it is modernity, and they have known it longer and know it better than their American occupiers. Afghanistan has met almost every major empire of the past two thousand years. The so-called “ancient” and “biblical” wilderness that some U.S. troops claim to be seeing in Afghanistan, is often the destroyed ruin of an American or Soviet development project. Tribal Afghanistan is a Western projection, of remoteness, isolation, backwardness and primitiveness. One must wonder how using flawed paradigms, and deploying them in complex armed conflicts, is supposed to “do good” and “save lives.” But that is not the point–the point is to make a sale to the Army:

“And what are we to make of the peculiar use of the outdated ‘tribe’ concept by militarized social scientists? It appears that these technicians are not concerned about the ambiguity of ‘tribes’ because they are in the business (literally) of providing tools to help military commanders achieve immediate objectives. Short-term ‘mission success’ trumps all other considerations. In the current context, US military forces have been asked to carry out a quintessentially imperial mission – pacification of Iraq and Afghanistan – and the technicians have been quick to provide the necessary instruments, from tribal maps to hints for dividing and conquering….Social science can easily become a ‘martial art’ under these conditions.” (González, 2009, pp. 18, 19)

Permanent War: War Corporatism, Militarized Knowledge, and Regimented Mentalities in a National Security State

Permanent War–Catherine Lutz, speaking to the Canadian Anthropology Society in 2008 (see: Catherine Lutz, “Anthropology in an Era of Permanent War,” Anthropologica, 51 [2], 2009: 367-379), described the extent to which the American nation-state is one marked by permanent war. Permanent war began in 1947 with the passage of the National Security Act, and the creation of what is effectively a second, shadow state organization that includes the National Security Organization (NSA), the National Security Council (NSC), and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), to which we can now add several more. The head of this second state, as Lutz puts it (among others, such as Andrew Bacevich), is an imperial President, with ever expanding powers. The U.S. has the largest military budget in recorded history, regardless of the end of the Cold War. This goes beyond published figures, as there is also a “black budget” whose funds are kept secret even from Congress. The Pentagon’s black budget reached $32 billion a year under Bush and “billions more in black funds go to the CIA and NSA, whose budgets are completely classified, disguised as seemingly unrelated line items in the budgets of other government departments, which sometimes even Congress does not realize” (p. 368). In 2009, $1.2 trillion was spent on military matters, including the off-budget costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, debt payments for past wars, and allocations for veteran care.

In terms of global reach, the U.S. now has over 190,000 troops and 115,000 civilian employees in 909 military facilities in 46 countries and territories, with bases located on 795,000 acres of land owned or rented by the U.S., housing over 26,000 buildings and structures, figures that obviously do not include secret and other unacknowledged installations (p. 368). The U.S. military rents or owns 28 million acres in total (43,750 square miles).

The U.S. military has become the biggest employer in the U.S., paying the wages of 2.3 million soldiers and 700,000 civilians, with even the largest private corporations dwarfed by comparison. This in a country where politicians and public commentators shriek at any hint of “socialism,” yet remain largely mute in the face of such massive state expenditures and social regimentation. Having remodeled itself, as Lutz says, after neoliberal business restructuring, the U.S. military now has as many temporary employees as permanent ones: 1.4 million are permanent employees in the regular branches of the military, with another 0.9 million in the Reserves and National Guard. Millions more Americans receive paycheques through defense contracting. Taking all of this into account, Lutz shows that military labour constitutes 5% of the total U.S. workforce (p. 369). One quarter of scientists and technicians in the U.S. work on military contracts. Now, work that was once done within the military is now contracted out to private firms.

This is the world into which the Human Terrain System fits, as well as the other human terrain variants, and the dozens of private corporations contracted for human terrain work, with more standing in the wings waiting. This is a world of lucrative military contracts, of militarized labour, and the development of mentalities regimented by the national security state. While Americans are so quick to colonize others, they do so having first colonized themselves massively. That is a nation whose first face shown to the world is a military one, where even handing out water bottles to Haitians is done by gloved hands protruding from camouflage fatigues. Popular culture is amply militarized as well, from Hollywood movies to video games, cultural militarism is a major growth industry, one of America’s few. The social scientists joining creatures such as HTS not only fail to critique such facts, they seem to be oblivious to the structures they actively choose to reinforce and which they validate and justify, at the cost of both democracy at home, peace abroad, and an independent intellect that takes itself seriously.


Addenda (13 March 2010):

More in line with the article above:

Atran leveled criticism at the U.S. military’s Human Terrain System, a program that has embedded social scientists in military units in Iraq and Afghanistan. “It is the infantry units themselves that should be trained before they go in theater to be culturally sensitive,” Atran told the senators. “Such efforts as these, small as they are, are potentially quite counterproductive. … The military and cultural reality of the terrain may favor having embedded social scientists be uniformed and armed, … but the possibility that social scientists themselves would have to fire their weapons and perhaps kill local people … is guaranteed to engender academia’s deep hostility.”


From readers:

  2. Article in Military Review, on culture and language training in the U.S. military; Army, Marine Corps, and Air Force definitions of “culture”, etc., complementing or perhaps supplementing some parts of the discussion above concerning “tribe.” (click here)
  3. Draft FM 5-0, The Operations Process, see particularly sections 1-22 through 1-26 on “Cultural Understanding”, which will appear as page 17 in your PDF browser:
  4. From “The Small Wars Foundation (Small Wars Journal’s non-profit parent organization), along with several government and private sector cosponsors, is conducting a small Tribal Engagement Workshop (TEW) on 24-25 March in Fredericksburg, Virginia. The objectives of this workshop are to: (1) Evaluate the value and feasibility of a tribal engagement approach in Afghanistan (2) Assess what secondary effects adoption of a tribal engagement approach would have on the political and military situation and (3) Identify the operational components of a tribal engagement approach in Afghanistan.”

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50 thoughts on “Multiplying Human Terrain Dreams of Victory and Fortune

  1. Guest

    1. Maximilian Forte

      Very interesting paper, thanks. It has its ambiguities, not wanting to stray too far from the object that it admits is problematic, the “tribe” (and they too use inverted commas). In some respects it seems to be conscious of the criticisms made by Roberto Gonzalez.

  2. Maximilian Forte

    Kindly sent to me by a reader, an interesting article in Military Review, on culture and language training in the U.S. military; Army, Marine Corps, and Air Force definitions of “culture”, etc., complementing or perhaps supplementing some parts of the discussion above concerning “tribe.”

    click here

  3. Holden

    “The Human Terrain System and less formal human-terrain efforts boil down to single conversations between two people from very different cultures, speaking different languages. Whether it’s conducted by a highly trained, highly paid civilian academic or a young soldier, the mapping of human terrain is mostly a common-sense effort that requires patience, respect and courtesy.[Lt. Sean Mahard:] “We’re not really trained for this. The majority of our training is in infantry tactics,” he said, and then shrugged. “But if you can interact with people, you can be successful.”

    This is basically true. They simply need to train the soldiers within USASOC (spec. ops) better, and more thoroughly. There are many logistic hurdles though. First, 80% of USACAPOC soldiers are reservists. On active duty psyop soldier completes about 1 1.2 years of school before they can even attach their units, and after that the training is basically continuous.

    For reservists you have to cut that into blocks of manageable time. Considering that most (above the mean) psyop soldiers have a B.A. or M.A., and are probably going to school, etc… it is hard for them to just drop everything for months of training. The required language school along is a minimum of 6 months for Spanish, and over a year for anything else. (That’s 8 hours a day, everyday of immersion).

    They like to have us in the reserves, so we don’t fall victim to the dreaded army “group think.” We are supposed to be the outside the box guys. So, then you have to grow the active duty force, and still allow them to behave differently than other soldiers. That is a tall order for army bureaucracy.
    More than any of that, they have to improve the screening process. Strong interpersonal skills, language skills, holistic thinking, etc… is much easier to select for than train. That’s what SF does.
    Getting a top ASVAB and DLAB scores do not good psyopers make. There used to be some amazing operators who could speak extensively on almost any subject, but the evil optempto of deployments is weeding out all but the people that don’t really have much else to do. On the last deployment back from Afghanistan half the unit refused to sign back on. I’m not. I am done.

    So, they need to go back to the way it was originally. Psychological operators during the 1940’s had to have college degrees, but they weren’t officers. We still don’t have an officer branch. The school needs to be intensive, and drop those who can’t handle it. They drop a lot, but a lot get through. The training also needs to be more standardized. In psyop school my instructors were one anthropologist/lawyer, IO expert, a reserve cop, and a guy that came in from Vietnam. The school was headed by a college professor who was in the reserves and doing her year of service.
    Basically, they need to take the people that they are putting on HTS teams and have them instruct these courses. Anthros., area experts, language experts, etc… Then have these guys sit in buildings state side and be available real-time to us for coaching, methods, or advice on ethical issues.

    I’d say that all of that would probably cost the same or more than the HTS, take about 2 years or so of basic training for the soldier, and would get closer to the gold standard.


    They could actually just fix all the problems with the HTS. That would be cheaper and easier. Knowing the army the way I do, I have almost no faith that the above plan would be done, although I can dream.
    Shit, we still spend half of our time arguing with infantry guys why its a bad thing to shoot just anyone, and why it actually makes the war worse. I have a buddy that just came over to us from the 101 screaming eagles. I asked him why, and he said, “because over there we’d go out and fuck things up, and then they’d send in psyop to try to fix it, and then latter we’d fuck it up again. I feel like its my turn to try to fix things.”

    1. Maximilian Forte

      The thing is that I use ad blockers…so I miss gems such as these. Remember to click on the link thousands of times, to really inflate their hopes, and to raise the amount they have to pay Google to advertise, lol.

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  5. Rick

    I tried to post a reply on the Savage Mind, which linked me here, after reading the article.
    Below its cut and paste. I’m like right there with you for the first half and then, wtf? You’d have done better without a verbatim Soviet propaganda as a line of discourse.

    So, I read the Max Forte article, and I have to say that he starts off with a clear line of thought. I like to keep up with the HTS stuff, and it seems like what he’s talking about, i.e., hardening of teams with more military personnel, and tactical training, is something that we need to know about and think about. Of course, the fact that the teams are much more multi-disciplined, which is also something mentioned (elsewhere) kind of takes this off of being a single discipline issue.

    In fact, I’d have to say that this would count as both a victory and an unintended consequence of the constant rage against the program. Fewer anthropologists became willing to incur the polluting stigma of HTS association, which forced the program to seek more people from other disciplines. They always had multi-discipline teams, but no other discipline stigmatizes its members like this.

    And, I think that this is what bothers me about all this rage. I began reading an article that I find important and informative, and then it devolves into frothing, ideological, anarchic rant. It ceases to be about anthropology and the HTS, and it becomes about just US foreign policy. No one hate US foreign policy more than I do, but these are two separate issues.

    Basically, I think the point in the article becomes something like, ‘we shouldn’t help the military persuade people (twisting minds towards Empire), rather we should let them kill people’, which is somehow preferable? Isn’t the point of diplomacy to persuade people? I mean at the end of the day advertising tries to persuade people to buy crap, but if they don’t like, need, or prefer said crap, then the ads won’t work.

    E.g., it isn’t ads alone that sell Hondas, it is the fact that they make great cars. If the message in the ads contradicted things that people experienced, and were told by their peers, then the ads would work only in the short term.

    If the army figures out how to convey the message to locals that they are there to help, blah blah, in a culturally relevant/credible way, and the people see their friends and family get hurt, then the message won’t be believed. It is only when the message and reality merge that the message is effective. The question then becomes whether or not the DOD and State Dept. really want the message and reality to merge. Nazi “big lie” type propaganda only works when people are disconnected with what is going on. Fox news if effective, because it is done for Americans on things they can’t see (the wars, socialist plots).

    That is the discussion to be had. It is a terrible assumption to assume that they don’t want those things to merge, and therefore we should help with that if they do. If they don’t want the message to merge, and it is just bullshit, and they think someone you can lie to people in a way that they believe you over their own eyes, then we should protest that. Well, we can protest, while watching it fail, because it will fail. But, I think we should look into this point first.

    I think the other issue is that it seems like there is a complete negation of the fact that people in Al Qaeda, Taliban (pick your favorite religious fundamentalist killers), are not good guys. They would happily kill you and your family for living the typical, progressive-American lifestyle. You think gays should be allowed to get married, and they think they should be killed- and they f#%king kill them. So, I think the other issue isn’t whether or not we should be a part of stopping these people, rather are we being used effectively, and that goes to the first part of the article [the well written part].

    I would like to know what we as anthro. are doing about social justice? Not the easy, safe stuff, but about places like Darfur, Somalia, and other places like that? I know of a few of us getting our hands dirty and working against the world’s bank funding of genocide in Central American (damn relocations). They’ve tried to kill her twice, and they’ve killed friends of hers. Should this be where we focus our energy?

    1. Maximilian Forte

      “I’m like right there with you for the first half and then, wtf? You’d have done better without a verbatim Soviet propaganda as a line of discourse.”

      If you want Soviet propaganda, consult any of the leading icons of your “free press,” whether the New York Times, CNN, or Fox News, for a sick mix of over reliance on official sources, repetition of government lies, and indulgence in war bravado and bellicose patriotism. Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, the good little American dupe believes that everything running against the official fantasy is “Soviet,” and the irony is that makes you more Soviet than the Soviets, who did not believe their official bullshit. The same applies to your hysterical characterization of a “frothing, ideological, anarchic rant” which is in fact a coldly factual reproduction of some of the key details presented by a leading anthropologist on these issues, Catherine Lutz.

      “No one hate US foreign policy more than I do”

      Bullshit. You’re a double-talker. Your comments quoted above are what you actually think, don’t try to hide behind a convenient, expedient, faux critique. Since you also post as Holden, let me remind of your assertion that you reject neoliberalism — then when shown that the exact opposite is true, given your endorsement of HTS and the political economy of which it is a part, you went silent. Now you are back with the same phony “I’m really a critic!” guise. It didn’t work then, so what makes you think it would work now?

      ” Isn’t the point of diplomacy to persuade people?”

      Yes, without occupying villages, killing people, and torturing them in detention camps…but with the kind assistance of some self-serving social scientists. This constant use of false analogies seems to be part of the mindset of HTS supporters. They cannot defend what is, so they reach for what they assume to be a parallel, and ask us to argue about that. That crap does not work here. Haven’t you noticed?

      “I think the other issue is that it seems like there is a complete negation of the fact that people in Al Qaeda, Taliban (pick your favorite religious fundamentalist killers), are not good guys.”

      I don’t think that you are the “good guys” either. Neither group occupies any part of the U.S., and the Taliban never attacked the U.S., nor have they ever invaded it. Since your country has been in a state of permanent war for nearly 200 years, and has the largest military machine in the world, and a violent and jingoistic culture to back it up…forgive me for seeing you as by far the greater threat to world peace.

      Darfur? Fuck Darfur. With the average number of monthly deaths from violence a mere fraction of what it is in Kingston, Jamaica, I really don’t need to give a damn about that asinine, liberal imperialist cause, one that has been a complete failure at anything other than expensive spin catering to Islamophobic bigots and guilty Americans looking to appease their consciences.

      What about Somalia? What does America know about “social justice” in Somalia? And why don’t you focus on “social justice” at home, or have you missed the fact that your society is crashing?

      One thing I cannot stand is missionaries, and one thing I will never do, whether intellectually or physically, is to chastise or otherwise disarm those who burn and behead the missionaries.

  6. Ben


    Rick: I hope to answer in more detail to your post soon, only I don’t have the time (it would be lengthy), so just one formal question now:
    Are you (Rick) Holden, the probable author of the other posts ? Or just someone who copied Holden’s last posted link to place it as your own? Just a funny coincidence (the name and link), please excuse my being curious, but if you are Holden I’d like to consider all your other posts, too, when answering.


  7. Ben

    whoops, okay, I was too slow – I believe Max has already assumed that you are Holden (through your IP?), and the discussion is already moving on with fast paste, and I’m late for an appointment, so I’ll just have to see if I can hook on to the debate later on or not.

    1. Maximilian Forte

      Rick Holden posts as either Rick or Holden, the IP is the same, and so is the link to the same site he uses. On other blogs, he tends to post as “Rick” alone, and he has been quite active in visiting every single blog publishing critical, even just merely skeptical, pieces about HTS, and producing his usual bloated mass of extended complaint, false analogies, and spurious assertions.

      He claims to be working on getting a Ph.D. You can read more about him here:

      He also posts in the mis-named Open Anthropology Cooperative, usually unreserved adulation of the work of men in uniform, which seems to receive no response.

  8. Rick

    Holy shit man, you really go off don’t you? I wrote calm rational lines, and you defame me personally.

    “Darfur? Fuck Darfur.”

    Kinda says it all right there. The suffering of some does not negate the suffering of others. All suffering adds upon itself in the human condition. Fuck Darfur, wow.

    You do know that you hurt your own cause when you say shit like that, right? I really don’t like U.S. foreign policy, and you straight call me a lier? You do know that you don’t actually know me.

    I happen to work for social justice right here at home. That’s actually my current job. I’m currently working with an organization that helps train, and find jobs for homeless people. I don’t mean to defame yourself in your righteous teaching of undergrad., writing things no one reads, and your blog. That’s earth changing, the blog and all.

    And, it’s not ok to kill missionaries. I’m an atheist, and that doesn’t make it ok. Torturing and killing people for the hell of it, is never ok. It seems like as long as your killed and Caucasian, then everything is ok. It sounds like you aren’t against violence, just the wrong violence. I sounds like you’re pissed that you haven’t been a part of a revolution that kills capitalist pigs.

    1. Maximilian Forte

      I defame you… “personally” …by writing “fuck Darfur” (because now you are an American from Darfur) even if what followed it was clearly a direct reference to the Save Darfur campaign? If you take that personally, then I think you have some serious problems identifying the limits of your persona. But that would only be the start of a list of the personal problems you bring to bear here.

      There is no “going off” here. Use of the word “fuck” does not imply anger or outrage. It can also imply ridicule, and dismissive disdain, which is the case here. But then your white American Christian sensibilities are easily offended, aren’t they. They do not seem to be offended by the stench of death left in the wake of your fellow soldiers, as they depart a village after executing nearly a dozen, unarmed, handcuffed, teenagers:

      Yes, but let’s not ever say “fuck,” in case we hurt the feelings of any of these fucking butchers.

      What do you know about my “cause” that you, of all people, could assume that what I say hurts it? Otherwise, I am sure that the welfare of “my cause” is a matter dear to your heart.

      And yes, you are a proven liar when you say bullshit like “no one hates U.S. foreign policy more than I do” — which besides being an extreme and sweeping statement, it suggests that Bin Laden is more moderate than you. Was that your intention, and is this how you advance your cause? Not only that, you seem to be backing all of the military instruments of that foreign policy, so there is nothing in the least bit credible about that assertion. It is garbage, fog, and mere distraction, like the vast majority of your comments here.

      No, I am not against violence at all. I am certainly not against the violence of the oppressed directed against the oppressor — never — and yes it is bloody well OK for them to slaughter missionaries in all guises, whether they wear priestly frocks or military fatigues. The more, the better. Really, if you don’t like what I write here, you do have options, like buggering off and changing the channel.

      But of course, you are now also a pacifist, who works for the U.S. military, just as you are a keen advocate for social justice, who works for corporate America. Oh fuck off.

      You boasted of your PsyOps work. If this is an example of it, then perhaps your former employers should demand a refund. Your intentions are clear: to produce vast quantities of fog consisting of unexamined assumptions, untested hypotheses, and false analogies. The other attempted trick is to smuggle back in various unproven assertions — absolute bullshit like “HTS saves lives” — and to repeat the lie, because your kind believes that the repeating of a lie makes it true. All of this fog, like any other flatulence, can easily be burned off with the mere strike of a match. If this is soft power, then soft power is dead power, something both interesting and yet unimpressive at the same time.

  9. Rick

    “I happen to work for social justice right here at home. That’s actually my current job.”

    That may be stretching the truth. I currently volunteer at a center that helps train, feed and house people that need work. That isn’t my actual job.

    1. Maximilian Forte

      If you were merely stretching the truth, then it would be your first brush with the concept of truth in any of your comments thus far.

      Of course you work for social justice, you are the only one that does so. That’s how you feel engorged with the arrogance to preach like a missionary, and assume others do nothing, because you are the one and only true hero. (Not to mention preaching to a professor of anthropology about anthropology, very smart move, shows modesty and a measured sense of your self worth.)

      Really, I don’t appreciate militarists and their sycophantic boot lickers on my blog. If I allow it, it is to use you for shooting practice. Don’t ever mistake space gained here as a mark of respect on my part.

      And for the last time: stick to the fucking post. Your comments are irrelevant and self-promotional shit.

  10. judy johnson

    “rick holden” is a coward of the worse sort. he won’t even identify himself, but he attacks others for the military and the human terrain team program he alternately pretends he has criticisms of and praises. if you read what “rick holden” (the coward who hides behind several fake names) writes, he never has any specific complaints about hts, he has no scholarship to back up his claims, yet he attacks the work of actual scholars. he can’t even keep his fake identities straight. i wonder what town his ip address shows up in, is it washington dc?

    1. Maximilian Forte

      His IP is in Denton, Texas, so that much fits with his profile of studying in Texas. There have been far more anonymous characters than Rick Holden, and the little favour he has done me is to bring traffic from Savage Minds, people who apparently decided to begin rating the comments. I hope he understands that Savage Minds has a long track record of articles that are very critical of HTS. He lodged his appeal there, as if SM somehow had some sort of authority over this blog, or as if I depended on their courtesy and good graces to continue my work — it’s quite funny really, so we have to thank him for that.

      I noticed this comment of his there, and it is very useful:

      “Aren’t we the ones that she [sic] nuanced gray, when others see only black and white?”

      I want to know something: how is it that one can even see gray when you are not prepared to consider anything other than one colour? (Let’s call black and white colours, but the fact that he reduces his colour coding of schools of thought to a mere two is already troubling.) There is no “gray” when there is your side, and the other side is demonized as “frothing radical hate” — that’s merely one school of thought, versus emotion demonized and equated with a bodily function. So much for “conversation” from this liberal, Good American. He has mistaken deathly pallor for gray. The more appropriate colour for his position is blue, of the oxygen-deprived shade.

      However, intellectual cowardice seeks the solace of cool gesso, to hide behind murky obfuscation and expedient post-modern claims to ambiguity…which is merely a cover for a poor attempt to seed confusion. In a Code Yellow society, the imperialist intellectuals are Code Gray. There was no nuance, no shades of gray, when Afghanistan was attacked, invaded, and occupied. No gray nuance with the invasion of Iraq. No ambiguity when one detainee was water boarded 183 times. No gray with the beating death of Dilwar, an Afghan detainee at Bagram Air Base. No self-doubting skepticism when a gang of U.S. troops recently slaughtered a group of kids, ranging from 11 to 18 years of age, after they dragged them from their beds in the middle of the night, handcuffed them, and just executed them.

      No, instead what really concerns the likes of the Holdens is the desire to tone down the colour of those who oppose and criticize. And without any opposition, he will achieve his gray, which turns out to be whiter than death.

      Holden’s concern reaches the level of shrill alarm, when he can no longer recognize himself in an argument, when he is opposed. He is not here to condemn the atrocities committed in his name, by people wearing his uniform. No. Instead he dedicates reams of verbiage to drowning out any criticism of his beloved corporate military program…because in the end it’s all the $$$ that captivate his “moral concern” most.

      Thanks for your visit, I am glad that some are witnessing this exchange.

      1. Frenchguy

        Hi Max,
        I think you’ve been very patient with this mix of unashamed self-promotion
        and vain attempts to deploy a poor “psyop” fog-of-war, filled with a considerable amount of self-contradictions, and a whole lot of other basic trolling tricks.
        I am not even sure he does all this on purpose.
        Maybe he’s simply moronic, while trying to paint himself as the clever guy in a world of “small minded” “rednecks”. Talk about a despicable and self-righteous “petit chef”. Not to talk about his hilarious evocation of a “community of practice”.

        But I do believe him when he wrote this (his very first sentence here I believe) :

        I’m have a very hard time following the logic of these endless HTS posts.

        Yeah, I do believe this.


        More seriously Max, thanks a lot for this last two posts. I’ll certainly share some thoughts with you later, but for now, one of the impressions I get from all this is that if those private firms are specialized in anything at all, it is in plundering american public money. A mailbox, a webpage, some B.S, bank accounts, et voilà !

      2. Maximilian Forte

        Thanks very much Frenchguy.

        He certainly does not seem to have done much advance research on the blogs where he posts comments.

        Good of you to bring the discussion back to the heart of the post. In fact, there is one more to come on the network of interests that are vested in HTS, this one will focus on the scholars engaged in supporting the program. The first focused on the corporations, and the second focused on the alternative/parallel human terrain institutions.

  11. Pingback: Wednesday Round Up #106 « Neuroanthropology

  12. Rick

    “rick holden” is a coward of the worse sort. he won’t even identify himself, but he attacks others for the military and the human terrain team program he alternately pretends he has criticisms of and praises.

    I don’t pretend shit lady. That’s my fuckin name Rick Holden. I was replying on savage mind where I go by rick. The spam filter sucked up my message there, so I cut and pasted it here, just like I said I did. I kept my first name, so there would be continuity.

    Hell if you want you can go over to Open Anthro. Collective and see my pic. and a few of my wife. Knock yourself out.

    What I really want to know is how people can live in such a black and white world. I guess you missed the post modernism boat. Honestly, ya’ll just pissed because I’m disrupting a very static narrative that you’ve worked hard to build. Rather like McCarthy means Lenin.

    I don’t go out of my way to defend the army, but I’m in the army. Like many other work places people do things that you simply cannot believe. It is often a clusterfuck, but what are you gonna do. I don’t feel particularly evil, and a lot of my buddies don’t have horns though. What you guys know about the army comes from movies. Period. Maybe a conspiracy book. You consistently misinterpret things that you report, because of what you want to believe. Then you surround other paranoid people in an ecochamber. So, there’s zero anthropology and then FOX news. two sides of the same coin.

    You have yet to debate me rationally, without the hyperbole. I’ve already said that I don’t like the way thing have been going with the HTS. I think its been veering away from the intended purpose. If they do try to augment the teams to operate like TPTs then that wouldn’t be good for anyone. Especially no me. If I wanted to do that shit, I’d be there now making 100 grand. I’d rather not. I’ve been invited to go on a team, and I’ve been invited to go as a free lance merc. I don’t want to do either. Not until I see the “message” merging with reality, which is what i was saying in that last post.

    But these people, all these people are just people. They are not the devil, so seriously some perspective. I have to sit across the table with community organizers like you guys who yell at me for no reason, when all I’m trying to do is help. They’re angry, because that’s the only way they know how to be. Its an adaptive and conditioned response.

    Pardon any spelling errors, I tend to only fuck around on the computer at night after a couple of beers.

    1. Maximilian Forte

      “I tend to only fuck around on the computer at night after a couple of beers”

      It shows, at least in the thought process, although it does not seem to do anything good for your personality. However, at least now you have an excuse for your writing.

      “What I really want to know is how people can live in such a black and white world. I guess you missed the post modernism boat. Honestly, ya’ll just pissed because I’m disrupting a very static narrative that you’ve worked hard to build. Rather like McCarthy means Lenin. “

      Is it the beer again, or is it just really shit beer? Where do such inane comments come from? Postmodernism provides cover for the logic of militarism, which is not black and white? I don’t think I have read something this stupid in a good while (two days in fact, when you last posted). As I have already written, but you cannot read when drunk apparently:

      I want to know something: how is it that one can even see gray when you are not prepared to consider anything other than one colour? (Let’s call black and white colours, but the fact that he reduces his colour coding of schools of thought to a mere two is already troubling.) There is no “gray” when there is your side, and the other side is demonized as “frothing radical hate” — that’s merely one school of thought, versus emotion demonized and equated with a bodily function. So much for “conversation” from this liberal, Good American. He has mistaken deathly pallor for gray. The more appropriate colour for his position is blue, of the oxygen-deprived shade.

      However, intellectual cowardice seeks the solace of cool gesso, to hide behind murky obfuscation and expedient post-modern claims to ambiguity…which is merely a cover for a poor attempt to seed confusion. In a Code Yellow society, the imperialist intellectuals are Code Gray. There was no nuance, no shades of gray, when Afghanistan was attacked, invaded, and occupied. No gray nuance with the invasion of Iraq. No ambiguity when one detainee was water boarded 183 times. No gray with the beating death of Dilwar, an Afghan detainee at Bagram Air Base. No self-doubting skepticism when a gang of U.S. troops recently slaughtered a group of kids, ranging from 11 to 18 years of age, after they dragged them from their beds in the middle of the night, handcuffed them, and just executed them.

      No, instead what really concerns the likes of the Holdens is the desire to tone down the colour of those who oppose and criticize. And without any opposition, he will achieve his gray, which turns out to be whiter than death.

      You have been debated very rationally, and entirely without the hyperbole that you brought to these discussions. And you know why you did that? Because you are a pathetic loser, that’s why. You could not handle any of the facts presented in these last posts, so you returned to repetitive propaganda, to reasserting erroneous assumptions, to false analogies. You are doing it again. You actually have had nothing to say at all about the substantive content of the article. Clearly, you are at a loss.

      You must be enrolled in a really shit university, and a bottom of the barrel program, if you can be doing a Ph.D and this is the level of your analysis and critical thinking abilities.

      Good luck to you.

      1. Rick

        No, I’ve been judged, and I’ve been been at the ends of poetic tomes. Rationally, and calmly talked with no. I’m not really expecting it, because you are a true believer. I’m a pragmatist.

        Postmodernism taught us the nature of truth and knowledge production. You know what you see on TV, or what flashes on your computer, and that’s about it. You fill in the gaps with a narrative.

        The process can be traced back to the functioning of the human mind itself. Biogenic Structural theory posits that, “Human consciousness is a function of the brain and is mediated by networks of living neural cells that develop from initial, neurognostic models of the self and world” (Laughlin 1992:17). The models referred to highlight the natural motivation of the human brain toward an, “effort after meaning,” rather than an, “effort after truth” (Laughlin 1992:18). This meaning, or the cognized environment, is different from the operational environment (empiric physical environment).

        I still don’t know that you get it, that I’m simply an observer here. I’m observing how you you strive toward a world full of meaning, rather than truth. This only works with there a good guys and bad guys. But, i find it amazing this quality is domain dependent. That is, you only reify here.
        If you were in an East African village, you’d probably say that Female genital augmenting was a something that must be understood in a relativist, culturally imbued act. That, and there’s not really anything we can do about it anyway. I can feel it’s wrong, but….

        We can hold an amazing amount of conflicting data in our head and maintain holism with it. Yet, when you devide up the world into a taxonomy to provide you with meaning you have an us and a them. The entire Buddhism religion is based on nothing more than not being fooled about dualistic thought.

        Everywhere, at every level, there are collections of interests in constant competition and negotiation. You have your schemes, I have mine. This is no different than in the military, or anywhere in the government. That’s why there really aren’t any secrets any more, but people that don’t have time to read.

        One side aren’t pure angels, and we aren’t pure devils. There were devils among us, no doubt, and I’m glad I was able to mobilize support against them from time to time. Eric Wolf, and Said, give us abstractions of reality, which we need to understand history and connections. But they are just abstractions. People, real people, on the ground in daily practice are complicated and messy.

        So, what I’m saying is that you simply cannot report things like Fox news. You can’t ask a question an imply an answer. You cannot mention an association, and then not say what that association means, as though associations are themselves sources of evil. And, if they are evil, then how?

        I’ve used HTS information. Psyop uses that stuff all the time, but it is pretty stripped down, with all the jargon cut out and looks more like what you see from the CIA factbook. That’s it, just data. We take that data and we run it through a process. They don’t have direct input into that.
        I’m against were they are headed though. I don’t like private contractors being HR, and I hate mercs. If they aren’t responsible to the people, then they should have no part in what is done in our military. Of course, draft would end this war tomorrow.

        I heard a guy yesterday who came up and gave a 2 hour talk on his research on agri. migrants throughout Mexico, and the political economic processes that lead to settlement, expansion, movement, then contraction, etc… to the point of crossing the border. It was very detailed and outlined their networks and how they can be understood in a systems way. If I was in ICE, and I wanted to stop the flow of illegal immigrants, then his work, and many others, would be invaluable to me. 80% of all data processed by the CIA is open source.
        Agrawal, goes into detail with Latour’s “action at a distance”, in the shaping of subjects toward an ecological consciousness over about a period of 3 years. There is nothing like that in PSYOP. I mean it’s like a blueprint to change the way people think. That’s all journal published stuff. It’s all right there.

        In Bernard’s Methods preface he states that applied social science is the business of behavior change. There’s nothing wrong with that, unless you think the world has, or people have, ever operated any other way. This is the human condition. The same things that get men to pick up gun, is the only thing to get them to put them down.

      2. Maximilian Forte

        “No, I’ve been judged, and I’ve been been at the ends of poetic tomes. Rationally, and calmly talked with no. I’m not really expecting it, because you are a true believer. I’m a pragmatist.”

        You have merely to scroll up the page, Rick. You cannot rewrite history to suit yourself — as much as you in fact try here — when that history is sitting right on top. It would seem to be a foolish and vain effort.

        You are a “pragmatist” rather than a “true believer.” Your problem is that you do not see the ideology within that very statement, and it’s a familiar, old, very worn Western ideology of the capitalist, indvidualist, “rational choice” instrumentalist. You are not a true believer in the sense that you are not even consciously aware of how you think about what you think, so an active stance like believing is just beyond you right now. Since I disagree with you once again, you will no doubt complain that I was not “calm” — for you, calm and peace comes through sameness. Difference is forbidden, everything must be homogenized and blended into a neutral, universal gray. Are you sure anthropology is what you are looking for? It sounds like you would be happier in economics.

        “Postmodernism taught us the nature of truth and knowledge production. You know what you see on TV, or what flashes on your computer, and that’s about it. You fill in the gaps with a narrative.”

        This is garbled, and so is the rest. Tiresome oversimplifications, mixed with religion (devils, angels). You should get your own blog, this is clearly not the place for you. While you are not spending as much time as before calling attention to yourself in this latest prolix commentary (as if anyone will take the time to read it, let alone help you repair it), it is still largely off topic. Really, if your mission is to distract, or to try to sanitize this blog, consider your mission at a formal end.

        What is most disturbing to me is this persistent attitude some show, of not wanting to tolerate even one tiny pixel being out of line with their worldview, so that every digital corner must echo with unanimity. If I were to take the same attitude, I would need thousands of clones of myself, and several lifetimes, to go do on other blogs what the obsessive Rick Holden does on this one.

      3. Maximilian Forte

        I will not be wasting any more time with anyone like Rick Holden, who thinks that the point of these reports is to talk about himself, and to provide various alibis and apologia for his career. Someone whose posts are based on a sense of entitlement, on how we ought to debate him, while self-promoting and distracting, gives us a very clear example of a troll ( Along with trolling, we have had Holden acting as a spammer, flooding pages with his same, essentially repetitive series of complaints, accusations, and denunciations. In terms of combined spamming and trolling, Rick Holden is probably the worst this blog has seen.

        What has been useful about him is that he is a living (dis)embodiment of much of what makes America hated internationally, and why it is so strongly resisted. He has been good for target practice, and for burning in effigy.

  13. Wigon

    Before you trash this response Mr. Forte, please read the second half of my response as you may find it more interesting. I hope that we can have less intellectual cock jousting and more of a dialog.

    I found this debate rather astounding. Mr. Forte, Rick was giving an extremely well-thought out response that was very balanced and holistic which you dismissed as the “familiar, old, very worn Western ideology of the capitalist, individualist, “rational choice” instrumentalist.” Is this not what you do? Is this not what the very institution that gives you sustenance is founded upon? Or is what you do simply the manifestation of global resistance to capitalism?
    It sounded to me that Rick very much knows what he believes. Like him I am also a pragmatist. I consider myself an applied anthropologist in the field of peace and conflict studies.

    What I mainly find very bizarre is your lack of questioning of your own assumptions (something you accuse Rick of doing). Have you spent time around Islamic radicals? This is my area of expertise and I also study Islamic theology. In addition I spend a lot of time in developing dialog with extremists on public forums (for transparency reasons so I am not accused of aiding terrorists) so as to better understand their world view and belief systems. They are easy to find.
    Their ideology is not merely one of resistance, but one of conquest much like the very capitalistic societies that you despise. This is the mindset of the global jihadist and of those Muslims who support such goals. Now I do not think their goals are realistic, but they are as you say, “BELIEVERS.” Their is no doubt of that and they have been proven to be willing to die and kill for their beliefs.

    Where I differ from Rick is that I am not against resistance. I would agree with you that all sovereign nations have the right to defend themselves by any form of international or religious law. However I do not wholesale support these extremists as over-romanticized fighters against the capitalist juggernaut of America or the evil zionist empire. I am a firm believer in instead encouraging Muslim extremists towards alternative non-violent means of resistance that is in accordance with the Islamic values and traditions. I also encourage them to follow the clear rules of Jihad as honorable Muslims if they are forced to fight (as at times they are) in order to change the manner through which most of the rest of the non-Islamic world sees them. The HTS program does not do this for a wide range of complex political reasons and obvious conflicts of interest to official U.S. foreign policy.
    I would ask respectfully Max, that you take your own advice and step back and examine your own assumptions and ideological leanings. You seem like an intelligent man and I give you the benefit of the doubt that you are capable of sincere self-reflection.
    If you have done so, can I ask you, if you think that this issue is one of “picking the lesser of two evils?” I’m trying to better understand why you believe what you believe rather then making assumptions based upon what you type. If you can explain to me your thought processes, it would allow me to better understand and respect your beliefs and in the process could perhaps change my own views.

    1. Maximilian Forte

      The very big mistake you make is to assume that I am going to discuss RICK, as if he is the appropriate and interesting subject matter here — not to mention the fact that you are Rick’s sock puppet. You think Rick made some good points? Clearly, I disagree. The second mistake you make is in not addressing the actual article, and in presuming to interrogate me. If you do not want “cock jousting,” then my simple advice is: don’t do it.

      You could start by not personalizing issues that go well beyond any one personality, and neither Rick nor I are the significant players in this story.

      The very first group of people I ever studied first hand was the Jama’at al Muslimeen. Since you know so much about Islamic “extremists” — as you call them, from the vantage point of your ideological assumptions — you already know who they are, how you will classify them, and besides, you have Google. I am merely restating here what I have already talked about on this blog, and the only service I am doing you here is to indicate that there is in fact a CONTENTS page, and a search bar on this blog. So you can feel free to use them and confirm what I just told you, that this is not a new admission, offered for your sake. I stress this because the point you need to understand is this: I OWE YOU NOTHING. You are a complete nobody, another hooded figure on the Internet.

      “I am a firm believer in instead encouraging Muslim extremists towards alternative non-violent means of resistance that is in accordance with the Islamic values and traditions.”

      I do not. My function is not to disarm them, not intellectually, not politically, not in any sense. To presume otherwise is to indulge in arrogance and megalomania. I have already said this. Good of you to admit to messianic pretensions, however, but too bad you do not have the honesty to reflect on your failure.

      “Where I differ from Rick is that I am not against resistance.”

      Bullshit. Where you are clearly identical to Rick, to yourself that is, is in reproducing the exact same preposterous act of speaking out of both sides of your mouth. What you proceed to describe is your work in anti-resistance.

      You are the Amway salesman for the American vision of proper, acceptable, appropriate and respectable resistance to violent, unprovoked, naked American aggression. Garbage.

      That I am capable of sincere self-reflection? Where do you cock jousters come up with such sugary condescension? Is it from church attendance, too much time spent in the company of priests and acolytes? Really, who do you think you are fooling with that nonsense?

      Some anthropologist, and some ethics, for an anonymous nobody to pretend to deconstruct me for unstated purposes. I am sure that in Muslim fora online you are taken no more seriously, your presence is well anticipated, and that your interventions possibly supply them with the knowledge of your propaganda patterns, which can be very useful to them in countering you. You are definitely an amateur, without a doubt.

      Another way to put it is: BUZZ OFF.

    2. frenchguy-stillcowardlyhooded:)

      Funny how little the content of your post is discussed or even taken into account by those “pragmatic” people in their “comments”.

      Funny how they talk about “over-romanticized fighters against the capitalist juggernaut of America” when Max is in fact talking about the US military, regimented mentalities and militarized knowledge in the US (how often are US soldiers called “rats” or “barbarians” living in a “13th century” “rathole” ? Who the fuck is “over-romanticized” ?).

      Funny also how they seem quite ill at ease with these facts, now patronizingly”asking” you to “step back”.

      Uh oh, looks like you guys are failing. So sad this time you can’t count on your heavily armed friend in fatigue to have the bad guy’s mouth shut. (well, there have already been threats, but looks like Max is still alive and well… are you, Max ? :)

      I am wondering what kind of benefit they expect from stating that they are “pragmatists”, (of course the aim is to suggest that Max is all “ideological”, but this artifice is rusted now).
      Pragmatically ignoring your post. Pragmatically trying to disarm you when you put some light on uncomfortable facts.

      Anyone can call oneself a “pragmatist”. To pick an example, I guess collaborationists in the France of the 40’s could have easily called themselves this way. (this is only a pragmatic example).
      Or maybe they want to imply that they are doing it all for the bucks. How pragmatic indeed.

      1. Maximilian Forte

        They (he) wants to avoid the subject matter of the article at all costs, because it is clearly dead on, and does such characters a great deal of damage. It’s positive reinforcement in the end.

        Thanks also for your observations.

      2. Maximilian Forte

        I know it wasn’t your intention to throw the bone with the hope that I would blindly run after it. I wouldn’t maintain a blog if my aim were to take up residence on another one. In fact, a couple of these trolls seem to have two very mistaken beliefs: (a) that Savage Minds is somehow supportive of HTS (they confused it with Culture Matters), when instead they have been posting articles very critical of HTS from before this blog even started, especially pieces by Dustin Wax (as I said, they didn’t do their research); and, (b) that I am somehow “answerable” to Savage Minds, or that I belong to a “community” that includes them.

        More broadly, these trolls cannot even convert a friendly home audience, nor critical anthropologists, yet they pretend to go into “extremist” public forums (which one, Little Green Footballs? The Mudville Gazette?) and think they will teach Muslims to be more like the American vision of a good Muslim, and not fight America. As if such turds cannot be smelled out miles away before they land in those fora, as if the users there were not awaiting them. What they do, in the end, is to provide all sorts of intelligence to the “jihadists” on some basic patterns of U.S. analytical methods and propaganda tactics, which they then use against the U.S. — so good news all round.

      3. Maximilian Forte

        And what is really sad to watch is Rick Holden speaking to himself, with little rambling monologues, and then speaking to himself as his own sock puppet, pretending to be two persons, but who write in the identical manner (and I will not detail the many indications, not to do him the favour of advising him on how to improve his sock puppetry). To see such vapid sentiments, expressed in such an insipid manner, rife with cultural prejudices and bigotry, from someone claiming to be an anthropologist, is a real disgrace. This is the person who will market his “skills” and “knowledge” to the national security state? No wonder they are losing these wars, as the richly deserve to lose.

        Speaking of rank amateurs, Wigon. This is someone who approaches you online with, “Hey, I’m a fellow anthropologist!”, and then proceeds to ask his interview questions, all of which are leading questions, mostly accusations that end with a weak and superficial question mark. All of this done anonymously. Then he claims to be active in Muslim forums online, trying to persuade their users to take alternate paths, so as to be less of an effective resistance against his beloved empire. In other words, they engage in covert research and deception, and are even outrageously stupid enough to approach an anthropologist, claiming to be a “fellow,” yet anonymously. Then these same ignorant assholes will come here and defend their research as both ethical and anthropological, when it is absolutely neither — and they prove it, by demonstrating their ethics openly and in front of everyone!

        All these little colonialist brats are is not anthropologists, least of all “fellow” anthropologists, but puny-minded, money-grubbing, self-seekers whose only varnish is that of patriotism. When their hired killers kill, that’s alright…but when their hired killers finally get killed by the resistance, then they innocently (read: stupidly) inquire: “Why do you advocate violence?” And they dare to call an attack on the CIA and Blackwater “terrorism.” As I said, complete and utter assholes, who act as if they have a right to be anywhere in the world, doing whatever they want. They are pollutants, at best.

  14. Mike Cavanaugh


    Hi Max, thought I’d post for a change. As I said in person I read this blog regularly and I hope we can catch up again. Full disclosure for your visitors: I’m an anthro MA student who supports anthros working for defence if it’s for peacekeeping purposes. We hardly do any peacekeeping as Canadians anymore which I see as a big problem.

    Bigger problem for us is when anthros start advocating for outfits like HTS, the CIA, PsyOps, whatever, and come pretty close to criminalizing anyone who speaks up for the rights of Afghans. It sure as shit ain’t nuance when your side gets all the alibis from you and the other side gets all the demonizing. Anthros who do this need to remember: the rights of self-determination for all peoples (and it doesn’t matter if you like the peoples or not, that’s why it’s a universal right promoted by the UN),
    colonialism is outlawed under the UN charter, and force is not supposed to be an instrument of first resort in relations among nations. If you don’t advocate for these things, you advocate for international
    chaos and terrorism. You don’t need to be a Taliban lover to understand they have rights too and advocating for rights to be respected doesn’t mean your some sort of secret turban wearing shadow Muslim. we’re not gonna have
    any serious conversations if these are the cheap mind tricks people use.


    I’m thinking of what I read here from you and about you. As I just said I read this blog pretty often and I am pretty sure you don’t. So you should reserve judgment until you know better or else you come off sounding a bit ignorant. You’re rushing for the goal post thinking you’re gonna be the one to score the big one. You need to stop and think, and from what I read
    here it looks like that would be a big change for you. You seem pretty clueless about what the article is actually about. You should read it before sounding off on irrelevant topics and putting words into people’s mouths. I don’t know if you’re an anthro, I pretty much doubt it, because your way of asking questions just sucks. It shows you’ve formed
    your judgment first (prejudice) and your questions are just rhetorical. Try doing a real interview like that.

    1. Maximilian Forte

      Thanks very much for posting, Mike, and though we might differ on some points I very much agree with what you posted in your second paragraph, it was refreshing to read. On the other hand, I would recommend not feeding the trolls, like Wigon, especially since he has already provided sufficient indication that he will not be able to rise to your level of intellect. Those are basic points that he, and those like him, will continue to ignore because they can have no answer.

      What you instead see the trolls doing is something very much in keeping with their American cultural background: endless repetition. They are the most dynamically static people I know, very busy doing the same thing over and over again, producing in mass quantities just as they consume. Their public “debates,” which continue ceaselessly on some topics, in fact consist of little more than a few set questions, and a few points, repeated ad nauseum. It’s their method, part of the industrial production of “truth” found in their consumer advertising industry. Not able to self-reflect, and even less able to self-criticize, the trolls like Wigon and Holden reproduce the same pattern without question, and the same basic assumptions. The assumption is a simplistic one: in repetition, there must be truth. If something is repeated often enough, then it must be true. This is a blindly faithful resort to orthodoxy — and if they understood what orthodoxy really was, they would understand why resorting to it is a sign that they are in deep trouble. As with orthodoxy of the religious sort, they cannot tolerate (and they can barely conceive) that anyone would stand up to them: they experience that as a sort of religious violation. No wonder, given that these patriots are American patriots specifically, American exceptionalists, who think they are God’s chosen people and their destiny is divine providence.

      It is my privilege to be a member of a living generation that sees the power in their hands turn to shit, and to watch their horror-stricken faces as they look down and find themselves soiled, repulsive, and detested.

      (Whenever you are back in Montreal again, let me know and we can talk further, especially as I know that on some points you will want to either disagree, or go further. I should have had you in my class to talk about the history of Canadian peacekeeping, as opposed to “peace building.” I would also like your view on some strangely contradictory opinion polls where the Canadian public supports the military, and peacekeeping, seeing the Afghan mission — incorrectly — as peacekeeping, and yet a consistent majority has been against the war almost since the very start.)

  15. Enrique Betancourt

    quem Deus perdere vult, dementat prius

    perhaps the best way to understand the dreams of victory and fortune in addition to the tirades of the clearly irritated would be members of the imperial class posting on this page. Buen trabajo Maximiliano, por eso sigo volviendo.

    1. Maximilian Forte

      The “imperial class” — many thanks Enrique, good to see you here again. I may have to start using that phrase. As for the quote, it is one of my favourites in fact, I first heard it used by opposition politicians in Trinidad in the early 1990s, a generation that prided itself on its skill in deploying classical European cultural references, sometimes to great effect. This is a degenerate imperial class, one that becomes increasingly insane as the power of their state begins to seriously wane.

  16. Pingback: Anthro roundup: Open Anthropology reveals the academic trainers of The Human Terrain System etc | Erkan's Field Diary

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  18. Arthur

    Why does the military publish pictures of civilians easily identifiable by face and specific location for these publicity schemes? This seems so intemperate, exploitative, and wrong.

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