Are You Afraid of the Digital Taleban?

A Medal of Honor for Imperialism: But don't look at this image! A digital transfer of Taleban contagion will begin downloading if you do.

In the latest in militainment news, Electronic Arts has bowed to pressure from military officials in the U.S. and UK–not that it wasn’t already predisposed to their sentiments–and to the overreaching complaints of family members of those who died killing Afghans, and removed mention of the Taleban from the upcoming release of “Medal of Honor.” Players can now play as part of “Opposing Force” rather than “Taliban.” Had EA not made the change, the game faced outright banning: British Secretary of State for Defence Liam Fox called for retail stores to ban the game, and it was to be banned on U.S. bases, even though U.S. military personnel participated as consultants and testers to make it “more respectful” of their side, and of course, “accurate.” The only accuracy achieved is that, as in our mainstream media, the other is suppressed, and colonial disrespect is officially permitted and encouraged.

Being quite clear about the militarist propaganda functions of Medal of Honour, the executive producer Greg Goodrich stated: “the heartbeat of ‘Medal of Honor’ has always resided in the reverence for American and Allied soldiers.”  Not just respect, rather reverence. Reverence, as in adoration, deification, genuflection, worship, and religiousness. Goodrich, speaking of the complaints, said: “This is a voice that has earned the right to be listened to.” Apparently listening to these voices is required of all us, but more than that, strict obedience to those voices, so that no competing images can be seen. The assumption seems to be that where there are competing images and labels, there are competing sentiments, and that needs to be shut down.

It’s not the war that is offensive; it’s not the killing of Afghans in their own country; and it’s not the marshaled rage against those who dare to fight back and defend their home that bothers the militarists, the indoctrinated, and those bleating families who would rather not think about the real reasons why their camouflaged spawn were sacrificed by the state. No, what’s really offensive is that not even in the imagination should any players, in any part of the world, be allowed for a moment to walk in the shoes of the Taleban. Why not? Because the fear is that in reality we might take a side other than the authorized one–Goodrich ends his patriotic spew with this sugary nonsense:

“To all who serve – we appreciate you, we thank you, and we do not take you for granted. And to the Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines currently serving overseas, stay safe and come home soon.”

Apparently, the Taleban do not have families, and so the foreign invaders and occupiers need not bother with showing any sensitivity to Afghan families of the fallen. Once again, the video and the actual merge since this is no longer about playing but about training.

If anyone wishes to challenge the function of this game in training users to think like American militarists and war mongers–one can note that on the website of EA, only one single complaint was posted in what is apparently the only surviving thread (a user mentions that others were deleted). EA forum administrators would also like to hide from view any impression that there was debate, dissent, and complaints from other angles. The lone critic stated: “Glorifying war is disgusting. Glorifying only the parts of war fit to be sold is even more sick” and wondered if friends and families of the Taleban had contacted EA to express concern over the apparent lack of sensitivity toward them. Still having difficulty in spotting how military and commercial interests ideologically collude to censor and indoctrinate the young? Have a look at the responses, at how “community” pressure is mounted to sanction different views: knee jerk resorts to 9/11 sanctimony, and a flood of LMAO, GET A LIFE, STUPID THREAD image bombs. Not allowed for discussion.

It seems that the never ending 9/11 commemoration can only exercise a weak grasp on the minds of the young, which are also to be feared, as they may drift into the wrong intellectual neighborhoods, get lost, and perhaps never return. No wonder anthropologists had to be recruited for the Human Terrain System and other military programs–lest they become a domestic voice for the other, lest they question and criticize. This is war, and in war there can be no democracy. The totalitarian impulse of the “families of the fallen” required more than respect: it was not enough that they are free not to play the game, they want to ensure that no one else has the freedom to play the Taleban. For all of the insemination of the official state religion, the repetitive preaching of 9/11, none of it is enough. Now we are told that the Taleban have a slick and sophisticated propaganda effort–because they have a website, and a near dead YouTube channel, and oh my god Twitter and Facebook buttons! (We will take up the latter issue in the upcoming Encircling Empire report.)

In many video games one can still play in the role of Nazis. Correction: in all video games, it seems all we are allowed is to play the Nazi.

28 thoughts on “Are You Afraid of the Digital Taleban?

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  3. ryan a

    wow. this kind of stuff floors me. i read this and wrote something short about it on my site…but the relationship between these games and politics is troubling. not to mention the relationship with war and violence. kind of makes me think of that old book “Ender’s Game.”

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  5. Benjamin Wintersteen

    I know this will come across as me being part of some great propaganda machine, but isn’t “camouflaged spawn” a bit dehumanizing?

    And you are right about one thing: it is always okay to kill Nazis. Better than getting into the morass that is trying to represent a contemporary perspective where you cant win if you represent the enemy, don’t represent the enemy, where freedom to agree with someone only applies if it is the underdog (otherwise you are part of the hegemony), market, sales and political considerations obviously have no space for discussion in how a product is sold.

    It seems your underlying issue is with video games commoditizing war, something all games have done. But I’ll try to remember that next time I watch football, play chess, or sit down for poker. We all know people didn’t kill each other prior to Hoyle.

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  7. Benjamin Wintersteen

    As a thought: could the quote you provided, “To all who serve – we appreciate you, we thank you, and we do not take you for granted. And to the Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines currently serving overseas, stay safe and come home soon.”, be taken as an anti-war sentiment? “Bringing them home” is definitely not a “stay the course” argument.

  8. CM

    When I first heard about this, I thought it was objections to the whole game that caused the company to pull it. Uh-huh. Another take on the “it’s alright when we do it” theme.

    So what do they have to say about this?

    “The human crews “piloting” the drones, often from thousands of miles away, just change shifts when tired…When a “target” is found and agreed upon — in Pakistan, the permission of Pakistani officials to fire is no longer considered necessary — and a missile or bomb is unleashed, the cameras are so powerful that “pilots” can watch the facial expressions of those being liquidated on their computer monitors “as the bomb hits.”

    Just like a video game. No fuss. No muss. And we clock out in time for dinner.
    For this we’re supposed to have reverence?

    And this inexplicable article from the Gazette this morning. They must only pick pro-war relatives for those trips to Afghanistan. Others who have spoken out against the waste of lives or the meaning of the “mission” (another
    quasi-religious word) usually have their mental health questioned by the government and its war machine.

    Mother of slain Afghan soldier urges Harper to extend mission

    Her son “died doing something he really liked,” Bason said. “How many die that way?”

    I don’t even know how to answer that.

  9. Maximilian Forte

    CM, thanks for the posting and for the link to that story. There is definitely a pattern in the media of presenting those who want the deaths of their sons/daughters to be validated by prolonged war and more death. Those who took pride in their kids going into the military and going to war have a lot to answer for, not least to their dead kids.

    Benjamin, let’s say “camouflaged spawn” is a bit dehumanizing. Alright then, now we have some parity. If we want to change that, all sides will have to be rehumanized. I object to Western forces being permitted to monopolize humanness, and that we should respect and revere only their sentiments, their sacrifice, etc. To come away from this story, and once again only be concerned that our troops may not have been sufficiently respected is an example of the kind of problem I am addressing, and it happens all the time.

    Yes, taking that statement of “come home safe” as being an expression of an anti-war sentiment is definitely a reach. This is a war game that glorifies war, on the part of the producer of many other such games that glorify war.

    1. Benjamin Wintersteen

      I am not sure “parity” is very much higher on the moral scale than “dragging things down to their level.”

      (Functionally) All human groups humanize themselves and dehumanize those they see as challenging their identity. To accuse them of caring more about their identity, ideology, and kin is attempting to make the obvious a sin. You dehumanizing those who oppose you ideologically is no better, or worse, than the way they cope with the antisocial aspects of violence.

      Saying “I hope the American people stick it out for this conflict and don’t invalidate the sacrifice I and my son made” is NOT the same as saying “I hope other people lose their kids like I lost mine.” I am not saying I agree with either statement, but to recognize the value and context of both statements makes conflating them that much more egregious.

      You imply that there is no value to being a warrior, no value to sacrifice, no value to service. Something that both sides of the Afghan conflict would vehemently disagree with you on. Even if you disagree with the reasons or methods, surely you see some value in those who are willing to put themselves at risk for their beliefs? Julian Assange, David Patraeus, Faisal Shahzad, though on three different sides of the conflict, are all putting themselves at grave risk to stand up for what they believe in. Surely that has some value to you.

      1. Maximilian Forte

        Well, to begin, I was not agreeing that I am dehumanizing anybody. A more sober, less gushing statement would be that I was being intentionally disrespectful, as a counterweight to this exaggerated reverence. The point is that even if *I* was–as if they were not degraded and dehumanized already by a system that objectifies them and instrumentalizes their value–then at the very worst there would be parity, which means we start with a level playing field, which means we come to a more honest, mutual and reciprocal starting point. You offer no starting point at all, just a thin support our troops mantra. In any event, they are not my troops, I don’t want them, and the Taleban are not my enemy.

        Benjamin, so that this is very clear to you: I am not at all moved by whatever passion and self-indoctrination moves aggressors, nor am I required to share in the blood lust. Your moral concerns here are at best murky and misplaced. In addition, it is up to you to demonstrate that American troops are moved by their beliefs and are willing to die for them. I very much suspect that they are not, and that Afghan resistance fighters are. Indeed, American troops countless times show that they are very much afraid to die, while the other side is able to marshal hundreds if not now thousands of suicide bombers.

        In your second paragraph I believe you are putting words into CM’s mouth, but in any case he is more than capable of speaking for himself here.

  10. Benjamin Wintersteen

    It is dehumanizing when American troops call the Taliban “ragheads” but not when you refer to American children as “spawn?”

    And it is okay to lower the discourse, IF what you say is the same as what you mean, because the other side does it?

    What I offer, as a starting point, is that your ideology is no more or less valuable than the ideologies of anyone involved. Your prejudice against warriors is clear, and is premised on a false understanding of natural and human realities. If we want to understand what is truly going on, we cannot blanket categorize ANYONE, including military and Afghan people.

    As for them not being your troops, nor Taliban your enemy, I won’t reiterate the tired arguments about elitism and intellectualist pacifism, but I would like to point out that if we are in a world community, then we have rightful claim to ALL people, not just the ones we agree with.

    As for whether you are moved by the passion or ideology of soldiers is besides the point. The question I asked was if you respected those willing to make grave sacrifices for what they beleive in, and it seems pretty clear you do not. Sacrifice is only valuable if it is in a cause you agree with, and prejudice and insults are ‘justified’ by the prejudice and insults of your perceived enemies. Got it. Believe me, I see it a lot, you are in good company.

    As for the beliefs of American and Taliban fighters, I am sure you can successfully prove that Taliban are engaged in a righteous battle of their own free will (free of culture, indoctrination, education, socialization, competition for resources, and context) while Americans are there for some other reason…

    And suicide bombers being more dedicated than soldiers… that’s going be tough for you prove. Ask Iraqi women forced into wearing vests by “rape squads” that gave them one way to restore the lost honor of their families. Ask special needs people and children if they really understood what “You’ll see flowers” meant when they pushed the button in Kabul. I am not saying there were not purely motivated bombers, just as there are soldiers who are not there for pure reasons, but to generalize the intent of all involved….

  11. Maximilian Forte

    So you took two words from the article, now focusing on one alone, and that is all that you take away from this, and all that you wish to focus on. I take it then that the rest of my argument is perfectly intact and you fully agree with it.

    You keep making these specious arguments about “natural and human realities,” and whenever you have been called on it you resort to facile truisms, under the cloak of “anthropology.” There are no natural realities in this discussion of a war game, and if there, you would not object so stridently to a biologization of the human that links humans with other animals. In your case, the anthropocentric focus serves to first sanctify the human, but then more narrowly to only sanctify certain humans: the ones in American military uniforms. I already explained that I will have no part in that game, so why do you insist?

    No, we most certainly do NOT “have a rightful claim to ALL people.” What imperialist nonsense, and offered without any apology. And no, you won’t make any points about “elitism” and “intellectualist pacifism” because they are tired, foolish, irrelevant arguments that are piled high on top of a mountain of other specious arguments. To make such arguments would also prove your militarist mentality, your lack of objectivity for not being able to critically analyze the habitus in which you function, your socialization, and the authorized (now orthodox) discourses which you uphold. Your are embedded–I am not. The limits on our analytical horizons here are vastly disproportionate when compared to one another.

    Finally, the problem with generalizations is only when they generalize from the single case, which is what you do with your example of someone forced to become a suicide bomber. Otherwise, you have yet to demonstrate that my generalizations about the personal sacrifice for beliefs on the part of most suicide bombers is in any way inaccurate. And if you tried to, you would then be ruining your previous argument and demonstrating that what you are really doing here is speaking out of both sides of your face:

    “You imply that there is no value to being a warrior, no value to sacrifice, no value to service. Something that both sides of the Afghan conflict would vehemently disagree with you on. Even if you disagree with the reasons or methods, surely you see some value in those who are willing to put themselves at risk for their beliefs? Julian Assange, David Patraeus, Faisal Shahzad, though on three different sides of the conflict, are all putting themselves at grave risk to stand up for what they believe in. Surely that has some value to you.”

    If your argument is that those fighting to defend their homes and way of life are *not* more motivated than some kids from Idaho who never knew where Afghanistan was, then you are one remarkable believer.

  12. Benjamin Wintersteen

    That was a bit untoward of you, to say that because I pointed out one particular aspect of your hypocrisy (that of dehumanizing language) that I agree with everything else you said. Truth be told, almost every time I respond on this blog, I write a point-by-point rebuttal and then delete it to simply. because ultimately, that is not what this forum expects nor respects.

    Are you suggesting that violence and conflict are not human realities? Regardless of our field’s hesitation at declaring absolutes or universals, I find it hard to believe that you feel these aspects of existence do not, in fact, occur in any meaningful and consistent way.

    Second, I find it interesting that you accuse me of being one-sided, only arguing in defense of our troops, and then immediately after quote me saying the opposite when I rhetorically lump Assange, Shazhad and Patreaus together.

    Third, I challenge you to support your claim that Al-Qaeda suicide bombers are MORE dedicated than anyone else involved in the conflict. Willingness to die is not devalued by attempts to reduce one’s chances.

    Finally, while I would be the first to admit that being involved definitely increases bias, you are no less involved in this debate (and conflict) than I.

  13. Maximilian Forte

    Again, I only agree that the language was intentionally disrespectful; the dehumanization comes from being objectified and turned into expendable instruments of war. If it was dehumanization that really worried you, then you would be focusing on the latter, and not the word plays. But then again, I guess “hypocrisy” only exists in your accusation of others.

    Violence and conflict are human realities–which tells us virtually nothing at all. You, however, went a very big step further, and it was in positing these as natural realities. Naturalization of social constructions and political arbitrariness is a fundamental part of mystification, a way of normalizing war so that people “get used to it.” My intention, and apparently some of the acidic complaints received attest to this, is to get people out of such comfort zones. This is what anthropologists do; teaching obedience is for other professions, like the military one.

    As for your second point, you have jumped in and out of that enough times that I don’t know that you know what you want to argue, or what you would like to argue and get away with.

    On the third point, I was actually speaking about the Taleban suicide bombers. I am challenging the notion that the invaders and occupiers are there for the reasons you imagine. It’s your case to defend, not mine to defend against. If you think that those defending their homes and way of life, and their political systems, are not more motivated than persons who clearly have no clue about Afghanistan–a situation that reproduces what was experienced in Vietnam–then you are a remarkable patriot.

    Finally, I am no less involved in the debate. I am, however, not embedded with the military, with the foreign policy establishment, or with any party that is militating for war and continued occupation–which is clearly what I was saying. I agree that the Taleban are no less human than Americans (many seem to have a problem with that), but I would not, like you, rush to spray paint “=” between everything else as you seem to do.

  14. Benjamin Wintersteen

    Just to be clear: you attribute anything I say that is not rudely critical of Americans or the American military as being proof of some overarching philosphy of patriotism that I have never claimed.

    I do not agree that violence and conflict are purely “social constructions and political arbitrariness” as they both exist in most (if not all) human contexts and in fact, everywhere in the natural world. The human need to attach symbolism to our actions notwithstanding, how is it different from any other resource competition?

    I don’t believe I have ever “taught obedience”, even by inference. Unless you are somehow counting agreement on very limited terms with all sides of the conflict as being some sort of ideologue…

    Again, saying that a willingness to sacrifice is something honorable that occurs on all sides is merely a personal belief of mine. I asked if you agreed, you do not. Only the sacrifices of your enemy’s enemies seem to have any value in your framework.I don’t beleive we have had a really substantive discussion on the reasons for either side, only the behavior.

    I do agree with you, however, that anthropologists should challenge the comfort zones of society and individuals. Philosphical, cultural, political, sociological, and even biological realities are all filtered through perspective and acknowledgement of that context is our greatest responsibility. These “comfort zones” find the greatest safety in ideologies, be they militaristic, religious, spiritual, anti-war, capitalist, socialist, political, et cetera. A good anthropologist knows to challenge these, and acknowledge that people do not fit into the neat little boxes that others (their enemies) like to paint them in.

    Our job is to break down The Other, not reinforce it. Up to you to figure how that can be done.

  15. Maximilian Forte

    We have fundamentally different views of what anthropology is then, or at least entirely incompatible ways of expressing them. To say “our job is to break down The Other, not reinforce it” is something I totally disagree with. The Other will be there always whether you like it or not–I am Other, because I am not you, and I doubt that I am very much like you. What you might have meant to say is that we can try to break down the cultural categorizations of otherness that maintain vast inequalities in rights and power. Then no problem there.

    Comfort zones do not find their greatest safety in ideologies. They find their greatest safety in powerful institutions that can make their ideologies stick, and that’s what creates the safety.

    Violence exists in the natural world. Reducing the war in Afghanistan to a lion running down food on four legs…is just that: reductionism. It’s a simplistic way of avoiding politics, imagination, fantasy, coercion, inequality, and arbitrariness of the purest kind. When two forms of doing violence are so far apart, you stick with one, and not try to equate the two.

    By the way, are you saying you are not patriotic? Or just that you never claimed to be?

  16. Benjamin Wintersteen

    “We have fundamentally different views of what anthropology is then, or at least entirely incompatible ways of expressing them. To say “our job is to break down The Other, not reinforce it” is something I totally disagree with. The Other will be there always whether you like it or not–I am Other, because I am not you, and I doubt that I am very much like you. What you might have meant to say is that we can try to break down the cultural categorizations of otherness that maintain vast inequalities in rights and power. Then no problem there.”

    I refer to The Other (Capitals) as that sense of creating a fictional dehumanized opponent to rationalize one’s behaviors and moral failings. I do not mean it in the sense that everyone should be seen as a single organism (though that position has strengths).

    As anthropologists, we break down The Other by pointing out equally adaptive means of confronting similar problems, arbitrariness in human culture, and the underlying functions and systems that explain behaviors often obscured by symbols practically divorced from their origins.

    I also argue that ideologies do create safety, in that even the least powerful can create rationales that excuse away unethical or immoral behavior. Justifying the use of torture is no more ‘valid’ when used by the underdog “oh we don’t have the manpower to face our enemies in the traditional ways” than it is for the powerful “have you seen what THEY do to US?” but both sides find comfort in the ideologies I listed above to explain why its “Not okay, but acceptable” for “Us” to cross moral lines. This is why the language we choose, whether we contest or support the actions of others, is equally dysfunctional, regardless of which side we represent.

    It is not reductionist to say “Humans, as biological organisms, need to eat. They develop strategies based on their environments, histories, and perceptions that allow them to pass on their genes to the next generation. All of these strategies involve negotiation and violence on some level to protect those resources.”

    Assuming you last questions are not rhetorical: I believe that the United States of America, for all of its faults, is something worth preserving and believe that it is the duty of every citizen to honestly and earnestly attempt to change our system for the better. But just so I am not accused of equivocating: I believe I am patriotic. I call it Critical Patriotism that does not seek to throw the baby out with bathwater, nor does it seek schadenfreude or ideological shelters. There are many things we need to do to regain some of the moral and ethical ground we have lost, and I believe we have a long way to go and may never reach those lofty goals, but that we can only face those issues honestly if we acknowledge the good and the bad and recognize the identities and perspectives of everyone.
    (Sorry for the soapbox, it was a big question.)

    That being said, I don’t know if, in our many discussions, I have claimed to be patriotic. I don’t believe so, but we’ve had a lot of chats here. If I ever stated or implied that I was, the definition above is what I mean when I say that I am glad to be a Citizen.

  17. Maximilian Forte

    Yes, Benjamin, it is reductionist, and I forgot to add deterministic as well, to suggest that we can analyze the war in Afghanistan through the lens of organisms struggling to pass on their genes.

    You don’t seek ideological shelters, you say, but there you are, embedded in HTS. Do you think that is a value-neutral, ideology-free entity?

    I know that one should not take symbolic analogies too seriously–which is why I won’t devote numerous posts like you did to “spawn”–but likening a nation-state and its creation to a baby and bath water is a little much, especially in the case of a nation-state that came into being through genocide, plunder, and ferocious land grabs.

    You never did say what your opinion was about EA erasing the name “Taliban” from its video, did you? I would be curious to know what it is.

  18. Ben Wintersteen

    It is not deterministic to recognize root causes to very complex aspects of human behavior. I realize people do not like to be reminded that they are animals first, creatures dependent on symbolic exchange second…

    My work on the HTS has not concluded, though I am no longer affiliated with the program. That being said, are you claiming that participation automatically undermines any hope of objectivity? That would call into question the primary method of our field…

    There is no doubt this country (like all countries) was formed through deceit and bloodshed, but until they clone the first Neanderthal and we have to all move out, it is somewhat besides the point in the contemporary context.

    As for EA removing the Taliban from the game, I believe it was a mistake, but I understand why they did it. MoH (and FPS games in general) sell a lot of units to military, veterans, and deployed people and so anything that threatens those sales is worth listening to. The error rests on the poor judgment of those who wish to suppress the representation of the Taliban in the narrative. Not only is it a step back in expression, but most of the military personnel I know who play MoH are annoyed as well. They *want* to play the Taliban to learn more about them and to see from their perspective, even if in a simplified way. It shows that some of the higher ups do not really recognize the perspectives of the people under them, and that is dangerous.

  19. Maximilian Forte

    Interesting, because if one believes one of the prominent critics of EA, a disbarred lawyer by the name of Jack Thompson, then the Taleban will also want to play this game: since Special Ops people helped to devise some of the game’s strategies and scenes, the allegation is that the Taleban could learn more about Special Ops tactics from the game. If accuracy is really accurate, then it could be dangerous.

    Recognizing root causes of complex human behaviour does not imply a turn to biology, a focus on genes. In the particular case of the war in Afghanistan, I would not want to be the one who attempts another run at sociobiology.

    About participation undermining objectivity, and calling into question the primary method of our field: nothing new there, that has in fact been the constant worry, which is why for decades the emphasis has been on research far away, which you then left, and in leaving gained distance and perspective. The big fear has been about “going native”–and there are lots of problems with both the fear, and even some of the criticisms of this approach.

    If you entered HTS just so that you could study it from the inside, that is one thing. If you entered HTS because you believe in the value of the program, and felt motivated to “serve,” that is another matter. As closely aligned as I was with my indigenous collaborators in Trinidad, I often argued with them–indeed, we argued a lot. Those arguments were invaluable to my own understanding. I wonder how often you were able to argue against HTS bosses, especially as I note that on this site the stories you never comment on are those involving HTS directly, as if you are trying to be careful. There is also the question that participation with the state and the military is an altogether different order of experience and engagement, but then this gets more complicated than I have time to write about here.

  20. Ben Wintersteen

    Jack Thompson was disbarred for good reason, and while he may have a point, I find it hard to believe that EA knows anything more about small unit tactics used by the US than the Taliban, who arguably have a much bigger stake in that knowledge.

    Let me clarify: I am not saying that the political, cultural, or sociological aspects of this particular war are not critical. My concern is for blanket statements about how “War is bad” which devalue the study thereof and start from the assumption that some sort of perfect state, yet to be achieved, is the “truth.” My argument is just that war is part of the human (and animal) conditions, and making value statements about it is a distraction. Especially when making value statements about particulars fails to explain the overarching tendency.

    Believe me, I will be the first argue against those who “go native.” Being critical is essential to helping everyone learn and grow. It is a danger of our methods, and something to be avoided. That does not mean that every time you say something in agreement with your subjects you are somehow “selling out.”

    I entered HTS with very little knowledge. I had conducted a half dozen interviews and did a small amount of lit review. I do believe that service is commendable, and i believe that to understand you have to participate, not stand outside and criticize “what-ifs.” I specifically, and publicly, stated the purpose of my being there was to understand the ethical implications of the HTS and to contribute to a common understanding of the program. I spoke to every one of my ‘superiors’ at length about very delicate subjects.

    I also came with the understanding that a lot of mistakes, ethical issues, and problems were inherent to our system, and that only active and ethical participation can change that culture. Disengagement is not conducive to education. With people like Mead we have seen the impact a few well-placed anthropologists can have on military actions… perhaps we can use that to help our society improve…

    As for why I don’t mention specific people, well, it is out of respect for my colleagues and the security of those involved and the duty I have to protect my subjects. I am not a journalist, and “outing” people is contrary to my intentions. It would undermine the trust they have placed in me, and harm our field.

  21. Maximilian Forte

    Maybe I shouldn’t be, not now, but I am still taken aback by these amoral inclinations that simply naturalize war. Rape has also been part of the human condition–so maybe we should just accept it and not look to create alternative conditions. The view presented above is one that is extremely inelastic with respect to human nature, one that flies in the face of everything we know about human nature: that it is neither eternally unchanging nor universally the same.

    Aside from the obvious dearth of vision for a better future, and the amorality, comes the lack of an objective stance vis-a-vis HTS. That has been clearly spelled out above. The idea that one has to join something, be a firm part of it, in order to “understand” it, is the kind of extreme and perverse misapplication of Malinowskian empiricism that other colleagues have already criticized in detail. This is especially true since HTS is not autonomous, and spontaneously self-generating, and that to understand it you have to understand the wider structures of which it is a part, which defeats the purpose of an ethnographic approach. Your unit of analysis is wrong, and so are your methods.

    Unfortunately, it seems that those are the least of the limitations presented by your statements when it comes to phenomena such as militarism and militarization. Thanks for your comments.

  22. Ben Wintersteen

    I am not sure if I am not communicating clearly, or if you are only reading the decontextualized bits of what I write to support your bias, but I believe I said the exact opposite of what you imply.

    I never applied a value statement to war, nor have I endorsed or supported it. I recognize it as part of our world, and something that needs to be understood before we have any hope of mitigating it.

    I did say “Disengagement is not conducive to education. With people like Mead we have seen the impact a few well-placed anthropologists can have on military actions… perhaps we can use that to help our society improve…” which is the EXACT opposite of what you accuse me of above with your “Aside from the obvious dearth of vision for a better future, and the amorality” backhand.

    I apologize if I implied that participant-observation is the only method. It is, however, a good method and one that distinguishes our field from other social sciences.

    I don’t believe I have ever said I do not examine the context of the HTS, nor have I really gone into my methods except to say that P-A and interviews (two time tested approaches) are part of my engagement. Your armchair methods of studying the HTS seem to me to much more controversial than my own.

    I am sorry that this must devolve into disrespect and insults, I respect your passion even if your approach lowers the discourse and further alienates moderates and your eliminates hope of dialogue with your chosen enemies.

  23. Maximilian Forte

    You are communicating very clearly. From what you say–“I never applied a value statement to war, nor have I endorsed or supported it. I recognize it as part of our world, and something that needs to be understood before we have any hope of mitigating it”–I understood you perfectly well. War is neutral only to the amoral. So my argument stands. To take something as serious as that, and consign it to the bin labeled “That’s Just the Way Things Are,” is a position that in fact refuses to come to an understanding of war. It also stands against what was achieved at Nuremberg, and pretends that we need to totally reinvent the wheel. You are free to do that of course, but you cannot demand respect for that position.

    “With people like Mead we have seen the impact a few well-placed anthropologists can have on military actions…”

    Mead spat in Jorgensen’s face for daring to expose the involvement of anthropologists in counterinsurgency in Thailand. You seem to have cooked up a fanciful invention of Mead’s history. Someone who has actually researched Mead’s service to the military-industrial complex, produces the following:

    Carleton Mabee noted that,

    Even though both Mead and Bateson were disturbed by the use of deceit in psychological warfare, Mead was not as upset by it as Bateson was. During the war and after, the naturally optimistic Mead never lost her basic faith that science, if responsibly applied, could contribute to solving the practical problems of society, whereas Bateson, more pessimistic by nature, and deeply upset by his wartime experience, emphasized that applying science to society was inherently dangerous, and that the most useful role of science was to foster understanding rather than action. These differences between them were reflected in the breakup of their marriage just after the war (Mabee 1987:8).

    You said something about my backhand?

    If your study is about the inter-personal dynamics of people in HTS, procedures, and operations–another bureaucratic ethnography similar to Kerry Fosher’s–then it adds little of value. You object to my “methods” because you object to criticism. For those who share your views, yes, criticism has proven to be VERY controversial. That doesn’t disturb me in the least, and clearly it has not stopped me.

    I don’t know why you have to resort to seeing this as an exchange that is based on “disrespect” and “insults.” I am clearly criticizing your message, your methods, and your assumptions. I have said nothing about you as a person–I still don’t know you as a person and likely never will. So we can toss that aside.

  24. Ben Wintersteen

    “something that needs to be understood before we have any hope of mitigating it” I repeat.

    Seems you ignore that last part of that sentence. Why would I want to mitigate it if I didn’t see it as a problem? The fact remains that it IS part of our world, and that is where true understanding starts. Not some personal crusade.

    I have no problem with criticism, in fact I spend a lot of time looking for it (as demonstrated by being here) to better my work. You questioned P-A and interviewing as methods, I questioned armchair anthropology. I probably shouldn’t have stooped, but that’s what I get for posting late at night.

  25. Maximilian Forte

    Assuming that I understand what you are now referring to as “it” (war? militarism?) yes, it is part of our world, but your previous statements naturalized and normalized it to the point that “mitigating” it made a late and rather weak appearance. “Personal crusades” matter, by the way, and they matter very much where having some grounding and motivation to pursue both criticism and hopefully change are concerned.

    I know that you have no problem with criticism, and I hope that you know that my disagreement with arguments you presented are not meant to be personal criticisms. You might have another look at ethnology–done in library armchairs–which have produced some of the most valuable knowledge we have in anthropology, rather than thousands of bits and pieces that tell micro stories that are of interest to types who collect butterflies. In addition, please review the relationship between anthropology and ethnography, because the former is not reducible to the latter–just like history is not reducible to archival research, economics is not reducible to arithmetic, and sociology is not reducible to survey research. I agree with Gledhill that anthropology’s main contributions will be theoretical ones, especially because any number of disciplines now do ethnography (and in my university the only existing “research centre” for ethnographic research happens to be in the history department). Sahlins might not be the most credible source to quote here, but the message seems appropriate: either ethnography is theory or it is nothing.

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