Anthropology and Counterinsurgency: The Strange Story of Their Curious Relations

Call you call it prostitution if anthropologists work for the military? Opinions are divided on this issue. As a pacifist, my answer is obvious. Others will stress that they've done their job as an anthropologist if they have succeeded in teaching soldiers cultural awareness and respect to other customs (as stated on a conference in Norway last year).

In a long article in Red Nova, cultural anthropologist Montgomery McFate discusses anthropologists' possible role in the U.S. military. She criticizes anthropologists' "retreat to the Ivory Tower" after the Vietnam War. Does she want anthropologists to take up their questionable role they played role during the colonial era? It seems so. She writes:

"From the foregoing discussion, it might be tempting to conclude that anthropology is absent from the policy arena because it really is "exotic and useless." However, this was not always the case. Anthropology actually evolved as an intellectual tool to consolidate imperial power at the margins of empire."

On CENSA's website we read that McFate "has spent the past few years trying to convince the Department of Defense that cultural knowledge should be a national security priority".

>> read the whole article on Red Nova

UPDATE (20.5.05): I've only quickly scanned the article. Shortly after, Savage Minds' author Dustin M. Wax has written a detailed review (!) of the McFate's article:

"Her long article is a backhanded compliment to stubborn anthropologists whose knowledge and expertise is “urgently needed in time of war” but who, “bound by their own ethical code and sunk in a mire of postmodernism”, “entirely neglect U.S. forces”. I'll cut straight to the chase: a functioning anthropology can never be on the side of “U.S. forces”. This is a practical as well as an ethical argument—it simply is not possible, even were there enough anthropologists who shared McFate’s priorities.

>> continue

1 comment

Comment from: Phil Hudson [Visitor]  
Phil Hudson

The Charlie Rose Show featuring Sarah Sewall and Montgomery McFate talked about many things that are similar to what Metro Police did in Baltimore to lower crime in the 90’s by changing to a Community Policing Model. Counter Insurgency, in some ways is a spin on a Community Policing Model used by US Police for over 2 decades. The Brits used this model, but with more of a Martial Law style of policing in Ireland to defeat the IRA.

By placing Iraqi and US Military Police, Military Intel and Contractors in an area where they can study, learn, conduct surveillance and communicate with the locals of a specific area in Iraq, they can slowly counter an insurgency and change people’s mindsets. The basics are that, this would help us in finding the bad people…the “hard-liners” and who can then be arrested, removed or eliminated. Finding the straw the breaks the camel’s back is what they are ultimately trying to do.

Much of this is a joint effort that would include distribution of reading materials, controlling news and other biometric / psych-ops programs. By having small community meetings with local politicians, business owners, and people of that community that are looking for a “positive change” is what makes the wheels spin on this style of operation. This “change” that would be the topic and discussion of meetings, would be for violence to end and for people to not live in fear. They have to re-educate and slowly change the Iraqi’s and also empower them to defeat their insurgency. Working with the local population and gaining their trust is what primarily needs to take place.

Sure there are going to be numerous ways of learning more about these people by tapping into local phone lines, seeing what they are doing on their computers, find out who they are communicating with and by putting troop / contractors out there who are going to learn their education levels / finding out what their beliefs and systems are in their native tongue. Are they friend or foe? How can we gain their trust? This is very much a surgical style of operation, compared to what has been used in the past during a War. Will it take time? Yes. Can we do this with a reduced presence of military forces on the ground in Iraq? Yes, but it will increase the amount of analysts and linguists in the rear who are going to crunch information. SPSS and Research Methods will definitely have to be used and key foreign national figures will have to be found or invented, in each region, to help guide the rest of those individuals in the local community to a positive change and outcome.

It was interesting that Montgomery McFate discussed her dissertation about Counter Insurgency Operations in Northern Ireland by the British. She said that this was where she learned most of her knowledge and information on COIN. The thing I don’t get is, Montgomery said her idea of Counter Insurgency was more hands off, when the facts are that the Brits treated Ireland very much like a Police State and Martial Law was imposed on Ireland by the UK. If one has read up on the Special Branch’s informers and their handlers, particularly since security sources have, in recent years, played up the role of a “double agent” within the IRA known as “steaknife” (or stakeknife - spellings vary), he was the key individual who was responsible for finding and eliminating three of the top leaders in the IRA. Raids on houses in Ireland occurred on a regular basis, for those who were suspected of being involved with the IRA or even being a sympathizer to the IRA. Raids purposes included the planting or removing of listening devices. A Sunday Times article (14 April, 2002) claimed the removal of covert bugs was the motive behind the raids.

So can we expect that a suspension of the writ of habeas corpus will likely occur in Iraq for the next decade or more? Who knows, but I think Montgomery McFate needs to stop jerking me off from behind and not try so hard to paint a pretty picture of how COIN Operations work. It is War, isn’t it? Hopefully things will get better in Iraq and we‘ve learned from the mistakes that have been made in the past.

10.01.08 @ 02:47

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