Are more and more (American) anthropologists willing to collaborate with the military? If so, anthropology’s role as an instrument of empire can come back into sharper focus as an inherent problem of a Western way of knowing the world", writes Maximilian Forte:
Yet, we have to admit that imperialism is a significant feature of a “discipline” that was made possible by colonial expansion and where once again anthropologists can find profit from imperialist missions in places such as Afghanistan and Iraq.
When this is added to the chorus of voices in anthropology that would like to diminish indigeneity, that disputes the very concept “indigenous,” that refers to the struggles of the colonized for rights in terms of “seeking special rights,” and that lords over indigenous physical remains as if other people’s bodies (specifically colonized bodies) were the natural property of anthropology - then it is no wonder that this “discipline” (the martial severity of this terminology is indicative and fortuituous in this case) continues to be banished from most universities in the “decolonized” world.
Roger N. Lancaster writes about his experiences during his anthropological research in Mexico:
Invariably, one of the first questions I was asked when I tried to begin an interview was, “Are you here to spy on us?”
Even after full disclosure of my university employment, publications and current research design, I found myself blocked out of some potentially useful interviews. Headlines like “Army Enlists Anthropology in War Zones” (front page, Oct. 5) will make future research all the more difficult.
The identification of anthropology with military operations, intelligence gathering and “armed social work” augurs ill for the future of a discipline that studies populations distrustful of power — many of which have had unhappy past experiences with American invasion, occupation or support for corrupt dictatorships.
Daniel Martin Varisco does not want to take sides. Nevertheless he stresses that anthropologists’ primary task is not to teach anthropology or cultural awareness. The military interest in ethnography is invariably about gathering “intelligence”, he writes. “This is not about knocking on doors, but finding suspects.” “And the issue here", he continuies, “is not about serving in the army, or judging those who do, but whether or not anthropologists can conduct research that could be used to the detriment of the people being studied.”
In his opinion, these questions are worth discussing further:
• Would an anthropologist want to be in a position where there might be a major conflict between his or her own conscience as a researcher and the military chain of command?
• Would it be possible to establish trust and rapport, so essential for ethnographic research, when clothed in fatigues and followed by a military escort?
• How much time would a researcher have in order to collect information and who would actually own the rights to that data?
• How many anthropologists have the required language and dialect skills to work in Afghanistan or Iraq?
• If asked by the military, would an anthropologist go under cover to get information?
• And, for the long term, how long will it be in the future before anyone trusts anthropologists in either “war on terror” theater?
Of course, many anthropologists may refuse to collaborate with the military / CIA for political reasons (for some critics the CIA is a terror organisation and opposition to the US-led war is legitimate), but even these ethical and technical research questions might be a good enough reason to simply not to do any military related work.
UPDATE 2: Eric Michael Johnson who runs the blog The Primate Diaries criticises anthropologists who state that “anthropology can help the war effort". In his opinion, this is “uncritical enthusiasm". It shouldn’t be forgotten, he writes, that anthropology has long had a connection with militaristic expansion. >> read his article Anthropology Goes to War. Anthropologists in the war effort from “savages” to “terrorists”
His article consists of three parts. Especially interesting part 3: Anthropology and counterinsurgency in Thailand. The USA misused anthropology to undermine communist influence. Most anthropologists, he writes joined this counterinsurgency project out of both professional interest and a desire to help the Thai villagers.
In a detailed account of one counterinsurgency effort, migrating Hmong villagers were viewed to be “potential” insurgents and were forced to resettle to less fertile farmlands. The Hmong “were forced to steal food rather than starve,” which then developed into a “full-scale rebellion” once the Thai Border Patrol Police “responded.” The Thai government “deployed troops and helicopters and finally resorted to heavy bombing and napalm” to battle these “communists.”
UPDATE 1: On NPR: Montgomery McFate and Roberto Gonzales discuss the controversial idea of “academic embeds” at war >> listen to the radio program
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