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I assume that many of you have already read the recent NY Times article describing the use of anthropologists in the counter-insurgency effort in Afghanistan. My inclination, as an anthropologist and an anti-war activist, is to oppose the participation of anthropologists in the U.S. military, but I would be interested in hearing from others on this matter. I would be especially interested in hearing from people who have information that goes beyond the sketchy description of anthropology in Afghanistan that appeared in the NYTimes article. We're making plans for a debate on this issue at CSULB.

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Do, Ron! We'd consider sponsoring it. Email me. Kate
I'm leaving for Venezuela on Tuesday. We can talk when I get back. My us I assume you mean NAPA? Talk to you soon.

Yep. I was trying to be considerate.

Enjoy Venezuela!

The title of the discussion is "Anthropologists in Afghanistan" after the NYTimes article but virtually all the discussion focuses on the principals of social scientists working with or not working with the military in what ever country. As noted, a lot has to do with what kind of involvement is expected. My understand has been that the involvement has to do with trying to get the local people to accept development activities through the PRTs and change their minds about a foreign military occupation of their country.

Save lives? It is not clear to me how the involvement can save lives. At least among the Pashtuns of central Helmand, the largest irrigation system in the country, mostly built with US funding between 1946 and 1979, and where there has been very little violence, there is almost a traditional view against the idea of having a foreign military occupation in support of a central government for which they have little respect and they consider corrupt. The British tried to control the Pashtun tribals along t he now troublesome Pak/Afghan border (their cousins) for roughly a hundred years and failed. The Soviets occupied their country for 10 years in the 80s and finally gave up on bringing their form of "enlightenment" (communism) to these traditionally oriented people who were mostly left alone by the distant central government, and killed something more than a million people in the process. In 2002 we bombed the stalemated front lines between the "Taliban" and the Northern Alliance in response to 9/11. The "Taliban army" was made up in part of ex-mujahadin groups united to re-unify Afghanistan and conscripts who were taught how to shoot an AK-47. (In central Helmand the process involved each household in a district was expected to provide an ablebody man.) There were no pitch battles. the "army" just went home and many if not most were Pashtuns from the south.
After this, many promises of a massive reconstruction program were made by the international community of doners which has been slow in coming, misdirected, mistimed and badly managed, but voiced by local government representatives, including the governors, resulting in disillusionment with government and the foreign community, including the US that the farmers in central Helmand used to have trust in and respect for. (see my paper from the SFAA annual meeting of 2007) The result of this failure has been: increased opium poppy cultivation, increased corruption (in this case I see corruption as product of hopelessness), increased insecurity as the mostly unemployed young men (the 2nd and 3rd generation of mujahadin) are recruited to shoot at the non-Muslim foreign military occupational forces, to which social scientists are assigned.
And then the Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRT) through which apparently much of the present development funding is channeled and to which some social scientists are assigned. Most of the farmers know that the PRTs are the military. And while most of the farmers will accept development projects that benefit them, the spending will not change the minds of those families that have had members killed by the military on purpose or by accident. And the by-accident numbers are increasing. The concept of "collateral damage" is unacceptable to Pashtuns when houses are destroyed and families are killed.
In short, to "save lives" is a commendable goal but I don't understand how it could happen in the present situation with the military. Everyone, civilian, military, diplomatic all continue to say that the situation cannot be solved through violence but they continue to act as if it can. And with the Pashtuns, it cannot.
I seem to have gotten off the original subject and wandered a bit but on a related subject in which I have been involved off and on in this region since about 1971: social scientists involved in development aid.
See my report in the last SfAA Newsletter. I argued against a blanket refusal to link with the military on any terms. My father was administrative head of Schools and Training in OSS during the 2nd World War. I was in high school at an age to be a bit of a pet, so I spent some time on weekends (when "school" was out) at several training facilities around Washington, D.C. The assessment program made a great impression on me - besides, Henry Murray used to come to dinner and help me with my homework. I have been much influenced over the years by the approach that Murray and his team took to figure out who would perform how under what circumstances. By the end of the war - which from a statistical standpoint came too soon - they were getting about 85% accuracy in their predictions. After the war, they wanted to set up a consultant firm for industry as well as government and the military. No one would buy in because psychology had headed off in another direction. There were also political factors.

The point is that certain kinds of collaborative projects can be mutually beneficial. It is not OK to be manipulative on behalf of an entity outside the group a social scientist is working with. Be careful whose ends are being served. I am a product of Sol Tax's action anthropology and, therefore, would not rule out using resources from an outside source to work WITH a group to meet the ends they define. But that is not what the army is doing in watime, so rule that out as a good way to collaborate. Spying is a whole different matter. It is necessary in wartime - and peacetime. It has nothing to do with social science. It is for information gathering about specific interests. Where social scientists can be compromised is in giving information that can be used against the interests of "their" people. That shades into covert operations with which a social scientist should have nothing to do.

An issue discussed by the SfAA board was what relationship should be extended to individuals who have crossed the line into the pitfalls of activism and information sharing. We decided that, as with an errant child, we would not reject them forevermore.

Now I am off on vacation for some weeks, but I will be interested in how your debate goes.
Yes, but how long should they be put in time out?

Ron Loewe
I think it is important to distinguish among the many ways that subject matter experts in other cultures get involved in projects that are of interest, or funded by, the Department of Defense--which itself is a complex set of institutions and agencies and which has been saddled with a host of new missions for which it finds itself somewhat at a loss. Before there can be any reasoned, intelligent intellectual debate, I would suggest there needs to be a study group. Other sciences work with and for the military, even social sciences, such as political science, and they have much better ethical guidelines to assist them in figuring out when to say "no" to a particular project or idea; I have published on this in the past. Should there be better guidelines? Certainly there should be better knowledge about not just the Department of Defense, but also other agencies, from USAID and its parent, the Department of State--which is also interested in employing anthropologists. A study group that could promulgate a better understanding of all the issues involved would be indicated. --Rebecca Goolsby, Ph.D.

Nota Bene: My views are in no way reflective of the views of my employer.
I don't see the complexity. I don't think anthropologists or others should use their expertise to help
conduct imperial wars. What new missions are you talking about, undermining a democratically elected
government in Venezuela, supporting an illegitimate government in Honduras, searching for weapons of
mass destruction (and securing the oil fields) of Iraq, bombing strategic targets in Pakistan and Yemen,
trying to create civil unrest in Bolivia because they elected a reformist government. What DOD mission do
you think is worth supporting and serves the interests of either Americans or the peoples we study?
I have a hard time believing that anthropologists are actively helping military campaigns in a way that would hurt humankind. Am I being naive? I am an undergrad so this is new to me.




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