Cheat-Seeking Missles

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Fighting Anthropologists Anger Lefties

Fighting anthropologists ... the idea seems laughable, but there are indeed anthropologists in Iraq, helping protect our troops. And that ticks of the left.

As the leftist news compiler AlterNet explains it, their work sounds like a good thing:

The Human Terrain Systems (HTS) program, in operation for several years, was significantly expanded by the United States military last September. It has recruited anthropologists to be embedded with U.S. troops at brigade and division level in Iraq and Afghanistan. ... [T]he program takes anthropologists, some of whom are not experts in the relevant cultures, and charges them with advising commanders to prevent them from misreading local actions and -- potentially violent -- situations. The idea is to reduce casualties.

The New York Times reported on 5 October 2007 on an anthropologists' contingent involved in a major operation meant to reduce attacks against U.S. and Afghan troops. The anthropologists identified many widows in the target area and surmised that their young male relatives would be under pressure to support them and would be likely to join the attackers out of economic necessity. A job-training program for the widows led to a reduction in attacks.

Sounds pretty good, doesn't it; an elegant approach to diminishing the violence against not just our troops but also the citizens of Iraq and Afghanistan. Certainly one would think that understanding the enemy is better than just killing them. But the left doesn't share the view.

First, there's the technical issue:
The anthropological profession has a code of ethics which, like the Hippocratic oath, mandates no harm to people who are studied, and requires their informed consent in participation in research. This is impossible under combat conditions, where there is no opportunity for embedded anthropologists to identify themselves with ordinary people.
So the left apparently would be happier if the military just shot up the young sons of the widows rather than breaking the obligation to inform subjects of "research." The word is in quotes because by no stretch of the imagination can this work be defined as research; its intent is not to crunch data and publish papers, but to make quick decisions to help save lives.

Then there's the whole leftist aversion to spying:
And the work looks enough like intelligence work to cause people to view anthropologists as spies (even under ordinary conditions), inhibiting their scientific mission.
First of all, their mission isn't scientific here; it's humanitarian and military, but really, looks enough like spying? Spying doesn't look like something; it is something; it has a definition, and this program isn't it. "Observing" is different from snooping, eavesdropping or taking on assumed identities in order to get information.

So guess what the anti-war anthropologists named their new little group? The Network of Concerned Anthropologists. How creative of them to use "network" instead of "union." Their pledge: Not to participate in counter-insurgency.

Isn't that pretty much the same thing as supporting insurgency? What makes insurgency acceptable and counter-insurgency not?

Now the peaceniks do have a good idea:
She advocated the establishment of a large research program leading to a socio-cultural knowledge database, recruitment of young cultural analysts into government service and establishment of a clearing house for cultural knowledge. None of these would be a problem.
They wouldn't for me either -- in fact, I wish we had done this before Iraq so we would have understood this whole tribal dynamic a bit more.

The problem, though, is that Saddam would have killed them all before they finished their research, which kind of makes it a better idea to team up the anthropologists with the soldiers, where they can actually do good and save lives.

Unfortunately, "saving lives" apparently also means "helping the US," so the ivory tower dwellers in our formerly great bastions of higher education must take up arms ... pens ... against the few, the sensible, the good members of their profession.

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