Anthropologists in Iraq – and Those in America Who Attack Them

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 10 months ago

In the News Blog of the Chronicle of Higher Education, in Petitioners Urge Anthropologists to Stop Working with Pentagon in Iraq War, we read that there is a dustup over what anthropologists do with their knowledge.

“Anthropologists should not engage in research and other activities that contribute to counterinsurgency operations in Iraq or in related theaters in the ‘war on terror.’? That is one of the central declarations of a Pledge of Non-Participation in Counterinsurgency that was circulated today by a loosely defined group that refers to itself as the Network of Concerned Anthropologists.

The network is asking scholars to sign the statement and to send their signatures to the anthropology department at George Mason University. (Two of the network’s organizers, Andrew V. Bickford and Hugh Gusterson, teach there.)

The petition arrives two months before an ad hoc committee of the American Anthropological Association is expected to propose ethical guidelines for anthropologists’ cooperation with military and intelligence agencies.

A few anthropologists, including Montgomery McFate, a senior fellow at the U.S. Institute of Peace, have recently argued that social scientists should make their “cultural knowledge? available to the military. (One anthropologist who is doing so is Marcus B. Griffin, a professor of anthropology at Christopher Newport University. Mr. Griffin is in Iraq supporting a military “Human Terrain System? project, and he is chronicling the experience on his blog.)

But many anthropologists are highly skeptical of Ms. McFate and Mr. Griffin’s approach. The petition argues that the U.S. military presence in Iraq is illegitimate and that any support is therefore unethical. More broadly, the petition asserts that anthropologists who work with military and intelligence agencies damage the “relations of openness and trust with the people anthropologists work with around the world.? —David Glenn

These “concerned anthropologists” understand classical conventional warfare, and the difference between it and counterinsurgency operations.  There is no mistaking the facts.  Because they consider the original invasion to be unwarranted, they will take no part of a successful counterinsurgency.  Rather, they will try to bully other anthropologists into the same position with a childish “petition” (as if other Doctors of Philosophy in anthropology are incapable of making their own minds up about what they consider to be ethical use of their knowledge).

In our many articles on the subject, we have cataloged the brutalities perpetrated by the terrorists and insurgents in Iraq.  The Anbar Province is for all intents and purposes pacified, but seven months ago it was still a restive and savage place with al Qaeda on a campaign of torture in response to the Anbar “awakening.”

This campaign of torture and intimidation exemplifies brutality at its worst.  Iraqi police and Marines recently completed “Operation Three Swords? south of Fallujah, the purpose of which was to detain members of murder and intimidation cells within the rural area of Zaidon and the villages of Albu Hawa, Fuhaylat and Hasa.  During the operation, members of the Fallujah police Department and Coalition Forces discovered a torture house and rescued three individuals.  The house had blood-stained walls, and the torture devices included shackles, chains, syringes, rifles, knives, chord, clubs and a blow torch.  The condition of the torture victims was said to be dire.

Torture, whether at the hands of the Sunnis or Shia, is a commonly practiced means to intimidate and brutalize the enemy in Iraq, and in fact, throughout the Middle East and parts of Asia.  Palestinians are fleeing Iraq, and probably for good reason.  More than 600 Palestinians are believed to have died at the hands of Shia militias since the war began in 2003, including at least 300 from the Baladiat area of Baghdad. Many were tortured with electric drills before they died.

The “concerned anthropologists” know that the purpose of a counterinsurgency is to bring security, rebuild and reconstruct, and reestablish a legitimate government.  It is not merely that they opposed Operation Iraqi Freedom.  On the contrary, they oppose even professional participation in the establishment of security for the people of Iraq.  They would sooner turn them back over to al Qaeda to be tortured in their houses of horror than assist the military in human terrain mapping.  Their reasoning?

While often presented by its proponents as work that builds a more secure world, protects US soldiers on the battlefield, or promotes cross-cultural understanding, at base it contributes instead to a brutal war of occupation which has entailed massive casualties. By so doing, such work breaches relations of openness and trust with the people anthropologists work with around the world and, directly or indirectly, enables the occupation of one country by another.

A more preening and self-righteous posture is difficult to imagine, but it is false righteousness.  Any barely conscious Milblogger has been tracking the pacification of Anbar, and we have noted with delight the turnaround in Fallujah as a result of the recent efforts by U.S. Marines, to be sure, at first involving heavy kinetic operations, but eventually involving peaceful constabulary operations for the purpose of putting in place an “exit strategy” as it has been called by Colonel Richard Simcock of Regimental Combat Team 6.  There has been no joy in following the casualty count in Anbar.  Again, counterinsurgency is designed to perpetrate peace, not war.

Concerning this notion of occupation, it is wise to consider Jeff Emanuel’s perspective directly from Iraq.

During my time on the front lines in Iraq – which has been spent in some of the most kinetic areas that the country has to offer – I have had the opportunity to observe General Petraeus’s strategy from the ground level, and I have seen clear evidence of the strategy’s effects.

I have personally observed public clinics, in which coalition medics and doctors provided Iraqi tribesmen and villagers with a level of care that had been unheard of in this country– even before the fall of Saddam Hussein. I have toured reconstruction sites being worked on by Iraqi contractors, and have ridden along in gun-truck escorts whose job is to protect these men as they work to rebuild their own country, while terrorists try not only to kill them, but to destroy any and all improvements they have managed to provide for their countrymen in infrastructure and quality of life.

I have sat in on meetings – both above-board and clandestine – with sheiks and tribal leaders, who want the coalition to help them help themselves and their people to achieve better and more secure lives, despite the fact that being seen consorting with the Americans immediately puts a price on each of these leaders’ heads; likewise, I have heard the concern voiced – more times than I can even count – that the coalition, which currently remains the sole source of stability and security in this country, will give in to the cries from home to abandon the Iraqi people to death, and will finally do so.  

I have participated in combat operations which were driven solely by intelligence provided by Iraqi citizens who knew of terrorist plots and personnel in the area and called the Americans to let them know; likewise, I, along with the soldiers whom I have covered, have had my life saved several times by tips from the Iraqi citizenry about Improvised Explosive Devices and ambushes put into place to kill us.  

There may be something else in play with the “concerned anthropologists.”  Marcus B. Griffin, PhD., blogs at From an Anthropological Perspective from Iraq, and recently discussed his “first mortar attack.”  Perhaps the “concerned anthropologists” have grown to love their office environment too much to entertain the idea of the more dangerous life that Dr. Griffin has chosen for himself.

Whatever the reason for their preening, the concerned anthropologists will one day, at the end of a career, wonder what contribution they have made to those around them.  Dr. Griffin will not have that problem, having done more in his lifetime for world society than scores of his “concerned” colleagues put together.  He will be a man who has made a difference.  So-called higher education has sunk to a new low by attacking people like Dr. Griffin.


You are currently reading "Anthropologists in Iraq – and Those in America Who Attack Them", entry #620 on The Captain's Journal.

This article is filed under the category(s) Anthropology,Iraq,Small Wars and was published September 20th, 2007 by Herschel Smith.

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