Archive for the 'Anthropology' Category



Anthropologists at War

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 5 months ago

In Anthropologists in Iraq – and Those in America Who Attack Them, I addressed in summary fashion the issue of the petition before the AAA (American Anthropological Association) for the association to denounce professional anthropologists who participate in the Human Terrain System (HTS), or at least, denounce the HTS program, with those who participate then being forced to “violate” the standards of their professional organization if they choose to participate.

As it turns out, the AAA has indeed denounced the HTS program initiated by the Department of Defense:  ” … the Executive Board of the American Anthropological Association concludes (i) that the HTS program creates conditions which are likely to place anthropologists in positions in which their work will be in violation of the AAA Code of Ethics and (ii) that its use of anthropologists poses a danger to both other anthropologists and persons other anthropologists study.   Thus the Executive Board expresses its disapproval of the HTS program.”

Ann Marlowe at Weekly Standard has a article also denouncing the HTS program for reasons that seem scattered and inconsistent, so I won’t address her objections since they make little or no sense to me.  Dave Dilegge at the Small Wars Journal Blog has done a good job of explaining why her objections make no sense and need to be reformulated before a meaningful retort can be crafted.  But I would like to take a different approach to this alleged problem by interacting with friend of The Captain’s Journal, Dr. Marcus B. Griffin who is currently performing anthropological research in Iraq and who blogs at From an Anthropological Perspective.

I have exchanged mail with Dr. Griffin and find him to be a researcher of the highest character who performs research with the highest ethical boundaries.  Concerning the AAA position statement, Dr. Griffin responds concerning ethical concern #2:

Obligations to one’s employer, in this case the US Army, is assumed to conflict with being an advocate of the subject population, or if not being an advocate then at least not harming the people being studied. The root of this concern hinges on the purpose of research conducted. If I am studying reciprocity and the cultural construct of obligation and indebtedness, how might this harm the subject population? Of course, if I was studying the social network of Al Qaeda leaders or Jayish Al Mahdi leaders in order to discern kingpins, there would be an ethical problem. But I’m not studying that or anything like it. What is more, no one is asking me to. This ethical concern grows out of an ignorance of military operations and staff specialization.

While I don’t wish to presume upon Dr. Griffin and question his professional obligations, here I take issue with Dr. Griffin’s response to the AAA because I believe that it fundamentally ignores the unstated presuppositions in the AAA statement.  Let’s say it a different way.  I believe in such a thing as Good Wars (1).  The degree to which Operation Iraqi Freedom comports with the requirements for Dr. Darrell Cole of William and Mary to declare it a “good war” is quite irrelevant to our point.  The AAA objects not only to Dr. Griffin’s participation in OIF, but to any anthropological participation in war: ”… the Executive Board affirms, that anthropology can legitimately and effectively help guide U.S. policy to serve the humane causes of global peace and social justice.”

And therein lies the crux of the issue.  The nexus of the AAA objection and the constraints they place on their fellows has to do with the conduct of war itself (or counterinsurgency), not how anthropology might be used in said war (or COIN).  In that anthropology pertains to the study of man, his social systems, obligations and expectations, morays, family structures, religious institutions, and public behavior, every man, woman and child engages in the practice of anthropology almost every day.  Professional anthropologists generally do so with more rigor, system, discipline, and research, but they are not the only ones who practice their profession.  Anthropology is like the culinary arts.  Some people grill hot dogs and others grill steak and asparagus and make Bearnaise sauce.  But everyone eats to live (and some live to eat).

From the Lance Corporal to the Lt. Colonel, societal customs and expectations are part of not only the conduct of day to day operations but also the understanding of the enemy and his ways and means.  The debate isn’t really about anthropology and its entry to the battle space.  It’s there anyway, and has been since mankind first engaged in battle.  The AAA presumes to speak for all humankind when they declare anthropology off limits for consideration in the battle space.  Man can no more bifurcate his knowledge of humans and combat tactics and maneuvers when conducting battle than he can his own emotions and feelings.  The AAA has presented an impossible and preposterous obligation to its members and the armed forces (and it is this later implication that they have failed to see).

One example of this stands out to me as one of the most important nuggets of knowledge concerning Arabic armies that I have ever run across.  It was sent to me by an Army Colonel who has befriended me and who is a thinking man of extraordinary proportions (and who will remain unnamed since he is active duty) (2).  It should be studied by every field grade officer in every branch of the armed forces.  De Atkine assesses numerous failures of Arab armies, including the tendency to hoard information, over-centralize control and inhibit and discourage innovation, and then lands on an interesting point that in truth separates the U.S. armed forces from the rest of the world.

The social and professional gap between officers and enlisted men is present in all armies, but in the United States and other Western forces, the non-commissioned officer (NCO) corps bridges it. Indeed, a professional NCO corps has been critical for the American military to work at its best; as the primary trainers in a professional army, NCOs are critical to training programs and to the enlisted men’s sense of unit esprit. Most of the Arab world either has no NCO corps or it is non-functional, severely handicapping the military’s effectiveness. With some exceptions, NCOs are considered in the same low category as enlisted men and so do not serve as a bridge between enlisted men and officers. Officers instruct but the wide social gap between enlisted man and officer tends to make the learning process perfunctory, formalized, and ineffective.

This observation is entirely an anthropological one, and the prescription for amelioration is the same.  If ever the U.S. hopes to create a viable army in Iraq, it will require an understanding of the society and its people to make a viable NCO corps.  This can no more be removed from the task than can small arms with which to fire rounds at the enemy.

And thus I believe that Dr. Griffin’s objection, while heartfelt and professional, misses the point.  Studying al Qaeda and JAM leaders would be an entirely legitimate use of anthropology.  Lance Corporals and Lt. Colonels do it every day, from questioning the population and ensuring their security to concerning themselves with the support of families by the distribution of payment to concerned citizens and community watch programs (3) so that heads of families can support their children.

The AAA’s real objection is that they don’t want their members to have the latitude to make their own moral judgments concerning the application and use of their work.  Doctors, engineers and nurses make moral decisions every day.  The architect who designed the world trade center, and who later committed suicide, felt the weight of the human condition as much as Dr. Griffin in Iraq.  Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines are concerned with the taking of human life (and the preserving of it) in the superlative degree, but it is an extension of the same concern for the human condition that they will employ throughout the balance of their lives.  There are tens of thousands of anthropologists at war every day.  Anthropology can no more be divorced from war than it can be from life.

1. Good Wars, First Things, Professor Darrell Cole.

2. Why Arabs Lose Wars, Norvell B. De Atkine.

3. Are we Bribing the Sheikhs?, Herschel Smith

Are We Bribing the Sheikhs?

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 5 months ago

In Payment to Concerned Citizens: Strategy of Genius or Shame?, we evaluated the notion of payments to armed neighborhood watch participants and so-called “concerned citizens” for their services.  This approach is effective, anthropologically sound (helping heads of household to support their families) and simply the right thing to do (assist families in earning sustenance since their civilization has effectively collapsed).  Later we followed up this article with another account of successful transplant of this model to areas in and around Baghdad.  But this program focuses on concerned citizens, neighborhood watches, and family units as well as the community at the local level.  The chorus of voices continues to grow questioning this tactic, and more so since it is now being applied to higher levels of Iraqi society.

Since June, Mr. Hassani, who claims to be one of the princes of the legendary Shammar tribe, which numbers nearly 7 million across the Arab world, says he has received at least $100,000 in cash and numerous perks from the US military and the Iraqi government.

With his help, at least $1 million has also been distributed to other tribal sheikhs who have joined his Salahaddin Province “support council,” according to US officers. Together, they have assembled an armed force of about 3,000 tribesmen dubbed the “sahwa [awakening] folks.”

All of these enticements serve one goal: To rally Sunni tribes and their multitude of followers to support coalition forces.

The payments are a drop in the bucket given the billions spent annually in Iraq by the United States. And paying tribes to keep the peace is nothing new. It was one of Mr. Hussein’s tools in his selective patronage system designed to weaken and control all institutions outside his Baath party. The British also tried it when they ruled Iraq last century.

But the strategy is fraught with risks, including the serious potential for wars among the tribes themselves and the creation of militias in die-hard Sunni Arab lands where many continue to question the legitimacy and authority of the Shiite-led central government in Baghdad.

“[The US military] threw money at [the sheiks],” says Col. David Hsu, who heads a team advising Iraq’s armed forces in Salahaddin, Saddam’s home province. He shows recent digital photographs he captured of smiling sheikhs holding bundles of cash as they posed with US military officers. “You are basically paying civilians to turn in terrorists. Money was an expedient way to try to get results.”

US military officers on the ground say there is tremendous pressure from high above to replicate the successes of the so-called “awakening” against Al Qaeda in the western Anbar Province. The drive reached its apex in the run-up to the September testimonies to Congress by the top US military commander and diplomat in Iraq, US officers say.

“In order to turn the intent of [Lt.] Gen. [Raymond] Odierno for reconciliation into action, the coalition forces on the ground basically started recruiting leaders to try to turn other civilians against the insurgents,” says Colonel Hsu, a native of Hawaii. General Odierno is the No. 2 commander of US forces in Iraq.

To begin with, this assessment ignores the fact that most of the security in Iraq has been brought about by kinetic operations to kill the foreign terrorists and indigenous insurgents.  Next, the last two paragraphs of this Christian Science Monitor article are a cheap shot at General Odierno, and make it seem as if he is merely looking for an expedient way of creating the appearance of results.  General Odierno’s son, Captain Anthony Odierno, lost an arm due to combat in Iraq (see also General Odierno in August of 2007 on his son’s loss).  To imply that General Odierno desires or would support anything except legitimate stabilization of Iraq is implausible.  But this leads next to the root question: are payments legitimate and will they lead to stabilization of Iraq?  We have departed from payments to citizens and entered into bribery when we pay Sheikhs to side with the U.S. forces, some would claim.  But have we, and what if this definition holds true?

Nibras Kazimi, no insignificant thinker on matters of Iraq, believes that with the focus on tribes, there is a fear that Americans are trying to resuscitate a clannish social system that had withered away in Iraq … turning it into a power in and of itself.  Perhaps.  But with a dysfunctional central government in Iraq led by Maliki, beholden to and a puppet at the same time of Iran, al Sadr and Sistani, Anbaris and others cannot trust the central government.

Continuing with the CSM article, it is impossible to ignore the improvement in Iraq.

And the push seems to have paid off. Both the number of explosions and US military fatalities in October dropped to almost half their September levels in the Multinational Division-North area, which comprises of Diyala, Salahaddin, Tamim (Kirkuk), and Ninevah Provinces, according to military figures.

A senior official in the Shiite coalition of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki defends the wisdom of partnering with Sunni Arab tribes. Humam Hamoudi, a member of parliament from the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council party, says the tribes may ultimately make better political allies than the Sunni political bloc that quit the government in June and has boycotted it since July.

But, he warns, Baghdad has to have more oversight over the tribal outreach project, otherwise the Sunni Arab tribes could turn against the government once the American presence diminishes.

“They need to have dialogue with the government,” says Mr. Hamoudi of the tribes. “If their connection remains only to the Americans, then they are a time bomb. In the future they may become enemies of the democratic project.”

These last two paragraphs are crafted for the main stream media and the State Department.  Maliki’s government is being bypassed in the bottom-up reconciliation going on in Iraq, a necessary exigency due to their incompetence.  U.S. presence will indeed be necessary for some time into the future (and besides, the Anbaris want the U.S. to stay).  “For his part, Hassani praises the US support and says he’s gotten only “empty promises” from Baghdad. He says if US forces were ever to leave the province he would be in the lead of their departing convoy. As tribes got down to settling scores, he says, there would be a ‘bloodbath.’ ”

Indeed, as we discussed in A Call for Global Strategic Thinking, it is difficult to make the case that either the American public or the military establishment is committed to the campaign in Iraq given the heavy deployment of troops in South Korea and Europe, while European command argues for an increased troop presence in Germany.  Counterinsurgency takes a more committed effort than what we have given it thus far.

As to the payments to concerned citizens and Sheikhs?  It isn’t our domain to question the method by which society operates in Iraq.  Tribe functions not only as paternal bond, but also as a guarantor of work and sustenance, as well as the adjudicator of right and wrong, and community and family disputes.  For the tribe to be wealthy and influential, the Sheikh must be the same.

In theory, there is little difference between payment to concerned citizens or even Sheikhs and payment to police, fire fighters or the armed forces.  Moses (Deuteronomy 25:4) and Paul (1 Timothy 5:18) tell us not to “muzzle the ox while he is threshing.”  Beyond national commitment to the mission, the only question is “how fast and efficiently can we make the payments and bring them over to our side?”

**** UPDATE ****

Grim of Blackfive sends me his link from 2003 where he points out that he took the position to “Pay the black mail.  It’s all to the good, in the end.”  Grim has an excellent analysis, well worth the time to study it.

Anthropologists in Iraq – and Those in America Who Attack Them

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 7 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.


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