Monday, December 03, 2007

Human Terrain Systems: The Culture War

There is a big argument going on concerning Human Terrain System (HTS). HTS is a program by the United States military which places anthropologists, language experts, and intelligence officers on the battlefield to aid in operations. A real life example is when an anthropologist recommended having the military negotiate with an imam instead of the village elders. The recommendation worked and the Taliban were chased out of a district by the locals. Both Afghan and American lives were saved.

In the past I have stressed the importance of knowing cultural intelligence and its role as a force multiplier. However, not all want this to be. Academic leftists have fought tooth-and-nail to prevent the project. Their hatred of the “military system” is shown by their argument anthropologists should not work with the military. Even the executive board of the American Anthropology Association has officially expressed "its disapproval of the HTS program." The association just released a report which recommends members cooperate, but then uses weasel words to beg against working with the HTS program.

The nay-sayers are wrong. HTS and other programs are great opportunities to serve one’s country, study different cultures, and prevent greater violence by cooperating and other standing others. Part of “the surge” strategy in Iraq was understanding the Sunni tribes and getting them to work with the Coalition. So far it has been an outstanding success and death rates are down.

The association has started a blog to further discussion. I will be there commenting, feel free to join in the melee.

Be Patriotic, Understand Cultures, Saves Lives

10 comments:

joshua said...

A better way to save lives is to not be half around the world where you dont belong occupying a foreign land. Supporting the HTS means supporting imperialism. Stop calling the Iraq invasion a war- its an invasion.

Catholicgauze said...

Joshua,
What about the HTS program in Afghanistan? Is that imperalism too?

Anonymous said...

I am very interested in the HTS systems. It sounds fantastic of course if used responsibly. Do you know who thought of it and since when it is in use? Also by whom would it be controlled the CIa or military and has the scientist room to object to certain methods once part of an operation? You see war reporters have to follow a strict military controll called embedding, which means all news are censured by the commanding officer. Thanks

Anonymous said...

"So far it has been an outstanding success" since death rates are down sounds lot like the "Mission Accomplished" banner that Bush gave his infamous speech under nearly 4 years ago. Success cannot be so shortsighted which seems to be a cliche for this administration and its backers. Wait, a long time before declaring success. How long? I dont know. But definitely not so fast.

I can see support for the HTS in Afghanistan. You go after someone (Al Qaeda) who comes after you. In the case of Iraq, I do not remember Sadam coming after us to begin with, so that would be imperialism. Iraq has been based on lie after lie. Although the HTS in Iraq might work, this is merely a try to legitimize the war in Iraq that the overwhelming majority of people in the world call ILLEGAL.

And how is HTS saving lives and preventing greater violence in Iraq. The number of deaths caused by our invasion has caused far more deaths than what Sadaam would have caused.

In my view, real patriotism is about standing up for what is right, and not blindly supporting one's country no matter what.

cokaygne said...

I'd leave it up to the participants to decide whether or not it is a good idea. If some scholars don't participate, even in Afghanistan, because they think it is imperialism, that's their choice.

The real problem is that the entire US is not committed to this war, neither in Iraq nor Afghanistan. The Constitution gives Congress the power to declare war. As far as I know, WWII was the last declared war and few at that time would have questioned a program like this. Increasingly, with Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, and maybe Afghanistan we are fighting wars which enjoy complicit support by Congress through authorizations and appropriations; but there is no formal declaration that commits the whole country. The all-volunteer military further exacerbates the problem.

And it is a problem because the all-out effort that won WWII - unconditional surrender by Germany and Japan, has not been there with the result that Korea, Vietnam, and probably Iraq end in unsatisfactory stalemates.

Catholicgauze said...

Anonymous 1,
HTS is a new program fostered by the Foreign Military Studies Office of the US Department of Defense

Anonymous 2,
I have yet to read a report saying HTS is not working. Afghanistan didn't attack us either, the Taliban repeatidly stated they wanted to be left alone. However, in Iraq now our biggest enemy is al Qaeda (the network which did attack the US). The invasion of Germany and the Japanese Empire was viewed as "illegal" by them too. But no government body (with or without authority) has declared the Iraq War illegal.

Cokaygne,
Great point!

Anonymous said...

What about the HTS program in Afghanistan? Is that imperalism too?


Whether a conflict is imperial or not (good or bad war) is not the point. HTS helps the military distinguish combatants and information from anthropologists is used to help the military "target" belligerents, presumably to be killed. The military has repeatedly acknowledged this, while avoiding the obvious aspect (killing).

This alone is enough to preclude any condoning of the program by AAA, and is a program that any involvement with clearly violated the ethical guidelines for anthropologists generally and AAA specifically. Any anthropologists working with HST should be professionally sanctioned and temporarily or permanently barred from using the title "anthropologist" and from contributing to the professional, scholarly, or applied community or literature. kp

Catholicgauze said...

kp,
Thanks for your honesty in your response. But whoa. Whoa.

Anonymous said...

Imperialism and anthropology?

First of all, the American Anthropological Association does not have the distinguished right to grant individuals with the ability to call themselves an "anthropologist" or to pratice in that field. They are not a government agency and it is not a liscense. A BA/BS, MA, or PHD in anthropology is is an ACADEMIC (not professional) degree that is supposed to represent the time an individual has put into to systematically study human kind. It is a scientific paradigm, not just a profession.

Secondly, if America is going to be in this war or "invasion", then individuals with the ability to act as cultural mediators between hostile groups should take up that responsibility if it is supposed to limit casaulities and save innocent civilians in the long run. Anthropology has been stuck in the academic field for years and has not moved out of it, into more practical, everyday fields that the majority of the world lives in. A science becomes wortheless if it is based purely on of theory and observations without real world data.

Finally, you mention America not being in a place it isn't supposed to be. Well, America has been the dominant country during the 20th century, being hailed as both the savior in the world (WWII) as well as an Imperialist nation (Vietnam, Iraq). It does not matter, we are involved in every facet of a world that is globalizing whether we choose to be involved directly or indirectly. Afghanistan and Iraq represnts a geo-political region of the world that is key to the overall power structure in the world as Globalism ensues. In the end, Anthropologist's should be there to limit caualties and to prevent hostile, fundamentalist groups from taking over that part of the world.

I am not supporting how the US has gone about this war, but it is something that we cannot get out of. It is a magnet for global superpowers and global resource managment, as it represnts a key region in the world where political, economic, and social ties will form as globalism ensues. Why not use anthropology to limit any ethnocentric view that the US military may have? What's worse? A nation that instigates a proxy war or a nation that participates in a war with the intention to resolve the issues instead of strategically waiting to pounce on the region when it is weak and helpless, i.e., Pakistan?

Catholicgauze said...

Anonymous,
I think you misread my article. You and I are in argeement.